A recent Pew poll revealed that only 8 percent of Americans personally know someone who is transgender. The KSU Trans*Formers work to shed light on a sometimes-misunderstood faction of the university.
In the LGBTQ community, transgender individuals, people who feel they were born the wrong sex, are usually the least publicized, and many fall victim to misconceptions and discrimination. Kent State has a notably active trans community on campus and members bring an expansive pool of experience, knowledge and unique perspectives to an already diverse student body.
KSU Trans*Formers was founded with the purpose of bringing transgender students together for support and advice. Kieran Raines, an information architechture and knowledge management graduate student, founded the organization last year after realizing the lack of resources on campus for transgender students.
“I think it’s a good way to bring the trans community together, considering the university doesn’t have very transgender-friendly policies,” Raines said.
Raines is gender-neutral and prefers to be addressed with gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze” in place of he and she, and “zir” in place of her and his. Raines is out to most people. However, Raines feels most people don’t understand the gender-neutral identity as well as transgender. Raines is now receiving hormone therapy but doesn’t fit the traditional standards for either male or female.
“If someone can see themselves as a boy and someone can see themselves as a girl, why can’t someone see themselves as neither?” Raines said. “It’s essentially androgynous.”
Raines had gender confusion in high school but didn’t begin using gender-neutral pronouns until two years ago.
“I had been questioning my gender identity and it had shifted from thinking I was a girl, just a weird version of a girl,” Raines said.” I don’t really fit all these standards; I don’t understand what people are talking about when they talk about what it means to be a girl.”
When Raines came out, some friends were hesitant in their acceptance of the decision to use gender-neutral pronouns. One friend refused to use Raines’ preferred name and identification but eventually admitted to being stubborn after Raines explained better.
“Another friend told me that society wouldn’t see or accept my identity and it would never become anything that’s slightly normalized,” Raines said. “Gender is mostly a socially enacted behavior — yes, there are behaviors that are specific to hormones, like men can build muscle easier — but it’s also what we raise people to do that influences gender.”
Micah Kersting, senior English literature and business major, has been a member of the group since it’s creation. Kersting said it’s been an invaluable place of refuge and comfort.
“It’s been a great way to connect with people who share the same experiences with gender problems,” Kersting said. “It’s a safe space to open up about things that — outside of a trans-safe area — you wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about.”
Kersting said the most challenging experience as a transgender student was during a swing-dance class with a particularly intolerant professor. The professor insisted on using Kersting’s birth name from the class roster; Kersting refused to respond to the birth name so was repeatedly marked tardy. Kersting discussed the matter with the professor, but the professor refused to use Kersting’s preferred name. Being marked tardy significantly affected Kersting’s course grade.
“Then we actually start dancing, and she pairs me with the tallest girl in class, and when I have trouble, she comes over and says loudly and deliberately, ‘no, it’s fine. SHE’s doing fine. [Birth name] is doing fine, just give HER a chance,’” Kersting said. “They stressed the female pronouns, refused to use my preferred name even though we had just discussed it mere minutes before and, beyond that, was plain condescending.”
Kersting didn’t return to the class after that. Kersting’s mother worked on campus at the time; Kersting didn’t file a complaint for fear of being outed to her. Kersting has since come out.
Junior physical education major Grace Smith transferred to Kent during a tumultuous time. Smith had told immediate family members about being transgender at a young age, but Smith’s father had been kept in the dark for fear of repercussion.
“He wasn’t the most tolerant of people,” Smith said. “So when I finally told him the summer before college, he told me not to come home until I came to my senses. So I packed up and came to Kent early, and I really found my place here.”
Many of the transgender people Smith spoke with said they knew they were different early on. Smith knew during elementary school after feeling uncomfortable in traditionally female clothing and preferring to play with boys.
“My friends just assumed I was a tomboy,” Smith said, “and I obviously didn’t know what I was feeling at that age so I just ran with it. It wasn’t until I reached middle school that I was told by a teacher I was close with that there was a name for what I was feeling.”
Smith said the most common misconception about transgender individuals is that all are in the process of gender-reassignment surgery, during which one’s genitals are reshaped to reflect the person’s preferred sex. Even if they are, Smith said, there’s more to a person than what’s under one’s clothes.
“I think there’s a fixation on ‘the surgery’ and people are more curious about what my genitals looks like and less about what my experiences have been, who I am and what I have to offer regardless of what gender I identify with,” Smith said.
The Trans*Formers meet Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Room 309 of the Student Center.
Editor’s note: In an effort to remain neutral on the issue of gender pronouns, this story refrains from using gender pronouns. The Stater felt that use of “he” or “she” would be offensive to the transgender community, while use of “ze” and “zir” would be advocating for the transgender community. Therefore, we decided that use of the last name only is ethically right.
Contact Christina Suttles at email@example.com.