June 29, 2017

Webster transgender inclusion seminar teaches ‘allyship’

For Webster University student Kalani Seaver, one horrible line for a transgender person to hear is “you do not look like you are trans.”

Seaver said this statement gives a physical aspect to what should be an issue of personal identity.

Offensive language was one of many issues discussed March 2 at the seminar titled “Transgender Ally 101.” The seminar included a three-member panel: Seaver (who is also the Student Government Association ambassador for student inclusion), Human Rights adjunct professor Andrea Miller and Jaimie Hileman, Metro Trans Umbrella Group co-executive director.

SGA Ambassador for Student Inclusion Kalani Seaver spoke at the panel / Photo by Andrew McMunn

SGA Ambassador for Student Inclusion Kalani Seaver spoke at the panel / Photo by Andrew McMunn

The lecture was a part of Webster’s Diversity and Inclusion Conference, held in the Luhr Building March 1-2. “Transgender Ally 101” came at a time relevant to recent political events. The Trump administration announced plans to revoke former president Obama’s controversial bathroom bill that forced schools to let students use bathrooms of their choice instead of according to their biological sex.

In response to President Trump’s plans, Webster administration sent out a statement via email to all students reaffirming that Webster will “maintain our commitment to working with the LGBTQ+ community and building on our values to becoming more inclusive.”

Bathroom usage

One of the largest topics discussed at “Transgender Ally 101” was the issue of restrooms.

Seaver said one of the biggest struggles as a nonbinary person (someone who does not identify as either male or female) is bathroom usage.

Seaver, who many times has to use the women’s restroom because of “plumbing reasons,” said there is a huge problem in choosing which bathroom to use.

“I have walked into many women’s bathrooms, even before I started my transition, even before I cut my hair, where I would dress masculine and people would ask me what I was doing in there, as if it was anyone’s business what I had to do in a bathroom,” Seaver said.

Miller said what society is going through right now is a panic that there are predators waiting in the bathroom.

“Someone who studies gender like myself, along with my students, talk about this idea that we now need to protect women and children from a transgender predator in the restroom,” Miller said. “There have been no incidents reported [of this]. Believe me, if there were, the radical right… would be talking about it nonstop.”

According to an article in Mic, Miller is right. The article read spokespeople from the Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union told reporters there have been no documented incidents of violence in all-gender restrooms.

However, there is some dispute about this. In one case, The Toronto Sun reported an incident in which a man was jailed for using a fake transgender identity to gain access to women’s facilities and sexually assaulting them. The Washington Times reported a man who choked an eight-year-old girl in a women’s restroom raised alarm over transgender access.

“It’s interesting that we are seeing this ‘save the so-called real women and children,’ as if trans women aren’t… human,” Miller said. “They get stigmatized as not worth saving.”

As for Webster University, former single-stall family restrooms were newly labeled as all-gender restrooms at the beginning of the fall 2016 semester.

For Seaver, though this may be a step in the right direction, there are still many problems that arise. Seaver said single-stall all-gender bathrooms were a quick fix.

“It was very easy to stick in a single-stall bathroom, where you can avoid the ‘what if someone comes in and misuses the bathroom?’ argument,” Seaver said. “We as a society like quick fixes, but it doesn’t fix the problem entirely. As nice as it is to have a five-minute ‘me time’ in a single-stall bathroom, it still has a sense of ostracization.”

The administration letter also touched on the issue of bathroom policy. Regarding upcoming changes, the statement said the university “has identified numerous restrooms on campus as all-gender facilities and continue to look for ways to add more. In the soon-to-be-completed Browning Hall, the interdisciplinary science building, several all-gender restrooms are being constructed.”

Other transgender issues

Aside from bathroom usage, the panel discussed various other issues that arise for the transgender community, including anti-LGBTQ legislation, violence against the community, microaggressions and unemployment.

Preferred pronouns were one of many micro-aggressions (indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group) brought up at the seminar.

Seaver, who uses the pronoun “they,” said pronouns are not “preferred.”

“Our pronouns are our pronouns. They are the ones that we go by, the ones that we use, they are not ‘preferred,’ they just are,” Seaver said. “[The word ‘preferred’] still dehumanizes our identities as a choice, which they are not.”

However, in regards to pronoun usage, Seaver said it is a personal struggle to correct people when they make a mistake.

“When someone does misgender me, I tend to hide away from that and I don’t correct people,” Seaver said. “This is an internalized thing, because I don’t want to embarrass other people for being wrong and having to correct them. It’s important to [correct people], but sometimes it’s not always safe to bring light to the fact that you are a gender nonconforming or trans person.”

Miller said if you accidentally misgender someone or say something that is unconsciously offensive, it is important to own up to your mistake.

“Society makes it really easy to talk in binaries, even though we kind of should know better,” Miller said. “We all do it; we all make the mistake. So now we have to kind of own up to that mistake.”

Hileman said micro-aggressions many times come in the form of a simple comment that can almost be disguised as a compliment.

“‘You look really good for a boy,’ or ‘you almost look real.’ Which is one of my personal favorites,” Hileman said.

Being a transgender ally

A major portion of the seminar addressed how students can become allies of the transgender community. Seaver said the simplest thing you can do is to stand up for transgender people when you see them being attacked in any way, including calling out microaggressions.

“If you see someone doing something wrong, don’t wait for other people to stand up for themselves,” Seaver said. “That’s one of the biggest issues that I have, and I’m sure that the [LGBTQ] community has, is having to constantly stand up for yourself when no one else chooses to. It’s horrifying; it’s terrifying.”

Seaver also said the smallest acts of compassion, solidarity and love can make a huge difference.

“It doesn’t cost you anything,” Seaver said. “If anything, it provides you with a payback of having a new friend, having a new companion in life.”

Miller said she always tells students that it is OK to mess up when discussing transgender issues because it helps people learn about the problems at hand.

“Don’t not talk about a situation or trans issues because you’re afraid you’re going to mess up,” Miller said. “We probably won’t do a good job at educating if we’re too scared to ask the questions.”

Webster adjunct Terri Reilly, who was a member in the audience for the lecture, said her personal takeaway from the seminar is that the community of educators need to acknowledge that there are students of all types that need to be recognized.

“I think it’s very important as educators to… be accepting, to be understanding, and to be welcoming,” Reilly said.

The administration statement

The statement from Webster administration read that the university will stand by its policies, history and culture in all areas when considering diversity and inclusion.

“We also stand steadfast with our community,” the statement read. “We know that with your support and a calm determination, we can uphold our core values as the best course as we move forward, together.”

Although Seaver recognizes the administration letter as vocal support for the LGBTQ community, Seaver finds problems with the statement.

“While the incentive is always welcome, and while vocalizing support for a community is important, I also think that it doesn’t go far enough,” Seaver said. “There has to be certain actions for certain stances people should take to show solidarity with that community.”

In regards to Seaver’s concern, the statement read that in the coming months, the university will hold more discussions, more town halls and encourage more on-campus dialogue.

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