On October 1, I attended the Minnesota State High School League’s public hearing on the proposed policy that would allow transgender athletes to play on the team that best aligns with their gender identity. Ultimately, this policy would be one step in recognizing and respecting a community that dominant culture seeks to isolate and silence.
Link to the policy draft: (http://cplaction.com/wp-content/uploads/TransgenderPolicySECONDREVISION9-9-14.pdf)
During the hearingworkshop, many people voiced their opinions about the policy. Some of the opinions were valiant, courageous cries for acknowledgement, while others were drenched in fear and prejudice. I was particularly dismayed by one specific testimony. A passionate woman had organized a herd of high schoolers as a visual aid to support her opposition of the policy. At the end of her declaration, she singled out the group of students that had been standing along the wall and asked how many girls were scared/uncomfortable of showering with someone who was a different sex than them. Each high school girl that was lined up against the wall raised her hand.
As my filming partner and I were getting ready to leave, the group of high schoolers that were lined up against the wall walked past us. In the snippet of conversation that I caught, the phrase, “Man, I don’t want to shower with one of those people,” landed in my ears.
At first I was in shock of the amount of comments that were thrown around the room that reflected so many oppresive status-quo ideals. This put me into fury after the public hearing: Why do people have to make others that are different than them feel small? Why do people feel the need to hurt others? Why is it hard to see everyone as valuable, sharing a piece of the same humanity?
Being a racially mixed person who presents female, I face my own oppressions as I walk outside my house everyday and into the world. However, I have the privilege of appearing as well as identifying as female. At birth, I was told that I was a girl, and I, in fact, strongly identify with being female. And, luckily for me, society approves of my presentation. When I meet someone new, I don’t have to wince every time they don’t see who I am. I don’t have to remind them to talk to me using she, her, hers pronouns. I don’t have to question seemingly simple, everyday actions such as which bathroom I should use and what clothes I should wear that will reflect my gender. I don’t have to wonder if they will see me for who I truly am when it comes to my gender. However, not everyone has this privilege. For trans* folks, it is a battle against the raging current of societal norms to be true to themselves as well as the people around them. Although they may be victorious in taking the first step towards personal truth, turmoil can continue as they are confronted by peers, adults, certain religious groups, etc. who treat them as less than human. Shared public spaces that appear to be safe also become minefields; areas that need to be strategically navigated lest a fatal explosion occurs.
As the wise Ricardo Levins Morales says, “Trauma is an indicator that people are forced to believe an untrue narrative about who they are… In order to combat this, a new story about the person experiencing trauma has to be told.” In statistics provided by the National Center of Transgender Equality (2011), 82% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school. Further, only 54% of the transgender students who are bullied actually report the bullying. However, only a third of these reported incidents are actually addressed by the school: it is clear that voices are being silenced. This means the system is failing these students. School is a shared public space where no one deserves to be fearful, yet these students cannot walk the halls of their schools with a sense of security in who they are. This means transgender youth are experiencing a form of trauma whenever they gather the courage to walk through the doors of their school in their reclaimed identity. A part of this fear and trauma comes from the fact that there is a lack of acceptance and acknowledgement in shared gender spaces. In implementing the proposed policy, a bridge for this need of recognition would be created. As a first, though hopefully far from last, step, it would provide a gateway for transgender youth to lead on telling their own narrative of their humanity.
The proposed policy has some gaps in it that hopefully will be worked out over time to make it even better for trangender youth, however it is an important beginning towards justice in our school systems. If passed, the policy would be one step in bringing human dignity, security, and respect to those who are most in need of it by providing a shared space that is acknowledging and affirming of gender for all students. Therefore, I strongly push the MSHSL to pass this policy on December 04.