Imagine for a moment that you are a male student walking into your first section this fall. You may be thinking about the bike accident you just avoided, wondering what the TA is like, or considering leaving to crash a different course. Now imagine that on top of all that, part of you is worrying that someone in your new class will refer to you as “she” or “her.” What if you don’t have the time, the energy, or the courage to tell them you’re a guy, and everyone in the class ends up misgendering you for the whole quarter? What if you do tell them you’re a guy and they keep using the wrong pronoun, intentionally or otherwise? How would you feel if this happened to you?
If you are trans* (transgender or gender non-conforming), this experience probably sounds quite familiar. And if you are not trans*—that is, if you are cisgender—and you have not thought about this issue before, you can easily avoid making a mistake by using a gender-neutral singular they or by simply asking people what pronouns they go by.
This is one of many strategies we can use to create trans-inclusive spaces on campus. Because although UC Santa Barbara provides a variety of wonderful resources for transgender students, these will not make trans* students feel accepted in classrooms and lecture halls. Trans* advocacy is not just for trans* people, nor should it be. This is a message that our school’s Resource Center for Sexual & Gender Diversity (RCSGD) has been spreading far and wide. The Center provides Safe Zone workshops on a variety of subjects related to gender and sexuality, including transgender identities and terminology, the trans* community, and intervening as an ally to stop microaggressions and hate incidents.
The RCSGD is linked to over a dozen LGBTQ student organizations, among them SASS (Society for Accessible and Safe Spaces), a support group for transgender students, and the Trans* Task Force, a group open to all students, faculty and staff who want to “implement initiatives to support and affirm the transgender community” (for more information, contact RCSGD Director Dave Whitman at email@example.com). The MultiCultural Center also holds a weekly Transgender and Trans* Social Group to which people of all gender identities are invited.
Beyond our campus, the RCSGD is also connected to the Santa Barbara Transgender Advocacy Network, or SBTAN. This new grassroots organization grew out of a local support group, Trans*Youth Santa Barbara, and was officially launched in March 2015 by director Rachel Gloger and founder Max Rorty. Just months after its inception, SBTAN has already become an official project of Pacific Pride Foundation. Director Gloger is amazed at how much has happened in so little time: “SBTAN has truly grown into a beautiful network…we now have over thirty local families of transyouth, a growing group of transgender adult mentors and speakers for our teens, and also a growing list of organizations reaching out to us for trans* sensitive trainings.”
UCSB is one of the institutions that has been trained by SBTAN; the Housing Department and the Hosford Clinic in particular got trans* sensitive training, as well as some Student Health employees. Trans* students and friends are encouraged to make use of SBTAN’s various support groups and their many resources, from doctors to therapists to faith communities. Of course, all of these trans-inclusive groups cannot guarantee a trans-inclusive community, but they go a long way. Gloger is cautiously optimistic: “We have a lot of work to do in this community, but I think that the landscape is shifting in our town, and that Santa Barbara is ready to make some changes to ensure safety, dignity, and health for its transgender community members.”
For the UCSB trans* community in particular, this school year will come with important changes. This fall will be the first time students applying to the UC system will have the option to choose among six gender identities: male, female, trans male, trans female, gender queer/gender non-conforming, and different identity. And by Winter 2016, all UCSB students should have the option on GOLD to input a preferred name different from their legal first name; that way, class rosters, the UCSB Campus Directory, and other university records will display the name they want to go by without legal documentation (for more information, contact the Office of the Registrar staff).
There are also a lot of great events coming up. After the “Coming Out Monologues,” which will take place on October 5, the “Trans Revolution Series” will start, with three visiting transgender activists: Sergeant Shane Ortega (October 6), CeCe McDonald (October 22), and Jennicet Gutierrez (November 5). Look at the RCSGD Facebook and Instagram pages for updates, and keep checking the Events page on the RCSGD website for the upcoming fall calendar.
Lastly, keep in mind that although the recent changes at UCSB are certainly getting us closer to a truly welcoming environment, it always comes down to individual students choosing to model trans-inclusive language and behavior. So consider checking out the RCSGD next time you’re in the SRB, and when you walk into your first section this fall, remember: be gender-neutral!