Something I’m Thankful For 

By Brianna Green

I’m 24 years old and I’ve been in therapy two different times. The first time, I was still living in the Chicago suburbs and my therapist was (surprisingly) a 3-minute drive from my house. She was a nice older woman and I saw her for over a year. I initially saw her because I was sobbing on a regular basis for no “real” reason. However, I only stayed with her out of convenience. Talking to her sometimes helped, but sometimes it just felt like I was boring her. 

This summer, after being out of therapy for over a year, I decided I wanted and needed to get back into it. Since my first stint in therapy, a lot of things had happenedfor example, moving to Kansas City and starting UMKC—and I felt like I needed help. My therapist is, once again, an older woman but now it’s forty-five minutes away. Although at times this is inconvenient, I find the drive to be a blessing in disguise. While driving to her office, I use that time to think about what I want to talk about. Reversely, on the way back, I use that time to digest our session and reflect.  

Unlike with my first therapist, I cry a lot more often at my sessions now, and I do not like crying. That might sound silly, but I take it as a sign that I’ve found someone I’m comfortable being vulnerable with. For me, therapy isn’t easy, but it isn’t supposed to be. It’s hard trying to work on yourself. I’m incredibly thankful I’m able to be in therapy, because not everyone has the opportunity. Likewise, looking at gender, 15% of cis women seek mental health treatment compared to 9% of cis men. I believe this is because cis men are often socialized from a young age to be “tough” and to repress or not show their emotions. This is so unfortunate; a person’s gender should not be a reason why they don’t seek the help they need. Everyone experiences hardships and poor mental health at some point in their livesFurthermore, gender non-conforming individuals are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health conditions as a result of cissexism and discrimination, and they could benefit greatly from therapy, if they have access. For these reasons, we need to cultivate an environment where people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds feel comfortable showing their emotions and seeking help, and where therapy is more accessible.

Finally, finding a therapist you can connect with can be difficult. There are some great general tips out there on how to find one, but don’t forget about your comfort level; it’s okay to specifically seek a therapist who has the same gender and/or background as you do. Even if you find someone who looks good on paper, sometimes you have to see a few therapists before finding one that’s a good match for you. As someone who wants to be in the mental health profession one day, I truly believe that therapy is something everyone should try and should not be ashamed of. After all, our minds deserve the same respect as our body does when it comes to being healthy.   

 

Introductions are Crucial to Gender Equity

By Ace Garrett

If you think about it, we are introduced to new people (partners, coworkers, friends of friends) all the time—and often with no heads up. If you are like me, you may still be working on remembering peoples’ names when you’re introduced (a pretty important part of the interaction, for sure), but names aren’t the only things we should be exchanging when we first meet.

The moment when two or more people are introduced is one of the most effective opportunities we have to normalize and validate trans and non-binary identities. If you caught Sierra’s post about sex, gender, and pronouns, you should remember that someone’s gender presentation does not always “line up” with their pronouns or their gender identity—you can’t simply “tell” what someone’s gender is (and trying to do so leads to misgendering)

But if we can’t assume someone’s pronouns or gender identity, how do we find out? They have to tell you, of course. When it comes to gender identity, we don’t actually have to know someone’s in order to talk to them or about them; pronouns, however, are a huge part of conversation and language. You need to know someone’s correct pronouns pretty much as soon as you meet them.

So how should sharing pronouns work?

The key word here is sharing: everyone in an introduction should share their pronouns. You might feel inclined to only ask people who “look” queer or non-binary, but this can be extremely alienating. What if, in a classroom of people, the teacher only asks one student what their pronouns are? That student is now singled out, and this reinforces (in the minds of the other students) that this student is different. We all use pronouns, and we all have a gender—gender non-conforming people are alienated enough without being singled out every time they introduce themself.

Introducing yourself with your own pronouns is the best way to make others around you feel comfortable sharing theirs. And this applies to introductions as well. When you introduce people to each other, don’t only mention pronouns that aren’t “obvious.” Doing so reinforces the falsehood that someone’s pronouns can be assumed from their presentation. The truth is, someone who looks very masculine or very feminine may use they/them pronouns, and someone who looks ambiguous may use he/him or she/her pronouns.  There are even neopronouns to consider (more on that in the future).

The solution to knowing everyone’s pronouns, in short, is for everyone to introduce themselves with both their name and their pronouns. If we all get used to asking for and sharing pronouns, we will stop letting ourselves and others assume. By doing this, not only are we helping prevent harmful misgendering, we are also changing our social climate! Never forget: we have the power to make a difference. 

