National coming out week celebrates the multiple dimensions of what it means to be GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender).
Some transgender students said they find support through conscious language and resources on campus, such as support groups like GATHER and the Transgender-Genderqueer task force, in the process of coming out about the multiple dimensions of their identity.
Stephanie Wilenchek, the director of the GLBT Resource Center at CU, explained the differences between gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation and sexual identity, and how they unite in the formation of an individual’s total identity.
“Sometimes folks come out in their sexual orientation, but they haven’t come out in their gender identity,” Wilenchek said. “And sometimes folks identified as male at birth, identify internally as male, but their gender expression is more feminine.”
A key misunderstanding is the idea that sex and gender are identical entities, Wilenchek said. This idea is referred to as the gender binary, which attempts to normalize circumstances where an individual’s sex and gender are consistent.
The distinction between these four aspects of identity and an explanation of their overlap is shown through a butterfly diagram on a reference sheet created by the GLBT Resource Center.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) define sex as “a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs and genitals.”
Gender is broken into two key distinctions, according to the butterfly chart: Gender identity refers to one’s internal personal sense of being a man or a woman, and gender expression being the external manifestations of one’s gender identity.
Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to gender nonconformists, who are individuals that identify as a gender different from the binary restrictions of their sex assigned at birth, Wilenchek said.
Kyle Inselman, a 21-year-old senior film studies major, is a female-to-male transgender person who is currently undergoing medical transition, and identifies as a transsexual person, he said.
“I knew that I was supposed to be male, that my body was supposed to be male,” Inselman said.
Inselman said that many transgender individuals experience a dysphoria, which is the antonym of the word “euphoria,” between their sex assigned at birth and the gender or biological sex with which they identify.
“In the context of trans-people, it means the incongruence and kind of the pain that can come from an in congruence between what you are and what you feel you are supposed to be,” he said.
Inselman said he experienced physical dysphoria between his sex assigned at birth and socially constructed gender role. Some transgender individuals experience a social dysphoria, where there is a complete in congruence of how people refer to you or treat you in society.
“Of course [social dysphoria and physical dysphoria] are intertwined,” he said. “For some people it might be a complete social thing for them, but they’re taking hormone treatments because then it alleviates the social thing because it’s how they’re perceived.”
Inselman said he began his medical intervention when he arrived at CU from his home in Eugene, Ore. He found support through people like Wilenchek at the GLBT Resource Center and through confidential groups like transform, a group that has since merged into the all GLBT-inclusive support group, GATHER.
“And when I got here [GATHER] was like, the support group,” he said. “When you got in they’d close the door, sometimes shut the blinds and it was a confidential space. It was excellent, it’s probably the group that I’m most thankful for.”
There are 11 groups or organizations on campus that offer various levels of outreach, advocacy and support for students that identify outside of the gender binary or heterosexual sexuality.
L.S. is a 19-year-old junior double majoring in international affairs and Germanic studies, and said they work as a diversity mentor for Hallett Hall’s diversity program.
L.S. said they identify as genderqueer, which means they choose to identify outside of the gender binary and does not align themselves with any particular qualities of maleness or femaleness.
“I just feel like that’s me and that’s who I am and that’s how I identify myself,” L.S. said. “I don’t want to be a “woman,” but I don’t want to be a man either, I don’t think that fits me.”
She said they lived on the SPECTRUM floor during their freshman year.
SPECTRUM is one of the only places on campus with explicitly inclusive, all-gendered bathrooms.
“We’re one of the smallest halls on campus, there’s like 30-something students on the side of the SPECTRUM hall,” L.S. said. “What we’ve found is there’s a really, really close bond between all the residents, and it’s really nice, and the bathrooms add to that.”
While the all-gendered bathrooms in Hallett Hall are an example of GLBT inclusion on campus, some transgender students believe there is still much to be done in terms of cultivating full institutional and cultural acceptance for transgender students.
Inselman said there have been instances on campus where professors accidentally out students during syllabus week at the start of the semester.
He said this has been known to occur when during attendance professors read a name or use a pronoun that refers to the individual’s sex assigned at birth, not their current name that more properly aligns with their gender expression.
He said that one time in class a fellow student referred to him as an “it.”
Every professor is required to undergo training through the Office of Discrimination and Harassment, which includes gender identity and gender expression, but under the label of sexual orientation, Wilenchek said.
The Transgender and Genderqueer Task Force on campus works to ensure that standards of equality and inclusion are incorporated within the foundations of CU’s institutional bylaws, Wilenchek said.
Last year, the TGGQ worked to incorporate gender identity and gender expression as separate entities in CU’s nondiscrimination policy, according to the GLBT Resource Center website.
Inselman said that rather than adding questions that explicitly deconstruct the differences between students with gender identity, gender expression, sexual identity and sexual orientation that deviates from the gender binary, the Board of Regents passed a resolution saying they accept the state’s definition of sexual orientation as inclusive of gender identity and gender expression.
Rather than explicitly defining and distinguishing these facts, the Board of Regents left that distinction buried deep in bureaucratic footnotes.
“[This] is problematic to some degree, because as we look at the butterfly, we see [gender identity, gender expression, sexual identity and sexual expression] as separate entities with separate experiences, but that’s a whole other conversation,” Wilenchek said.
Despite conflicts within language and insensitivity, some people that work at CU that are familiar with the psychological, physical and emotional exhaustion students face when coming out or transitioning.
“I mean in general, the students have been awesome,” Inselman said. “There is a lot of work to be done on this campus, but in general, it is an excellent place to be GLBT.”
The GLBT resource center is offering workshops and events all week to celebrate national coming out week, starting this Monday, according to an email sent by Wilenchek.
NOTE: the name of one student quoted in this article has been changed at the student’s request.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Sara Kassabian at Sara.firstname.lastname@example.org.