Student organizations shed light on transgender experiences through panel discussion

PRIDE Vice President Bianca Salinas greets attendees Feb. 8 in Carter Auditorium and asked them to get a pronoun button; the options are she/her, he/him, they/them and ze/hir. Student, Rachel Leader walks around the auditorium collecting students’ questions for the panel.

PRIDE President David Weier opened the discussion with an explanation of terminology with a list of do’s and don’ts, like “do be respectful” and “do not assume.” Then, the four panelists of the Q&A introduced themselves: freshman Marcus Kearns, senior Alex Birch, and Jayce Johnson and Kathryn Gonzales from Out Youth, a transgender non-profit organization based in Austin.

Hosted by America IWill, in association with PRIDE, the Transgender Q&A allowed students to ask panelists questions regarding their personal journey as someone whose personal gender and identity doesn’t correspond with their birth sex.

One of the first questions to the panelists regarded queers who have transphobia. The panelists all agreed that the issue can be troublesome, and said that there should be no reason for it.

 “What they say about trans people is what they wouldn’t want said about them,” said Kearns.

Following this question, the panelists were asked how they found the name that fit them best. Birch stated that a fellow student from middle school inspired the name Alex, while Johnson said Jayce was a shortened version of his birth name.

Kearns said his mother had a hard time of letting go of his birth name, so they came to a compromise with Ray; a name that holds special meaning.

“That name was always associated with the transitioning I was going through,” said Kearns.

Gonzales said that people shouldn’t ask a transgender what their birth name or “real name” is. She emphasized that it’s important to point out that names are very significant to transgender people, as it’s a key aspect to their identity.

“To be able to find out who they are and have a name that matches that–that’s a profound honor,” said Gonzales.

The conversation transitioned into an in-depth discussion of  the panelists’ personal and general thoughts on identity. Kearns mentioned that while transgenders do experience change, it’s not in the way most would assume.

“The lives that we live don’t change, but the things in the way we name them do,” said Kearns.

Johnson added that identity is something that will always transition for him. He stated that it will never stop because our whole life is constantly about figuring out who you are.

“I keep finding more about myself and that’s a constant transition,” said Johnson. “That’s not just for transgenders, [for everyone] your life is a constant transition of what and who makes you happy.”

The panel wrapped with a final question from the attendees, which asked how can allies be better. The panelists advised allies to be proactive, listen and educate themselves.

“Be who you would want someone else to be for you,” said Gonzales. “Make a promise that you will love, acknowledge and accept them for who they are. You need them to know, if you promise, that you are there for them.”