When Karissa Kang ’17, first heard of Leelah Alcorn’s death, she was shocked. Having never really heard about transdeath or anything trans* related before in the media, this news was rather terrifying.
Alcorn was a transgender girl whose suicide last November sparked discussions on gender and sexuality throughout the world.
Following the aftermath of Alcorn’s death, Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) hosted a forum with six student panelists of varying genders and sexualities, in which Kang participated.
“I wanted to spread awareness to the rest of the campus. I think that’s really vital.
That’s why I decided to participate on the panel… we get gender panels, but mostly from the perspectives of cis people, so it’s mostly conversation about sexism towards women or masculinity while this one I think brought to light trans* people and their struggles,” said Kang.
The forum began with the panelists describing their own personal experiences at Andover regarding their sexuality or gender. Alex Hagler ’16, a panelist, described the experience of educating some friends about asexuality.
“I know that I have [had to educate my friends], mostly because a lot of people … don’t know about agender as a gender identity. For people who don’t know what agender is essentially, I don’t identify as a girl or boy, nor do I identify as anything in between. So I have had to educate my friends about it, but most of them did their research once they learned about my gender identity. That was not so much a problem for me,” said Hagler.
“According to my sisters, I came out to them in seventh grade as a lesbian. Then I dropped the subject then told them again in ninth grade. I totally forgot that I had told them… It was harder telling [my family] I was agender because I was literally telling my parents and my sisters, ‘I’m actually not who you think I am. I’m a different person and that involves x, y and z.’ So I just worked up the courage randomly one night, sat down with my parents, was ‘oh yeah, hey, this is me’.” said Hagler.
Although Isabella Oliva ’16, a panelist, did not have to “come out” as a cis woman, she described another perspective on sexuality at Andover. She described the moments when she realized her cis privilege.
“[My transgender friends] don’t feel comfortable going to the bathroom of the gender with which they identify because they’re worried they’ll be ostracized there, but they’re also worried about being ostracized in the gender that they were born with or had when they were born, so they’ll ask me to accompany them so that they’re not singled out…It’s just that moment of realizing your privilege is just ‘woah,’ eye opening,” said Oliva.
The forum also discussed ways for students to be supportive and be allies of the trans* people on campus. Many of the panelists emphasized the importance of making an active effort to show support, particularly concerning the usage of correct gender pronouns.
Jaleel Williams ’15, a panelist and Co-Head of GSA, said, “A big thing … is just making a conscious effort to have your effort known… In my experience, I don’t get super upset when people don’t initially get my pronouns correct. I understand it’s very different, you just have to be in a different mindframe. But what does get me is when people don’t realize they’re getting my pronouns incorrectly or when people don’t take the step to correct themselves because then I feel like that part of my gender identity is not even a part of how you’re thinking, but essentially a huge part of me is invisible.”
Hagler said, “If I learn that someone is [identifying with] a different gender identity than what I previously knew I’m always like ‘what are your pronouns?’ so I can delete your previous pronouns from my head and stick these new ones in because your gender identity and your comfortableness with yourself is much more important to me than my comfortableness with your pronouns.”
Editor’s note: In the context of the Gender Through a Cis/Trans* Lens panel, “trans*” is an umbrella term that refers to all of the identities within the gender identity spectrum.