Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 27, 2012 01:04
Reyna Anaya, a Doctoral Student in Higher Education, leads a discussion about Transgender Roles and Identity Thursday Night in the Columbine Suites in the University Center.
Just more than 30 students, faculty and community members participated in an interactive discussion Thursday, directed by GLBTA Program Coordinator Jael Esquibel and assistant professor of history Nick Syrett.
Esquibel and Syrett divided participants into multiple small groups — each engaged in discussion by a small group facilitator.
The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allies Resource Office, in collaboration with the Power of Words Committee, hosted “Crossing Gender Lines: A Discussion about Transgenderism and Gender Construction in Our Society,” from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday in the Columbine Suites of the University Center.
“The objective is to raise awareness of trans-identity and gender identity,” Esquibel said.
The two main themes of the night were “Transgenderism” and “Gender in our society.”
“The stuff of gender is socially constructed,” Esquibel said. “The human condition is all about putting people into categories.”
Social constructs of gender roles and identity were also recurring themes throughout the night. There was a consensus amongst facilitators and participants that gender identity is complex and unique to every individual.
“Our society likes to make things simple, and gender is not,” Syrett said at the beginning of the event.
Esquibel and Syrett administered several activities to initiate discussion among participants. One activity required participants to describe a past crush to somebody in the room without using words that referred to a gender role or gender identity. Participants found that describing a person in detail, even one you held in high regard, is difficult without including gender in your description.
“That gender is complicated, for all of us,” Syrett said, when asked what impression he wanted participants to leave the discussion with.
Another activity challenged participants to share stories from their life when they defied the social constructs of gender roles and identity. Participants were asked if they were criticized or corrected for their gender infractions.
Discussion also focused on the role of language in perpetuating the generalizations and misconceptions of transgender identity. For example, many people have the misconception that all transgender people are gay. In fact, many heterosexual individuals will channel the image of the opposite sex for personal reasons that are unrelated to sexual reasons; such people distinguish themselves as transvestites.
Esquibel and Syrett shared a variety of terminology with audience members to cultivate a better understanding of transgender culture. Terms included gender queer — not identifying with any gender, cisgender — an individual whose gender identity matches their biology and Ze and Hir — gender-neutral pronouns that can be used to refer to others.
“Hearing everyone’s personal takes was really interesting,” said Paula Daniels, a GLBTA employee and participant. “We all come from different viewpoints, but there is no right or wrong when gender is concerned.”