As you get to know people better—make friends or get into relationship for example—discussing each other’s gender identity will probably up (in most cases). We will be covering how to talk to someone about their gender identity in an upcoming post!

My Gender Non-conforming Kid

By Brooke Davidoff

When Chelsea came home from Target with us, my son said from the back seat that he wanted to be a mommy. 

We had gotten into an deep conversation in the isles—other parents and kids were looking on as we weighed the options. I made sure he knew that if he chose a baby doll and opened the box, he couldn’t change his mind, it was non-refundable. But he articulated that he needed to buy this doll.

Chelsea had big brown eyes and pigtails, a flowery summer dress, and a pacifier. Chelsea was my son’s first Baby Alive doll, and she slept beside his bed in a painted shoebox with pillows and blankets.

My kid was 7.

Dr. Theresa Tanenbaum is an Associate Professor of Informatics at UCI, a trans woman, and a friend of mine who said, “I’ve been a girl my whole life, but I didn’t always know it. As a result, many of my childhood experiences were defined by cognitive dissonance. Growing up as a trans girl is like being gaslit by the whole world and still finding the strength and confidence to say ‘No! This is who I am.’”

She is a wealth of knowledge about the kind of trauma and pain trans women experience living in a male body most of their lives. I’ve know her since she was in 10th grade and she helped me understand that it’s not my place to guide my son to masculinity. As a single mother, I thought I needed to get him into Boy Scouts or sports, but she helped me stand back and allow him to lead his own journey. Part of the trauma trans people face is the internal struggle of living a double life.

One day my kid decided he needed a dress. I had never imagined I would have this conversation with my son, but he was crying saying he didn’t feel like he fit his own skin. So, we went into the little girl’s section and he happily picked out a pile of glittery rainbow sundresses to try on. He fell in love with one and we took it home. He wore it almost every day after school until it didn’t fit anymore.

Theresa also said, “As a kid, I yearned for ‘normal’ girl experiences, but wasn’t allowed to have them. I suffered in terror from ‘boy’ experiences. Not knowing I was trans, all of it was so confusing. My socialization wasn’t the same as a cis girl, but it wasn’t anything like a boy’s” 

I can’t imagine what it feels like not to fit into my skin. But I do have empathy for those who live that way. I am trying my best to help my child feel at home in his body. It isn’t easy to understand what a kid needs when showing gender non-conforming behavior, but parents and guardians must be prepared to support transgender and non-binary youth. At the moment, I call my kid non-binary. Some days he calls himself a boy, some days he wants to be a girl more than anything. He might be a woman one day, or a man, or maybe he is neither, but it will be his decision. He still has to figure out what gender means to him, how pronouns make him feel, how he wants to present and be perceived. Gender identity is a huge part of our lives and kids need to be allowed to take their time figuring it out.

We need to work better to educate ourselves and others: kids are just kids. No one fits into a neat box. In the end, we should all just be kind and respect other’s lifestyles, decisions, and privacy.

 

The More You Know… The More You Won’t Misgender Your Friends

By Sierra Voorhies

When I started at UMKC, I had taken Women’s Studies in Junior College, and thought I was at least minorly educated in the gender issues of the day. Boy, was I wrong. (Trigger warning: misgendering.)

In my first semester or two at UMKC, I made a small group of friends that included a non-binary person. We had some classes together, and after one class, they told me they were irritated: a professor had discussed differences in brain and behavior in the brains of men and women, but hadn’t bothered to do any research about where non-binary or transgender brains might differ or how they are affected. Later in the semester, they were having some turmoil about how to tell professors to address them by their pronouns (they/them). I asked them, “how is someone supposed to know someone uses they/them pronouns when they present as masculine or feminine?” They replied that non-binary people don’t all dress one way, there’s no androgynous dress code of monochromatic-oversized-Jaden-Smithian wardrobe for identifying as nonbinary. 

 That friend helped me learn a lot about identifying as non-binary, stuff that we should all know. People who identify as non-binary, women, or men don’t have to dress a certain way to present their gender because you literally cannot tell someone’s gender by looking at them. This is very different than every subliminal message I have received about performing gender for my whole life, like, I thought it was radical for women to have shaved heads, because they weren’t performing their gender. But guess what? No one, no matter their pronouns or gender, has to look any certain way.

