November 9, 2010
In the Dwight Library Common Room, people slowly filed in and sat on three leather couches. The workshop’s leaders, Mariana Arjona-Soberon ’13 and Seth Weintraub ’11 waited patiently for the room to reach maximum capacity. Chips and soda lay on the center table, and were eventually passed around. Once the room seemed to be settled, the leaders spoke without standing up, giving a conversational feeling to a misunderstood topic.
This was Trans 101, the first event of the eighth annual Trans/gender Awareness Week at Yale. Trans Week was started in Spring 2004 by the Events Coordinator of the Women’s Center at the time, who was interested in trans issues. The program has since grown significantly and this year, from Nov. 2 to 16, there will be lectures, discussions, receptions, and performances that all explore the various forms of gender identity. Trans Week is sponsored by the LGBT Co-Op, as well as the Intercultural Affairs Council and the Office of LGBT Resources. The Trans 101 Workshop provided an introduction to these issues for those not familiar with them.
After introductions, in which everyone said their name and preferred gender pronoun, Weintraub provided an opening statement: “This is a very basic workshop . . . We’ve had people in previous years go to events, and it goes over their head, they don’t know what was going on.” The event sought to define the terms, and give light to some of the problems that the transgender community faces. Then she announced, “We are not speaking for the transgender community, but about the transgender community.”
Transgender is an umbrella category for those whose gender identity is not their biological sex. It includes those who are genderqueer (identifying between genders), intersexed (those whose biological sex is ambiguous) and gender non-conforming. The transgender community is fluid and relies on a person’s self-definition and affirmation.
The participants were split into groups to discuss whether they felt they conformed to gender stereotypes, and if not, to describe a moment in which they had realized it. Then a model of gender in society was explained: gender expression, gender attribution, and gender identity. Gender expression is the external manifestation of one’s gender identity in social settings; gender attribution is how others perceive you; and gender identity is one’s internal sense of who they believe themselves to be. For those who are transgender, these three things are not all the same.
“People define a trans experience as nothing you can ever imagine,” Arjona-Soberon said. “[But] we’ve all experienced a gender dissonance. Everyone has different degrees of gender dissonance.” Many people at the workshop shared moments where they were told their actions were either too girly or too tomboyish. Most of the world has a very normative understanding of gender, in which biological sex determines gender identity.
The last part of the workshop involved passing around samples of the photo project called “A Series of Questions” by L Weingarten, where photos were taken of transgender people holding up signs with questions that they received regarding their gender identities. Among them were “Don’t you think you still carry male privilege?” and “Are you sure you’re in the right bathroom?” The photos cinched together a central theme in the discussion: that transgender people should be treated with the respect given other minorities.
For more information on Trans/gender Awareness Week, go to sites.google.com/site/transweek.
Kendra Dawsey is a sophomore in Yale College. She is a staff writer for Broad Recognition.