Mizzou Climate: transgender at MU
Students give account of being transgender at MU.
Nov. 11, 2011
The transgender community at MU is larger than most would expect, said LGBTQ Resource Center Coordinator Struby Struble.
“It ranges from students to faculty,” she said. “We interact with transgender people on a daily basis and may not know.”
According to the MU LGBTQ Resource Center website, a transgender person is someone whose gender identity differs from conventional stereotypes or their biological sex assigned at birth.
“Gender is set by society,” Struble said. “In many states, Missouri included, there is nothing that specifically forbids discrimination against transgender people.”
Triangle Coalition President Emily Colvin is a transgender student. Colvin transitioned from the male gender to the female gender, which she identifies with. Colvin said many transgender people conform heavily to extreme stereotypes of either gender, but she is more of a tomboy.
“It’s about figuring out who you are,” she said. “Learning that I wanted to transition was powerful. I knew that I needed it to be healthy and stable. Living as a gender you’re not comfortable with means living a lie.”
Struble said the transgender community experiences high rates of violence and transgender students face harassment in schools. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality the transgender community has higher rates of suicide than the general population.
Colvin said she has suffered physical abuse by members of her own family and has to “switch modes” to go back home.
“It’s like constantly turning a switch on or off,” Colvin said. “It’s really difficult, especially when you’re forced to turn on a rusty old switch you never wanted to turn on again.”
Colvin said before her transition, she was constantly thinking, "This is not how my mind is wired. This is not how I think or work."
Transgender students face discrimination and hate in using gender-specific restrooms. Struble said that as a result, some transgender people develop urinary tract infections, among other medical issues.
Transgender students may wish to change their names to match their chosen identity, but changing legal names requires time and money, which college students often don’t have.
“Students might be forced to out themselves when their name on the roster doesn’t match their physical appearance, their gender pronouns or their preferred name,” Triangle Coalition Legislative Liaison Taylor Dukes said.
Housing can also be an issue for transgender students.
“It used to be that I would be put in a female dorm because that’s the gender I’m given legally,” transgender MU alumnus Kayden Prinster said. “Now there’s no way that would happen, but it’s still an awkward process.”
Triangle Coalition Communications Officer Paul Reeves said that gender neutral housing and specific protection of transgender individuals in anti-discrimination laws are the two most important issues that need to be addressed.
Struble, Dukes and Reeves all said that the transgender community at MU has very different experiences.
“It depends what professors they have, what resident halls they live in and whom their classmates are,” Dukes said. “The administration is supportive. MU has been slowly and progressively moving in the right direction, and gets better with every year, but we still have far to go.”
Dukes said MU has been great about having a LGBTQ Resource Center where members of the transgender community can talk about the good, the bad and how to fix the bad. Struble said the center can offer help specific to MU, like offering a list of all single occupancy/gender neutral bathrooms on campus on their website.
“I’ve met some of the best people in my life here,” Colvin said. “The fact that we have a resource center speaks volumes as to where the community wants to be, where no harassment or discrimination is tolerated.”
Colvin said she has been physically harassed multiple times in Columbia, but that conditions for transgender people are improving over time.
“My hope is the following generation will never have to email professors to request the use of their preferred name or have to fear employment discrimination,” she said.
Strubles said MU is a small part of the worldwide community, and though society is growing more aware, work still needs to be done.
“We need allies to speak with us and for us,” Colvin said. “When it comes from someone else it has more weight. People in power listen when it comes from someone like them.”
Colvin said she would like to tell transgender students that addressing issues may be difficult but is worth working to make MU a more inclusive place.
“It’s just someone being who they want to be,” Struble said. “It’s that simple.”