Trans* allyship requires more than mere acceptance

Embracing abstraction empowers students to explore gender variance

When Caitlyn Jenner revealed that she is transgender, I was too young to understand the gravity of her transition. It was the first time I’d ever even heard of Bruce Jenner, let alone the concept of being trans*

I had no idea of the importance of the trans asterisk, for example.

"I'm really committed to that star, that asterisk," said Jack Halberstam, professor of American studies and ethnicity, gender studies and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. 

"What we see is a wide range of gender diverse bodies in the culture we live in ... I'm interested in the impact that new forms of gender variability have on gender as a whole. I'm not saying that everybody is trans*, but I'm saying that trans* represents an instability that is now built into the system itself."

ASU millennials have grown up through the legalization of gay marriageBlack Lives Matter protests and many more pushes for equality and acceptance of all colors in the spectrum of sexual and gender identities. 

The millennial desire for a better and more open world influenced its successor, Generation Z, hailed by Christine Horner in the Huffington Post as the world's first TransGeneration

This is a monumental aspect of our emerging culture. It can be hard for cisgendered people to understand gender variance, but there is an abundance of educational material with which to expand personal knowledge and foster understanding. Understanding historical context is paramount. 

We grow up in a culture dominated by social media — a medium which acts as a great open forum through which people express their individuality and how they wish to be perceived.

YouTube alone is filled with channels that detail trans* people's experiences, with videos that give in-depth descriptions of the different stages of transition, as well as feelings of gender dysphoria. 

One famous YouTube star, Gigi Gorgeous, documented her transition from male to female for the world to see. She recently released a 2017 documentary, “This is Everything,” following the course of her life from childhood and transition to YouTube fame and stardom. 

When I attended "Trans*: A Quick and Quirky History of Gender Variance," I thought I had my knowledge on lock. Yet as I listened to the lecture, I realized that there is so much more variance and complexity in the transgender community than I had previously thought.

In my limited worldview, my only knowledge of transgender people consisted of FTM, MTF, agendered people and gender-fluid people. In my mind, I wasn't allowing for abstraction — I simply believed in acceptance.

Now I realize that acceptance is only the first step to achieving equality, and even then equality is a superficial way of embracing diversity. Equality suggests that everything is the same — every variation in identity can be neatly labeled and tucked away in easily-accessible boxes in our mind. 

In reality, abstraction is a natural state for many people as they go through life growing as a person and subsequently evolving in their own identity. 

Queer artists throughout history have been faced with the difficulties of marrying their personal identity with the perceptions of others. Embracing abstraction is one way to combat assimilation and reaffirm non-normative sexual lives. 

As an ASU student, I feel lucky that I'm exposed to a multiplicity of topics through school events. Through exposure to the "Trans*" speech in particular, I was able to pick up the cavernous gaps in my own understanding of gender variance. 

There are many mistakes trans* allies can make while trying to express their allyship. The important thing is to recognize mistakes, fix them quickly and readjust your way of thinking to accommodate and embrace the incredible variance in gender identity. 

We are all in a state of movement, learning more and changing ourselves. We should embrace the abstraction that is present in others as well as in ourselves.


Reach the reporter at sosulli2@asu.edu or follow @serenaeosully on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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