My (naïve) background
A few months ago, I signed up to go on the Transgender Awareness Training offered by the University, and with Pride having gripped the nation recently I thought it would be a good time to go through what I learned and remind myself why it was so important.
Before I went to the training, I must admit that I didn’t give much thought to what it meant to be transgender or what support transgender students might need within a university environment. I initially signed up as I come from a background of Psychology and have a never-ending fascination with how people work. But if I’m honest it was also refreshing to go to some training that wasn’t systems focussed and based at a computer (!).
The three hour training session was undertaken by representatives of GIRES, an external support network for people who identify as transgender. They outlined what life is like for transgender people, the daily struggles and prejudice that can become normal for someone who is transitioning, and the support that is available for anyone who is confused, being treated badly or just interested in getting more information.
I was shocked to hear some of the stories of people who had received comments and harassment (sometimes physical) from colleagues or classmates and it made me realise that it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that this doesn’t happen here at Bath University.
Tell me more...
One of the biggest lessons I learned from the training was that peoples’ lack of knowledge and understanding around transgender issues is the biggest cause of friction and bullying. I guess this could be put down to fear as if a human doesn’t understand something, we instinctively fear it. However this is not an excuse. Educating ourselves around the issues that are experienced by minorities within society should be at the forefront of our minds. In light of this, here are a few examples of terminology that I found useful. You're welcome! (Don’t worry if you didn’t know these already; most people in the room admitted they felt nervous talking to or about people who identify as transgender because they didn’t know the correct terminology):
- Gender identity – how an individual sees themselves (some people believe this is as simple as "male" or "female", but recently there has been a switch to more of a spectrum). Not identifying with your physical gender can be referred to as “gender nonconformity”.
- Gender role - the social role that is “assumed” by Western (or any) culture.
- Transitioning – the full time adaption of the new gender role in all spheres of life.
- Affirmed gender – the process of bringing one's gender role into alliance with the gender identity, therefore “affirming” identity.
There has been a big push recently within the media towards wellness and a bigger focus on mental health and LGBT+ issues, and this has been reflected within the training that is offered by big organisations like universities. This is obviously a fantastic movement and a greater understanding of one's self and others can only lead to better things. I urge everyone who gets the chance, to go to the transgender awareness training if it is offered again. Any chance you get to learn about other people, you should grab with both hands because knowledge is the key to acceptance.
And in the wake of Pride, which celebrates difference, we should remember that it is so important to take the time to understand others and get to know them, give people space to explain themselves and know where help can be found for either those staff or students who need it.
Support offered for trans students
Check out the useful links below if you want more (good for you):
Information on GIRES, the external support network
University guidelines on supporting transgender students