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Living under an ‘umbrella’

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UW-Whitewater students describe what it’s like living with a unique gender identity

By Emma Cunningham


Most college students get used to filling out endless forms and applications that typically have a box to check if you are “male” or “female.” But what if you weren’t sure which box to check?

Transgender students at UW-Whitewater face forms like this and are reminded they do not “fit in” with societal norms.

“Transgender” is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity does not match with the physical sex they were assigned at birth. For example, someone who was born a female but later realizes the female role doesn’t reflect who they feel they are on the inside, may now live life as a man or vice versa.

There’s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For most people, those genders are aligned. For transgender people, they are mismatched.

Filling out forms is just the beginning. Transgender students will face challenges every day on campus in student housing, when trying to use the restroom, with ID cards and name changing, in locker rooms, in health care centers or in a classroom.

Alex Woodington, a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, should be a junior at UW-Whitewater but decided to put school on hold while she goes through her new process of transitioning from male to female.

“A question I was asked once by a therapist was, ‘Do you think you should have been born in a different gender’s body?’ and I thought, ‘Yeah, actually,’ but I answered ‘No,’ because with my Christian up-bringing, that would have been weird,” Woodington said.

On a daily basis, transgender people face decisions about when, where and how to come out—or where, when and why not to.

One of the biggest challenges they face is being accepted.

“It took me a while to get over the fact that most of my family won’t acknowledge my existence anymore, but I do have a lot of friends that are supportive,” Woodington said.

According to a Human Rights Campaign survey, four in 10 LGBT youth say the community in which they live is not accepting of LGBT people.

“I don’t know if I could be someone I’m not,” Woodington said. “We’re not freaks. It’s just something that we go through, and it’s not as abnormal as people think it is.”

Rachel Nepper, a senior majoring in English and minoring in women’s studies, does not identify with a gender. When asked to elaborate more, Nepper quoted writer Andrea Gibson.

“It’s not that I thought I’d grow up to be a man; I just never thought that I’d grow up to be a woman, either.”

“It’s difficult to understand, and when people don’t understand, they’re significantly less likely to accept,” Nepper said.

Nepper said most of the gender identity support has come from Dr. Cindy Konrad, LGBT coordinator and head of the PB Poorman Pride and Resource Center.

“For a lot of people who are LGBT, they start to see themselves as not fitting in,” Konrad said. “For folks who are heterosexual, they don’t notice the social pressures to be a certain way. I have a friend who sent me a note on Facebook asking me to vote for her nephew and his girlfriend for a ‘Little Prince and Princess’ contest. They’re 3, and they’re already being dressed up as a prince and princess and as a heterosexual pair. We don’t know if these 3-year-olds are going to grow up to be straight, gay or have some other identity entirely, but we start to get those pressures from very young.”

This year, UW-Whitewater will celebrate “Coming Out Day” from 12:30 to 3 p.m. on Oct. 8 in the University Center North Mall. The goal of the day is for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, staff and their allies to celebrate coming out and encourage those who haven’t in an effort to increase the LGBT community, Konrad said.

Robert Eichberg, a psychologist from New Mexico and a founder of a personal growth workshop, founded national Coming Out Day Oct. 11, 1988. The date was chosen because it was the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. This year will mark the 25th Anniversary.

There will be a free film screening of “Gay Best Friend” in Hyland 2101 Oct. 8 at 6:30 p.m. as a fun and light-hearted event after the emotional day of coming out.

UW-Whitewater also will host speaker Mara Kiesling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality at 11 a.m. on Nov. 14, 2013, at the Warhawk Connection Center to discuss transgender identities and issues.

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Living under an ‘umbrella’