Caitlyn Jenner’s emergence in June brought transgender topics into mainstream conversation worldwide and has inspired many individuals who are transgender to come out as such. We spoke with Rory Wilson ’18, incoming chair of the UNH Alliance, the LBGTQ+ student group, to find out how all of the attention might shape the dialogue here at UNH.
The Wildcat: What does Bruce Jenner’s transformation into Caitlyn mean for the transgender community at large?
Wilson: Overall, Caitlyn Jenner is raising awareness. I think when most people hear about a transgender person, or the community, they don’t really have a perspective on it. Sometimes what it means to be transgender often gets tied up in general LGBTQ issues, and people see it as the same as being gay or think of it as cross-dressing. The trans community is very diverse, with many identities, but most people only seem to know what is often called “the trans narrative.” This is the monolithic idea that there is one way to be trans. I tend to think of it as the introduction to every trans news story, something like: “Marissa was not like the other girls, she liked playing with trucks and having short hair. That was because Marissa was a boy, and when she was 17 she became Max.” (Please note that these are the wrong pronouns to use when referring to a transgender person even when talking about their past; always go with the pronouns they identify with.) A lot of people tend to think if you’re a trans man you have to be very masculine, and a trans woman very feminine. That’s not always the case. Personally, I consider myself not to be a feminine trans man, but I was never a “tomboy” either. I really think with Jenner — who has always been seen as a very masculine figure — coming out, some walls will be broken with these stereotypes.
At UNH, are individuals who are transgender accepted in the campus community?
I think it’s kind of a mixed bag of who will accept you as a trans student and who will not be so welcoming. I personally am a trans man and I have met some incredibly supportive and willing-to-learn people, but plenty who are not. I prefer to focus on the positive, and UNH has very active students in a wide array of diversity groups who are open-minded and understanding. Most students at UNH are simply not that educated on the matter. You can never blame someone who doesn’t have the opportunity to learn, but a lot of students don’t seek the opportunity or try to learn. I just hope everyone takes Caitlyn Jenner coming out as the opportunity that it is to learn about the community.
Will Alliance be doing anything special in the coming semester to capitalize on this news in order to help raise awareness?
We are always working to raise awareness with events like GIA — Gender Identities Awareness week. Coming by our office hours and meetings is also a great way for a person to learn. Currently we don’t have an event planned specifically around the news of Caitlyn Jenner. To be frank, I’m not convinced Jenner will still be in the news by the time the school year rolls around, but she’s a well-known figure that we can make reference to in our regular events and meetings to give people an idea of a transgender person. Though, there is talk of a documentary on Jenner’s transition coming out, and if this is true, I’d love for Alliance to host a viewing of it.
Give me an example of something a cisgender individual could do to be more in-tune with or sensitive to those who have different gender identities than their own.
Do your research. It can be hard to find the right sources on the Internet, but watching videos and visiting blogs run by trans people can give some real insight. It’s great to talk to transgender people you meet along the way, but not everyone is comfortable discussing their identity, and it can be really tiring to constantly explain your gender identity. So while it really is very appreciated when someone comes with questions, it is best to look online to get a base understanding before you talk to someone about their identity. If anyone does just prefer to talk about it, I am always willing to talk about my identity and they are welcome to stop by my office hours in MUB 7. Come by an Alliance meeting sometime, too.
Generally I would say the least one can do is respect others’ identities as you learn them. Gender is a sense of self and the only person to have that sense of self is that individual. Use their preferred pronouns and respect what they are not comfortable doing or talking about because of their identity.