So, that was a big wake up call for me; I have been making assumptions about people and misgendering them, and I didn’t even know I was doing anything wrong. Looking at a person with a soft face shape and long hair, I would refer to them using she/her pronouns without asking or thinking. Then I took a Psychology of Gender class and learned that gender, like sexual orientation, is not a binary. And just like there is a spectrum of sexuality (pansexual, gay, asexual, straight, queer, etc.), there is a spectrum of gender. The options aren’t A) Boy or B) Girl; they include non-binary, genderfluid, cisgender, transgender, and more. 

In the future, I hope to share more of my follies in learning about gender and to explore topics like gender congruence, the different sub-categories of non-binary identities, the history of gender, gender dysphoria, pronouns, and more. I have made mistakes in understanding and applying gender and sexuality to myself and the people around me. Even though it’s embarrassing and I am ashamed that I might have hurt some of my friends, it’s ok for people to make mistakes. What’s important is that we are compassionate towards others and try our best to educate ourselves on gender and sexuality. 

Navigating the Forbidden Fruit

By Brianna Green

I think anatomy is similar to fruit; it comes in different shapes, sizes, colors, tastes and smells. Someone can like a certain fruit or a variety of them. Furthermore, different places and people have different names for the same fruit. For example, in English we call a spherical, pale yellow shape with a reddish inside a “grapefruit,” but in Spanish it’s a “pomelo” and in Portuguese it’s called a “toranja.” Each place is correct in the way they refer to this fruit.

Whether you’re female, male, trans, intersex, or nonbinary, you might have the external anatomy that’s traditionally referred to as the “female” anatomy, but I’m going to refer to it as the external genital area. As anyone who has this area might know, it’s a little confusing. What are all the parts? What do they do? And what can they be called?

There is sometimes a misconception that the entire external area is referred to as the “vagina,” but this is incorrect. The vagina, also known as the internal genitals, does connect to the outside world, but it’s an internal structure. The external anatomy, according to MedicalNewsToday (MNT), is made up of the mons pubis and the vulva, which consists of the labia majora, labia minora, clitoral hood and clitoris, and the urethral and internal genital openings. You can also refer to this area as the external genital area. I’m going to use a diagram (below) to explore the external genital area and its’ different names and structures.

Starting with the mons pubis, is the fatty area above the external genital area that usually grows public hair. Next are the labias. The labia majora are the outer, fleshy lips on either side of the internal genital opening which usually grow hair (MNT). The labia minora, on the other hand, are the inner lips surrounding the openings; they do not grow hair and can vary in size and color. Their function is to protect the openings to the urethra and internal genitals.

Moving on to the clitoris, which can also be referred to as the erogenous tissue. This structure has a clitoral hood or prepuce. The hood is the fold of skin that surrounds the head of the erogenous tissue and protects it from friction (MNT). The erogenous tissue is pretty complex but, to keep it short, it sits at the top of the external genital area, is roughly the size of a pea, and tends to be sensitive (MNT). Below the erogenous tissue is the urethra, which is where urine comes out. Going south lies the vaginal opening or the opening of the genitals, which leads to the external structures that I’ll talk about another day. Finally, you have the perineum which is the skin between the external genital area and anus.

Although this was a general summary of the external genital area, not everyone’s anatomy is going to look exactly like this. For instance, intersex individuals may have ambiguous genitalia; and trans people who have not had (or don’t want) gender confirmation surgery may refer to their genitals differently. Here (https://massivesci.com/articles/sex-gender-intersex-transgender-identity-discrimination-title-ix/) is an article that explains sex but also what intersex is and how it is expressed. And here (https://youtu.be/Mb5umSACjcw) is a YouTube video, created by an OBGYN, for trans and nonbinary individuals who don’t want to use any of the terms I used for this type of genitalia. I hope this blog was educational and provided some clarity for everyone who has the external genital area!

Resources

http://www.phsa.ca/transcarebc/Documents/HealthProf/Gender_Inclusive_Language_Clinical.pdf

www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326898.

Diagram created by Brianna Green

UMKC gears up for Transgender Awareness Month

By Ann Varner

It was recently brought to my attention that November is Transgender Awareness Month. In particular, November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day dedicated to remembering transgender people who have lost their lives due to anti-trans violence.

This month is so important because it brings attention to a group of people who have significant struggles in terms of equality and acceptance in the United States. According to Marie Claire, there are an estimated 700,000 people who identify as transgender in the United States. 41% of this population has attempted or committed suicide.

