PRIDE hosts “Being Transgender: Ask me Anything”

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Jackson Robelia ('21) Chips

Samantha Douglas (’21) and Athena Hatfield (’21) respond to questions during PRIDE’s “Being Transgender: Ask me Anything” event.

Luther College PRIDE hosted “Being Transgender: Ask Me Anything,” featuring Athena Hatfield (‘21) and PRIDE secretary Samantha Douglas (‘21) on Oct. 9 and Oct. 10 in Valders 206. Attendees were encouraged to ask Douglas and Hatfield questions about their respective experiences of coming out as transgender and nonbinary at Luther College.

Douglas organized the event to raise awareness for trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming individuals. She believes that while trans people have always existed, many concealed their identities because of oppressive regimes like Nazi Germany and those who participated in European colonization that believed all gender-nonconforming people were a threat to their worldview. 

“The main thing I want to achieve is to answer a lot of questions on something that is a current matter of debate in political spheres, like the existence and legitimacy of trans people,” Douglas said. “I think this is a way to answer questions and also increase visibility, because for hundreds if not thousands, of years, trans people have been kept in the dark. This is a way for us to step into the light.”

Counselor Stu Johnston moderated the event and read questions submitted by the audience as a representative of Counseling Services. Douglas and Hatfield responded to questions about how they discovered their gender identities. Douglas says she accepted her gender during her first year at Luther after questioning herself for over a year.

“I really started to question myself my senior year of high school,” Douglas said. “Eventually, I just said to myself in the shower on Ylvisaker’s second floor, ‘You’re transgender, Sam. Do something about it,’ so I looked into the processes of what that sort of transition would be and have been treading that path ever since.” 

Hatfield’s perception of gender changed during their sophomore year of high school when a friend mentioned that sex and gender were different and people have the option to be nonbinary or agender. This made Hatfield feel more comfortable with themself and put years of pushing back against gender norms into clearer context. 

“I’ve been pushing against the gender binary my whole life without realizing that I was pushing against it,” Hatfield said. “I was angry or upset about anything that seemed like it was boxing anyone in, like when people were separating things in class by sex or the idea that guys don’t wear dresses. Anything like that really got to me, and I would just yell at people when they said, ‘Oh, you’re going to wear makeup one day’ when I knew I wasn’t.” 

When it comes to feeling supported on campus, Douglas says that while most people do not go out of their way to bully or misgender her, shifts at Marty’s, where she works, can be tiring when customers consistently use forms of address for men in reference to her. 

“One time a guy called me sir, bro, and man all in the same sentence within a matter of words of each other,” Douglas said. “At that point I thought it was probably intentional, but that just kind of gets to me sometimes, especially after two or three hour long shifts of being called sir. But today was really great because someone caught themselves on it after they looked at my name tag and said, ‘I’m sorry, ma’am.’ I thanked them for correcting themselves and it was amazing.”

Hatfield says most professors have been supportive thus far, but there is still room for improvement when it comes to using proper gender pronouns. 

“I have not had a professor work against me on it,” Hatfield said. “Every professor I have approached has said, ‘Yes, I want to gender you correctly, please correct me if I mess up.’ I have gotten a couple who have said ‘I think this is going to be too hard for me, can I just use your name and not pronouns?’ They were still clear in their support, but it was frustrating since I would rather you put yourself out there and try to use they/them pronouns even if you aren’t used to it than avoid the issue altogether.”

Hatfield also believes there should be more gender inclusive options for housing and bathrooms on campus since housing is limited, and the gender neutral bathrooms are typically placed in inconvenient locations.

“Gender neutral housing is limited on campus and you have to defend why you deserve to be there,” Hatfield said. “It should be a right. It should just be expected. If you want to be able to live in a gender inclusive space, you should be able to do that without having to justify it or not make it in because there are too many people, which is what happened this year.”

Luther College PRIDE meets on Wednesday nights at 8:00 p.m. in the Mott-Borlaug room. The group is making an effort to host more events specific to trans and nonbinary students in order to provide opportunities for people on campus to learn more about this community and how to actively support it. President of PRIDE Lauren Westbrook (‘22) wants to encourage these events because they provide a more comfortable environment to learn about the community.

“I feel when it’s in the form of a panel, especially when it’s somebody you know or someone that you interact with every day, it humanizes the demographic you don’t normally interact with,” Westbrook said. “It’s very different reading about something happening nationally and statewide versus things happening on campus. That’s the value I see in it. It is worthwhile to read about it, but it is also valuable to hear about it.”

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