Recently I created an extra-credit assignment for my Psych-101 students. The assignment was to attend an event, ask a question, and write a reflective essay about the experience. The description of the event follows:
The St. Louis Trans visibility Project, in conjunction with Sex+STL, and Transhaven present an afternoon of uncensored Q&A. Our amazing panelists will be ready to answer any question you might have about their lives and experiences as Trans* identified persons, including those questions you were told you should not ask, and the questions you may have been too shy to ask. No refusals, no reprisals, just honest dialog. Live questions will be fielded, as well as "anonymous write in" questions for anything you do not wish to ask aloud. The panel will be followed by an informal "coffee and conversation" hour.I was a bit nervous. I felt like my students might be rude (intentionally or accidentally) or offended by the event itself. But, I thought that it was worth the risk. 7 Students (and 5 guests of students) attended the event. My wife and I were also there so I got to witness their behavior first hand. They were, of course, all very well behaved. I shouldn't have worried that they would do all right. But I have to say I was very proud of their essays. All seven essays had the same theme, and all were well written, but I chose one out to share with you. The author is one of those dual-enrolled high-school students and think her writing is a good example of why I try through this and other assignments to offer students the opportunity to have transformative moments. Here is her paper:
Last weekend I was exposed to a whole new world. I went to a little coffee shop downtown. When I walked in I saw men and women. I always thought that when it came to men and women you were straight or gay, but I learned that is not always the case. When I left I saw human beings. A panel of 5 transgendered people sat on a stage and answered questions about their lives and how they have changed from years ago. First there was Lilly who used to be a man but now identifies as a women; she basically looked like a man dressed in women clothing to me. Then Eli, who used to be a girl, but now identifies as a boy; on a normal day I totally would have thought that Eli was just like any other boy. Next was Linda; she made me feel really uncomfortable actually, but she had male parts that were inactive or something like that. She was really interesting. Then there was Tim who used to be a girl but identifies as a man now. Before the presentation started I was kind of looking around the room to decide if I could tell who was going to be on the panel and I would have never guessed that Tim would be up there. I couldn't tell at all that he used to be a girl. Lastly, there was Susan, who used to be a man but now identifies as a woman. All had their own story to tell as well as information to give.Comments welcome. And if you know of any community events in the spring that you think psychology 101 students might value, please let me know.Maybe you want to have this kind of experience? It's not to late to enroll at SCC or just sign-up for one of my classes.
I was really intrigued by the entire presentation. Like I said, growing up in a St. Charles County suburb, I have never been exposed to the topic of transgender and transsexualism in such a way. I knew that some people got surgery and stuff like that to change their gender, but there was so much that I had no understanding of. Eli and Tim transitioned when they were middle school/ high school age. That is insane to me. I have so much respect for them because I think we all know how brutal kids can be in high school. Some of the other panelist didn't transition until they were in there mid thirty's or forty's. These people reshaped their entire lives to be happy. Some were lucky, like Lilly, who seemed to have a very supportive family system. Others weren't as lucky, like Susan, who described how she lost most contact with her family, friends, and a marriage. Even though I cannot fully understand the feelings behind the panelists' needs, I can relate to wanting to find happiness and be at peace with myself. I think that is a part of everyone's journey in life, we all just have a different path we chose to follow.
I learned a lot from the questions that people asked. Honestly, some things I had no idea what they were talking about because a lot of the audience was educated in the subject. Actually, when you looked at the audience it was quite obviously that a lot of them were “gender queer” and transgendered or transsexual themselves. I thought I would be uncomfortable at this event because of that fact alone, but the atmosphere was cool and everyone gave off an open minded attitude, I guess you have to when you are talking about changing someone’s biological and genetic background! I asked a question about dating; I wanted to know when is a good time to tell someone you are a dating that you are a transgender person. I was hoping to get information about how transgender people find each other but the panel kept their answers pretty short and direct. Basically, they all said that it's best to just be honest, and if you are not honest then it could get to a point where someone could be hurt. That is the answer I was hoping and expecting to get, but I just wanted to see if there was any other information they would reveal about dating. In some cases, like Tim, he had the same girlfriend through his transition.
I guess the answers I got from the panel kind of reminded me that a relationship with a transgender person in it is just like a relationship with straight people in it. Both people are looking for the same qualities and characteristics as anyone else would. Another question I thought was interesting was when a lady asked what she could do as an ally of trans people to help them. The panel pretty much said to just spread the word that they are normally functioning people in society. Lilly actually said something like “Tell them I won't hit on them, I won't hit on their girlfriend, I won't molest their children, but I will be their friend.” That phrase really stuck with me because the whole topic of transgendered people is really unknown to a lot of us. A lot of people just kind of write them off as freaks or perverts. A lot of people don't know what to think about trans people because they don't have information so they just judge them. So you could say the panel just really wanted to be treated as equal, and to help spread information that would tell the public what they are actually like.
This whole experience really opened my eyes and gave me a new perspective on things. I used to be one of those people that didn't know what to think about trans people and would kind of write them off as weirdoes, but after I actually met some of them, I realize they are normal people. It really hit me that they are just like me when I was in the room with people who were trans gender and I would have never known unless they said something about it, like Tim. If someone important in my life got a sex change or ended up being transgender, I would be supportive of them and help them through a time of need. Everyone has their own problems; we are all humans.