Arts & Culture / Mosaic / April 11, 2018

A week of celebrating transgender students


President of Common Ground sophomore Ashley Kerley talks about the importance of Trans Visibility Week. One of the events that was hosted by Common Ground encouraged students to swap and give away clothing that doesn’t correctly express their gender identity. (Dan Perez/TKS)

Sophomore and Common Ground President Ashley Kerley wanted to emphasize celebration and life with Trans Visibility Week. Last week, Common Ground held the events in an ongoing effort to support and celebrate Knox College’s transgender and nonbinary student population. Common Ground wanted to give all students the chance to participate in the national Transgender Day of Visibility, which fell on Saturday, March 31, by hosting a whole week of events.

“There’s a national trans week of remembrance but that’s a lot more about honoring trans people who’ve been killed or harmed and it’s a lot more of a solemn event,” Kerley said. “We wanted to do something more celebratory of the trans and nonbinary student population.”

Common Ground members tabled Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and asked students to sign a pledge to challenge gender norms, practice trans-inclusive feminism, and look at gender beyond a Western context. Freshman and Common Ground’s public relations officer Erin Jin was pleased with the interest the event received.

“We were able to pass out a lot of different goods and we talked with a lot of people just as they were on their way to lunch and whatnot,” Jin said. “We just had a lot of good conversations with people about what trans visibility meant and how they could help support the trans people around them.”

On Thursday, Trans Visibility Week concluded with a clothes swap. Common Ground members handed out binders and students were encouraged to give away and trade clothing. Binding is a technique used to compress or flatten the chest area. Chest binders are garments sold for this purpose. Binding can ease dysphoria for many trans and nonbinary people.

“The idea behind that was to let students get rid of clothes that maybe don’t necessarily go with how they express their gender anymore and pick up something that might,” Kerley said.

The binders are part of the ongoing effort to provide resources to trans and nonbinary students. Common Ground launched its “Change the Cis-tem” initiative last term in an effort to make Knox’s campus more inclusive. At the clothes swap on Thursday, Common Ground members handed out six binders. Jin, who has been with the project since its beginning, wants everyone to have equal access to binders.

“We’re always ordering more with the funds that we get,” Jin said. “Sometimes we’ll hand them out at whatever event we’re doing or people can just come to us and ask us if we have a binder. We have all different sizes from XXS to 3XL so everyone who wants one can get one.”

Alternative methods of binding one’s chest, like using an ace bandage, can easily result in breathing problems. Common Ground uses a large portion of its budget to buy binders from a trans-run organization that also provides clear instructions on how to use them. Online, the price of binders ranges from $35-$100 plus shipping.

“It can be really expensive and for some people $35 isn’t a lot but for other people that’s a good chunk of money, and if you have a card through your parents, they’re going to be like, ‘why’d you just order something that’s worth $40 online?’” Kerley said.

“Change the Cis-tem” kicked off last term with a forum for trans and non-binary students to share ways in which Knox could be more inclusive. Since then, Common Ground has worked with Counseling Services to create a support group for trans and non-binary students. Common Ground is now working with the Office of the Registrar to make it easier for students to have their real names on campus documents.

“Right now if you come to Knox and you already have a name that you go by you can put it in and none of the documents will call you by your dead name but if you come out after coming to Knox and decide to take on a new name while you’re a student here there’s not much you can do,” Kerley said.

In the future, Jin would like to give incoming students of different backgrounds the chance to learn about diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. They believe this could especially benefit international students.

“I know as an international student, back home — gender identity, sexual orientation, that’s not something that’s discussed a lot, so I’m pretty sure — especially for international students who come from different cultures, who aren’t exposed to pronouns and things like that — they might have a hard time adjusting,” Jin said.

Not assuming strangers’ genders is an everyday behavior that Common Ground hopes to normalize through events like Trans Visibility Week. Jin thinks that pronouns are a good place to start when it comes to respecting different gender identities.

“I tend to think that the way that I dress and the way that I look, personally, kind of shows that I don’t necessarily identify as in the binary but a lot of people do make the assumption that I identify as a woman and I think it’s good to, if you don’t know, ask that person and not to make any assumptions,” Jin said.

Phoebe Billups, Staff Writer

Tags:  common ground feminism Non-binary sexuality trans visibility week transgender

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