Trans Panel in my Sex in the Brain Class

I participated in a transgender panel in my Sex in the Brain class yesterday. Which, the fact that I'm also a student in that class made it interesting.

For 45 minutes we had class as usual. Then our professor released the class for a break before the panel was slotted to begin. I used this time to meet another panelist who is an awesome local transmale police officer. I gave him a guest parking pass, introduced him to my friend, and off we went back to the classroom.

We got there about 5 minutes early and took our seats at a table in front of the class. I felt nervous, initially, going from sitting with the class all month to now sitting in front of my fellow students, on a panel. I kind of liked that we were early, as it gave me some adjust-to-sitting-in-front-of-class-adrenaline-red-faced-calm-down time to chit-chat with the other panelist and my professor all cozy for a bit.

The third panelist, a local transgender woman activist, arrived right at 1 pm after walking from her home nearby.

Then the panel began! First we introduced ourselves. I said hello to my fellow students, and jokingly mentioned what they already knew - that I’m a student here majoring in Psychology. And then the questions began. Once we got started I was essentially over feeling nervous and the demystify trans folk discussion ball got a-rollin’. For two hours. Immediately afterward, a friend/fellow student approached me and mentioned that she wished that she could “feel brave enough to be openly lesbian” in front of her fellow students.

Which got me thinking - in a sorta nonsensical rambly sort of way. Bear with me here.

Being “out” with my fellow students isn’t a source of anxiety for me. I spent so many years being “out” as visibly gender-variant/queer without choice that just walking down the street took more gall than sitting on a panel in a class room does now.

Those three words: “It’s a girl,” solidified my role in American culture as someone who would prefer the color pink over the color blue, dolls to action figures, and all clothing declared “girl.” For most, instead of being asked about preferences, those preferences are assigned to us. Luckily for me, my parents allowed my own, unique preferences to manifest as nature dictates. Still, it didn’t take long to learn that this variance was unacceptable by society’s standards.

Even though I had been openly jeered and even bashed because of my stereotypically queer appearance, I never once had to carry the burden of proof or continually defend my self-hood. I was never invisible to my community or in a position where I had to come out, continually and verbally. I never once had to deliberately expose myself if I wanted to be identified as queer.

Neither experience is more “privileged” than the other - just different. Yet, the concept of being “in” at all, or stealth… or having what was once a visible stigmatized identity become concealable is just, very bizarre to me. For the first time in my life, I am in a position of having to deliberately “come out". But why are assumptions made about me in the first place that I have to counter? In the same way that she can “pass” as heterosexual, I “pass” as cisgender - whether we want to or not. As Julia Serano says in her book Whipping Girl:
The crux of the problem is that the words pass and passing; are active verbs. So when we say that a transsexual is ‘passing,’ it gives the false impression that they are the only active participant in this scenario (i.e, the transsexual is working hard to achieve a certain gendered appearance and everyone else is passively being duped or not duped by the transsexual’s ‘performance’). However, I would argue that the reverse is true: The public is the primary participant by virtue of their incessant need to gender every person they see as either female or male.
Spot on, Julia. Same with orientation - everyone is either heterosexual or homosexual, end of story. Which is so far from the truth it hurts. I know that I’m guilty of subconsciously categorizing people - but I try hard to abstain from making assumptions galore. Every time I do, once I get to know someone I learn that my initial impression was about 92.3% wrong. False dichotomies blow.

Ranting and raving aside, when it comes to panel discussions, it’s hard to explain too much of that without sounding pretentious and throwing out lingo galore that isn’t going to resonate. Instead, I figure that just sitting up there being proud and open is a start.

The underlying moral that a happy life can only come from being true to yourself and true to the world is the most important! To just be happy to be in this life, be yourself, and be proud of who you are. If enough of us can do that, a future that we all really want for ourselves will continue to unfold.


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