Trans ally workshop educates in a polarized time


Here is a link to the published version of my story about Transgender Awareness Week.

A workshop helping people learn how to better support the transgender community kicked off national Trans Empowerment & Awareness Week on Monday, the day before highly anticipated midterm elections — the outcome of which may directly impact the transgender community.

On Oct. 21, President Donald Trump proposed legally changing the definition of gender to mirror that of sex. This would narrowly define gender as male or female based on physical characteristics present at birth, a determination that couldn’t be changed later. Such a change would effectively erase transgender people in the eyes of the United States government.

“We need cis people coming out for us. We need cis people standing up for us,” Espen Mullen, MU senior and treasurer of Oasis, a transgender support and advocacy group, said before the workshop. Cisgender refers to people whose gender identity corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth.

Mullen said the strained political climate makes it all the more important to outwardly support the trans community. He said the workshop was an opportunity to answer general questions people may have about the trans community.

“We have a lot of people who are really well-meaning within the LGBTQ community who aren’t trans, and they really want to show up for the trans community, and they don’t quite know how to do it, and they don’t know how to ask,” he said.

Participants moved through five stations focused on the following considerations:

  • What is gender?
  • How to use pronouns.
  • Who are trans people?
  • How to be accessible.
  • How to protest.

Mullen pointed out that cisgender people often fail to recognize many ways they can directly show support for the trans community; for example, sharing or asking for pronouns in everyday conversation, even between two people who aren’t members of the trans community. The workshop provided a chart of pronouns, such as she/her, they/them and ze/hir.

“OK, you might make somebody feel bad if you ask for their pronouns or if you try to set a tone that it’s OK to share pronouns. But, like, that’s it. That’s all it’s going to do. It’s only going to hurt someone’s feelings,” Mullen said.

“It’s important to start hurting people’s feelings because it brings into the social norm asking for pronouns, offering pronouns as something that’s not only transgender,” he said.

The Trump administration also has attempted to ban trans people from the military, roll back discrimination protections for transgender people and eliminate protections allowing people to use the restrooms that best correspond with their gender identity.

Mullen said that although these things usually don’t amount to official policy changes, the effects of the administration’s anti-trans rhetoric are becoming clearer every day.

“People who disagree with the transgender community’s existence — just us existing in public, going about our daily business — are more empowered by an explicit public acceptance of discriminating against transgender people,” Mullen said.

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