Trans* 101 workshop defies institutional teachings
Published: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 16:05
More than 70 students from Wellesley, Middlebury and surrounding colleges gathered at Society Zeta Alpha’s house on Tupelo Lane on Sunday, April 29 to attend “Trans 101,” a workshop hosted by Siblings, a support group for students who identify as TGNC (transgender or gender nonconforming). Davey Shlasko, a Smith alum and facilitator at “Think Again: Training and Consultation” whose work focuses on gender and class issues, led the workshop with the goal of spreading awareness about issues facing the trans*, genderqueer and gender non-conforming community and providing attendees with a foundation to initiate conversations about these issues in their own communities.
The workshop required attendees to analyze the ways in which their seemingly-innocuous daily thoughts and activities reinforce “the gender binary”—the classification of the sexes into two distinct categories, male and female. In his first exercise, Shlasko asked attendees to list five or more tasks they performed that morning in order to get ready. In groups, participants discussed how the activities on each person’s list, such as brushing one’s teeth with a sorority-themed toothbrush or running across campus to get shoes to match a certain outfit, may be considered gendered.
“This is a nice exercise that I like to do, because gendered decisions are always happening since the gendered decisions were made months ago when the items were bought,” Shlasko said.
Another activity examined what types of physical attributes and personality traits are stereotypically thought to fit under the categories of “girl” or “boy.” When individuals do not live up these societal expectations of “pretty” and “dainty” or “muscular” and “authoritative,” that individual may face discrimination, loss of status and ostracization.
Shlasko also brought up the common phenomenon of “gender policing,” which is when individuals reinforce the gender binary through actions or words. For example, apparent compliments such as “Oh, you look like you lost weight. You look pretty!” are actually acts of gender policing. The supposed compliment, in fact, serves as a reminder not to regain that weight.
In another group discussion participants then pointed out that the “Women Who Will” flags and the gendered language used on campus makes some students, who do not identify as female, feel uncomfortable at Wellesley.
“The gendered language can be something that women students like. It is specifically tailored to them in a world that often assumes masculine words. Many students do have strong attachments to the uses of these words that should be considered seriously in this discussion. These words like ‘women’ and ‘ladies,’ though, do not recognize the variations within womenhood and woman and the variations within the gender spectrum that exists here at Wellesley,” stated Em Gamber ’14, the future co-leader of Siblings and a Women’s & Gender Studies major. “The use of blanket terms ‘women’ or ‘ladies’ then is alienating and dismissive of trans identity and gender variance within all communities.”
Although the College may continue to use words that people believe reinforce the gender binary, the event concluded on a hopeful note. When asked on how they would expand on what they learned at the event, attendees provided various answers ranging from First Year Mentors (FYMs) setting an example by stating their preferred gender pronouns to continuing to read literature on transgender issues.
Many students felt that the event taught them new perspectives on gender, but wanted more.
“I wish that it would have been an all-day event, for I feel like it could have been more effective that way,” said Claire Milldrum ’15.
“I appreciated what Davey said about changing your vernacular in order to achieve whatever goal you have, [however] I kind of wish there was an allies workshop where we could go into more detail about trans issues and how to be better allies, because that’s something I really wish I could do—be a better ally,” said Rose Layton ’15.
Blake Desormeaux ’13, the other future co-leader of Siblings, credits S.J. Gray ’12, the current leader of Siblings, as being the “brainchild” for this particular workshop.
“We did it because we believe there can never be enough awareness. We were really hoping to reach people who don’t know everything or do not identify as TGNC,” said Desormeaux.
In the future, Siblings hopes to reach out to a wider portion of the student body, particularly those who do not regularly participate in conversations around gender identity. Following the workshop, participants were urged to share the packets distributed at the workshop with their friends. Members of Siblings are confident that student interest in gender issues will continue to exist.
“There have been events such as this and the queer concert that can never be overdone, because there will always be a whole new set of people waiting to learn,” said Desormeaux.