19% of transgender people have experienced violence or abuse from a family member, with only 18 states having clear laws protecting transgender people.

In order to help improve these issues and reflect a more positive trans experience, UMKC LGBTQIA Programs & Services is hosting many events this week and next week for trans awareness. Their website also lists university resources for trans and non-binary students, faculty and staff. Check them out!

Texas Mayor Jess Herbst: ‘Yes I am Transgender and a Seated Mayor’

Image from the website of the mayor of New Hope, Tex., Jess Herbst.

by Thea Voutiritsas

Jess Herbst, mayor of New Hope, Texas announced at a town hall meeting that she is Transgender, and would no longer use the name Jeff. “As far as I know, I am the first openly transgender mayor on record in the state of Texas; there could be others who never came out,” Ms. Herbst said in a New York Times interview on Wednesday. “But I am the first to say, ‘Yes I am transgender and a seated mayor.’ ” Herbst also writes an open letter to the citizens of New Hope which can be viewed on the official website of New Hope. In it, she writes:

I know that transgender people are just coming to light in our society, and we have made great strides in the last few years. Celebrities like olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox from the show ‘Orange is the new Black’ and popular shows like ‘Transparent’ , society finally has a chance to see and learn about who we are.

In Herbst’s blog, jessherbst.com, she writes that she found many of her transgender references online. She says she found “an avalanche of knowledge. I became aware of not only the terminology, but that fact that there were many, many more people like me out there.” Herbst was eventually able to begin meeting with more trans women, and about a year ago, she began HRT. Now, she has been living full-time as Jess since January 2017.

She plans on continuing as Mayor, and hopes to do the very best for the town. She says that her family has been supportive, writing in the letter that “My daughters have been adamant supporters of me and are proud to tell people their father is transgender.” More of Herbst’s story and updates can be found on her blog.

 

Leelah Alcorn

Image found via Google Images on Creative Commons

Image found via Google Images on Creative Commons

By Matiara Huff

On December 28, 2014 Leelah Alcorn was pronounced dead, and her death did exactly what she wanted it to do. At the end of her suicide note she wrote “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s f***ed up’ and fix it. Fix society.”

Leelah Alcorn was a 17 year old transgender girl and all she wanted for her 16 birthday was permission to have gender reassignment surgery, and the support of her parents. Instead she was met with hatred and embarrassment. She was verbally abused and denied her surgery. Then, after coming out in school as a stepping stone, her parents took her out of school, cut off all of her social interaction, and put her in conversion therapy for 5 months. When she finally went back to school, she thought that things would get better but all of her friends moved on, and she said this made her feel lonelier than ever.

Leelah was struck by a tractor trailer at 2:00 a.m. on a highway 4 miles from her house, then at 5:30pm the next day her suicide note was set to post on Tumblr. She explained everything that she went through and why she decided to kill herself. She posted a second note to apologize to her siblings and friends. Since then, Leelah’s life and death have gone viral and have sparked a movement that she would have wanted. The only way to keep the movement going is to not forget her.

Leelah’s story is just one of too many tragic stories, and it is time that we change our society so that we don’t have to hear about these stories grounded in such hatred. At the Women’s Center, we recognize these problems, and we take the necessary steps to support everyone, no matter what their gender expression is. We want to make this world a better place for all of us. Until it is a better place for all of us, everyone is always safe and welcome in the Women’s Center.

Transgender Awareness Month

bothBy Kemora Williams

As you may or may not know, November is Transgender Awareness month. Transgender means that the state of one’s gender identity or gender expression does not matching one’s assigned sex. Most commonly, transgender people identify as Male-to-Female (MTF) or Female-to-Male (FTM), the former gender referring to the person’s sex assigned at birth, and the latter referring to the gender with which the person feels comfortable and honest identifying. Transgender status alone does not mandate that someone has had or will have any type of sexual reassignment surgery, though most transgender people tend to present to the outside world as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth.

This month is used to increase the awareness about the issues that transgender individuals face. They face issues including discrimination, unequal legislation, media stereotyping, hate crimes, and many more. As many transgender individuals have gone through or go through life as women, it is important for feminism to include and support transgender individuals. Transgender Day of Remembrance is held on November 20 as well. This day is in honor of those lost due to violence at the hands of hate. During this month rallies, educational programs, and fundraisers are held to raise awareness and unite the transgender community with allies. For more information about resources on campus on in the area please visit http://info.umkc.edu/lgbt/