Hey, I’m Nestram, your Trans Officer this year. And this week is quite important: it’s Trans Awareness Week. Unfortunately, the week exists partially as a build-up to Trans Day of Remembrance, a day to mourn all the trans people who have been murdered because of transphobia. Transphobia still exists at UCL and the wider community today and Trans Awareness Week is here to raise awareness of trans issues to make sure the atrocities which have gone on in the past don’t happen again. The week is also about helping Trans people realise that there is a place for us all, a community, there’s people like us and ultimately, that we can be safe.
Being Trans is believing your gender is more than what was assigned to you at birth – it’s about seeing yourself on a wide spectrum of gender and finding something that you feel comfortable with. A common misconception I’ve heard from cisgender (aka not trans) people is that the Trans community is aggressive and accusatory but we’re not, and it’s a rather dangerous assumption. We just want to be referred to correctly by our names and pronouns – to feel like we belong and are part of a community – and it’s not being rude or forceful to remind people of that. Anyone would be frustrated if they were referred to by the wrong name all the time. I believe a lot of this comes from a lack of common experiences; most cis people haven’t felt the need to question their gender identity, and don’t have trouble with people assuming they’re a gender different from the one they are. We’re also not a monolith; not every trans person has the exact same views when it comes to gender, identity, and the wider world, and it’s a pretty offensive view which a lot of people hold, even only subconsciously.
The Trans community gets a lot of negativity for trying to be ourselves. I feel like a lot of people try and second guess our identity, thinking that being trans is an unnecessary identity – we shouldn’t be silenced for having and expressing who we are. This is why I became the Trans Officer. I wanted Trans students at UCL to feel comfortable and have a place where they can get support. I wanted to have a network at UCL where we’re seen as people rather than predators (a common narrative, just take a look at the BBC and the Guardian, amongst other media sources) or as people who are complicating gender for no reason.
Although things have changed since I first started at UCL, I still feel like there isn’t a yet an adequate space for Trans people at UCL. Sports clubs are gendered into men’s and women’s, and I get misgendered a lot, no matter how many times I correct people. This might not seem like a big thing, but it makes me uncomfortable and dysphoric. I also don’t know whether people are misgendering me because they’re being transphobic or ignorant or because it’s a slip of the tongue. It just leads to a situation where we don’t know who’s going to be supportive and who isn’t. Even politically, the fact that UK law only recognises man and woman as genders makes it a lot harder for us to live daily life with even a simple trip to the GP made harder by misgendering.
There is still support at UCL. The Trans Network is a really nice, safe space for students, and the community has really helped me make friends. UCL Student Support and Wellbeing have also been helpful in their knowledge of trans charities where we can access support. They connected me with Gendered Intelligence who offer mentoring sessions with other Trans people and I’ve found that charity to be super helpful.
The week is also about making sure cisgender people know our struggles and understand how to become better allies to trans people. I hope things change at UCL and in the wider community. It’s clear that people see me in a way that just doesn’t reflect my identity at all – most people that pass by or talk to me still think of me as a woman, even if I’ve told them I’m not. That’s partially why I think we need more awareness of trans rights and how trans people feel - trans people shouldn’t have to be murdered for us to be recognised in popular culture and respected.
I hope you will be an ally and support us, and join the Trans and LGBT+ Networks if you identify as transgender, gender non-conforming and/or are questioning your gender – we are here for you.