TriCo celebrates first Transgender Awareness Week

This is the first in a three-part series about transgender issues on campus.
Triangle Coalition President Joshua Barton and Ryan Black, interim coordinator of the LGBTQ Resource Center, discuss the definition of transgender in a meeting Monday night. The discussion, "The 'T' in LGBT," kicked off the first-annual Transgender Awareness Week.

When he became Triangle Coalition vice president last year, senior Ashe Kolieboi promised to create more trans programming and trans visibility. This week, that guarantee has become a reality as Triangle Coalition celebrates its first annual Transgender Awareness Week.

The point of the week, Kolieboi said, is to spread education and awareness about transgender people and gender identity.

"Really, I just got sick of not having events and going to events where transgender people were not the focus," Kolieboi said.

Kolieboi self-identifies as a male transgender student in transition.

In planning Transgender Awareness Week, Kolieboi said Triangle Coalition President Joshua Barton was with him every step of the way.

"I really don't think I could have done it without Josh being the ally he is," Kolieboi said. "This is something that has been very much ignored by TriCo in the past years."

Kolieboi attributes that to a lack of visible transgender people on campus. Transgender people, he said, have been left out of much Triangle Coalition programming.

"Not left out on purpose," Kolieboi said. "Just not exclusively discussed."

A discussion called "The 'T' in LGBT" began the week's events Monday. Defining the word "transgender" dominated the first portion of the discussion.

The TransAction Team is an advocacy group based on campus dedicated to transgender issues. It was created last semester by Student Health Center Health Educator Heather Eastman-Mueller and John Elizabeth Faughn, the former Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Resource Center coordinator.

The team's official definition of transgender is "an umbrella term that encompasses any person who varies from Western society's binary conventions of gender and sex."

According to Eastman-Mueller, it is important to note that people must self-identify as transgender for the word to apply.

At the event, different attendees provided their personal definitions of what it means to be transgender.

Sophomore Emily Colvin has a wide-reaching definition similar to TransAction's. She also said a lot of gender is socialization.

"Society has a gender binary," Colvin said. "You're either male or female. But the mind is such a wondrous thing, and the mind can be so different from the body that you are, in some times, stuck with."

The group discussed how much attention transgender issues receive in relation to gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and questioning issues.

Barton said some people within the LGBTQ community don't see transgender as their issue.

"It is because you can be trans, but you're not necessarily going to be gay or a lesbian or bisexual," Barton said. "I think we are all facing the same oppression head on, but I do see how transgender could be further marginalized."

An on-campus example is MU's non-discrimination policy, which protects sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

Colvin said marginalization comes from society's perception of transgender people, which often focuses on those transitioning from male to female.

"The 'T' is a lot of times not seen as pretty," Colvin said. "I think a lot of that is society's fault, because trans for the longest time, still is, a joke to society. Just look at 'Jerry Springer.' It makes us look like a complete joke."

Barton said, however, transgender needs the most protection out of all LGBTQ groups.

"There are still victims of daily violence and young trans people selling their bodies on the street because it's the only way they can make money," Barton said.

Colvin has never faced problems with harassment on campus. It is off-campus, she said, where people can be "belligerent, utter jerks."

She recalled a moment when someone approached her at a local Wal-Mart, asking if she has had "the surgery" yet, something that is insulting to many people who are transgender.

"People like that, I don't give the time of day, because they're clearly mocking me," Colvin said. "Someone who really does want to be educated, and they want to listen - I'll give them all they want if they want to be educated and want to understand."

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