The Cal Poly Pride Center hosted a series of events this week in honor of increasing transgender awareness. Events included movie screenings, discussions and a photo booth, which encouraged participants to dress up in any kind of colorful clothing imaginable.
“Everyone wants to be accepted,” said Kris Gottlieb, assistant director of the Pride Center. “We say that we want to be different but we want to be different within our group. We’re a group kind of people.”
Gottlieb is a part of the transgender community. Gottlieb said the term transgender faces stereotypes and labels on a regular basis, People should try to avoid stereotyping. That, Gottlieb said, is exactly what Cal Poly’s Transgender Awareness Week is all about.
“There’s a lot of interest regarding transgender,” Gottlieb said. “I guarantee there are more transgender people than we think. I believe that one of the greatest challenges faced by the transgender community is not so much mislabeling, but invisibility.”
Transgender may be something many people don’t understand, but there is strong interest in the subject. The Pride Center’s most accessed link on its website is a list of gender neutral bathrooms on campus, Gottlieb said.
“Imagine you are biologically born as a male,” Gottlieb said. “But you identify (yourself) as a female and choose to wear a skirt. Which bathroom are you going to go into? Not the women’s, it would probably make people uncomfortable. And you don’t feel comfortable going to the male restroom either. So many of these students go the entire day without being able to go to the bathroom.”
There are many challenges like this that accompany being transgender such as trying to fit in with peers, Gottlieb said.
“Gender identity is something people give themselves,” Gottlieb said. “Gender is a social construct.”
Jaye Mic, who did not want to be identified by his year and major, a member of the Pride Center falls under the umbrella term of transgender. Mic was born with a penis, so his birth certificate says that he is a male, but Mic identifies otherwise.
“There’s a difference between identification and passing, or presenting yourself,” Mic said.
Mic presents as a male, to conform with societal norms but identifies as being a-gender, or without a gender, Mic said. Mic doesn’t like to think of it as a label, but instead as a way to identify and help people understand being transgendered.
Devin Kuhn, assistant professor of religious studies and women’s and gender studies, said the United States is one of the few countries that doesn’t culturally recognize gender identities beyond the typical male and female choices.
For example, in India the hijra is viewed as a third sex. Hijra may be male and take on the gender of female or a person born with genitalia that has both male and female parts.
“The term transgender refers to someone whose gender identity differs from their biology,” Kuhn said. But the term can be used in a much broader sense.
“Anything that deviates from masculine traits going with male bodies and femininity going with female bodies could be transgender,” Kuhn said. “But usually it is used more specifically.”
There are quite a few misconceptions the public outside of the transgender community have about what it means to be transgender, Kuhn said. One of those misconceptions is that people who identify differently than what their biology dictates will change their sex through operation.
Another misconception is that a person that makes a biological transition to the opposite sex needs to take on the traits society often identifies with that gender, Gottlieb said.
In other words, someone that makes the physical change from female to male via surgery does not need to take on masculine traits in order to have made the change. Nor does someone need to get an operation to actually become that gender.
“I’ve found that many people still stay within the male-female binary when they first try to understand what being transgender entails, meaning they frequently assume that transgender means transexual,” Kuhn said. “But in reality, being transgender, for many people, describes their experience of gender as being outside of that binary.”
Gottlieb hesitates to use phrases such as “actually male” or “actually female” when referring to transgender people, she said.
“There are some transgender folks out there who feel as though someone who is born male biologically but identifies as a female will never actually be female, and there are others who argue that they’ve been female all their lives, regardless of their biology,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb said this week is about educating and informing people about something that doesn’t get enough attention.
“We hope that transgender students can feel comfortable in their skin,” Gottlieb said.