CU’s trans adults discuss their struggles and find meaning in community through Uniting Pride

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As conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ people become more pervasive and nuanced across the country, much attention is being paid to the experiences of young people; their challenges as adults are often easily overlooked and underrepresented in such dialogue.

Uniting Pride (UP), a local LGBTQ+ non-profit organization that, among other LGBTQ+ events, groups, and resources, also hosts a trans support group to alleviate this issue in the Champaign-Urbana community.

Daisy Ford, a rural mail carrier, and Elijah Greenwood, a family sports specialist, are the two co-organizers of the group. In addition to providing education and a safe space, they also aim to create a relaxed sense of community and friendship among participants.

Among those participants are Felix Fletcher, an author, and Ivory Chorng, a first-year graduate student in information management at UIUC.

Almost everyone in the group found the process of coming out, to themselves and to others, has caused them to question their identities and strain their relationships with loved ones.

Greenwood realized that they weren’t binary in part by creating a gender-ambiguous Dungeons & Dragons character and finding that they felt very comfortable with it. Additionally, Greenwood said having a twin sister further complicated their coming out process.

“But so, with a twin sister, it was hard to realize that I’m not a woman,” Greenwood said. “One thing that’s devastating was asking yourself, ‘I hope my sister doesn’t hate me. [for it].’”

While Greenwood said their sister came to terms with their new identity, they recalled how traumatic dating their mother and changing her name was.

“It was a terrifying interaction,” Greenwood said. “The worst part was the way she looked at me. There was no love in those eyes; it was really painful; she was so angry. She said, ‘I’ll never call you [Elijah]you will always be a woman.'”

Fletcher remembers having to find another place to live solely because of his gender identity. Fletcher said he only received disability benefit money when his mother kicked him out.

“At the time, I remember crying and saying, ‘Disability doesn’t mean much to me,'” Fletcher said. “’I’m not going to be able to live on this. What am I going to do?'”

Fletcher said he was used to the abuse and was not used to speaking up for himself.

“Growing up in kind of a bad home, I used to take a lot“, said Fletcher. “I used to be people’s punching bag. So I’m not really defending myself.

Fletcher’s tolerance for abuse became particularly concerning as he attempted to seek hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the Deep South.

“The only doctor I found to prescribe me [testosterone] was very convenient in an uncomfortable and unprofessional way,” Fletcher said. “And I was like, ‘Why are you touching me?’ But I didn’t want to say anything because he was the only one I could do hormones to.

Especially in areas where the community is hostile to queer people, self-advocacy is key to affirming the validity of your orientation or sexuality. Fortunately, participants found CU to be relatively tolerant of their gender identity, but said there was still a lot of work to be done.

“It’s so, so different, Fletcher said. “Not only are people colder about it in general, but there are more people willing to come out and feel safe enough to come out. I can hold my partner’s hand and not be afraid.

Fletcher, who moved to Champaign-Urbana from Texas, noted a drastic difference in trans acceptance between the two communities.

“We went from Texas, where you always hide a little, to here where [my partner] says, “I see like guys in dresses, I see people with their pride pins that are openly trans, openly themselves, openly queer,” Fletcher said. “It’s crazy.”

Ford, however, still feels alienated due to her gender identity.

“People at work don’t know how to handle me,” Ford said. “I’m pretty sure no one here will ever say the word transgender, because they think they can’t, or they think it’s a dirty word or something. I can tell there are people out there who ostracize me.

Uniting Pride offered a solution to the issues they and the trans community continue to face – education and active learning

“I think it would be really helpful if people understood that we’re all a little uncomfortable with these topics and it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you’re willing to learn and listen,” said said Fletcher.

Greenwood, an alumnus of the University, said the University could do a lot more to incorporate these topics into its curriculum in the same way it emphasizes the importance of multicultural acceptance through the Diversity and Inclusion modules, as well as sexual assault (FYCARE) and drug and alcohol education.

“I think it would be great to have this as another addition to what University students already get,” Greenwood said. “I think everyone should want it. It would be great to be like, yeah, you gotta take Gender & Women’s Studies 100; it covered everything that I think is a good starting point for general gender equality, including transgender people.

However, others feel that the University still has a long way to go when it comes to transgender inclusion. Chorng noted the complete lack of on-campus medical resources for transgender students and the lack of attention to detail for students changing their names.

“I sometimes feel like they just don’t care,” Chorng said. “We’re a pretty big school; we have over 50,000 people but we don’t even have one gender doctor here, and McKinley can’t prescribe HRT. The second thing is our I-Card. The upper right corner can print your favorite name, but they don’t care enough, because when you turn it over, your dead name is written and you can’t get rid of it.

Despite all the issues and stigma that still exist in the CU community, at the end of the day, everyone in attendance said they were grateful to have met through Uniting Pride.

“There’s nothing like having people you can sit here with and say, ‘We’re not all on exactly the same journey, but we all understand each other, the great things that happen, difficult things”,said Greenwood. “There is something special about it.

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