Northwest Association of College & University Housing Officers

Supporting Our People: supportive space for trans people and allies

By Noah Hurley and janelle wilson

In places of higher education, we often host trainings and workshops to help interested potential allies understand the depth and breadth of gender assignment, gender identities, and gender expressions. These trainings usually happen on a regular basis to try and create a greater understanding and awareness. It is more common for us to provide educational support for trans allies than to offer something directly for our trans colleagues and students. We hope to offer support for everyone reading this article to ensure that space and time is given to the important process of learning about others in order to better understand and care for them.

We do not often create intentional spaces for those who identify within the gender non-conforming spectra to come together for support, to connect with each other, or simply to be together to discuss what it is like for us at our institutions.

In addition to offering tips for practicing and aspiring allies of trans and gender nonconforming people, Noah and I want to reach out first to those of us in the gender galaxy who are trans, non-binary, genderqueer, gender non-conforming/fluid/neutral/variant/free, neutrois, autgender, bordergender, pangender, agender, questioning and more in our public and/or private lives. We offer space and the following tips:

1. Be who you are…when and how you want to be you.

There are times and places in our public and private lives that may affect when and how we show up. Please remember that who you are and what you bring to your work every day is integral to the well-functioning of your team.

2. Engage in interrupting (micro) aggressions when and if you feel like it.

Engaging in the always meaningful-but-also-sometimes-difficult education about bigotry and bias can take a toll on a person. Give yourself permission to choose (if and when) you want to engage on topics near and dear to your heart. Know when it is your time to intervene…and when it might be best left to your colleagues and student leaders to lead the movement toward inclusive spaces, policies, and practices within your department and institution.  Taking care of you may mean taking the evening off (or even an extended period of time) to refresh, recharge, and rejuvenate your spirit, whether it means you are strengthening yourself for the lengthy process for equity or just making sure you are not getting burned out in your position.

3. Connect and get reacquainted.

Connect and get reacquainted with colleagues and friends who have been there for you in the past; they likely want to be there for you again when you need support. If you’ve been meaning to make time to go to a gathering that’s regularly scheduled but your schedule has usually gotten the best of you, try committing to it the next time it comes time to meet up. You can prioritize your schedule to include taking care of yourself and your needs. Speaking of needs: no one will know you need anything unless you tell them. Try sharing and see how others will show up to care about you.

4. Be okay with ambiguity.

We don’t know what might happen later today let-alone tomorrow. If you find yourself spiraling into a sea of anxiety, think about the things that help you stay grounded…and do one of them. Check out new ideas for self-care and try a new idea to help get back to where you want to be. Acknowledge that ambiguity is okay (even though it is not always comfortable).

5. Remember that you are needed and cared for by others.

janelle has this beautiful postcard from the Trans Justice Funding Project that states, “You Are Where You’re Supposed to Be and We Need You Where You Are.” Remember that despite what may seem like overwhelming opposition to this fact, you are needed and cared for by others. Most importantly, it is essential that you are needed by yourself. Who we are and what we do makes a difference in others’ lives. Let’s do our best to ensure that the difference we make is positive.

For those of us who want to do the great work of continuing to learn how to best support our trans and gender nonconforming students and staff members…let’s do this. The time is now.

How Best to Support Trans and Gender Nonconforming Students & Staff

1. Don’t make assumptions… ASK!

Granted, this is good advice no matter with whom you are working, but when it comes to having a meaningful interaction with a trans person, this could mean not assuming one’s pronouns, their gender, or what they want from you. The best practice you can initiate is while introducing yourself, include the pronouns you prefer, and invite others to use their names and pronouns, as well. If our goal is true equity, then we will treat everyone as they want to be treated– inviting them to share their chosen name and pronouns should not be a shock for any person, regardless of appearance, gender, age, or ethnicity.  If it is a surprise for someone, please take a moment to explain why you introduce yourself with your pronouns.

Example of an introduction at a meeting:
Hi, I’m Noah, and my pronouns are he/him/his. And I am introducing myself with my pronouns so that no one has to assume what pronouns that I would like others to use when referring to me. You are welcome to introduce yourself with your chosen name and pronouns, if you’d like.

2. Understand that there is a difference for a trans person’s coming-out process versus an LGB person…

There is a difference for trans students. Some people’s gender identity and/or expression can change throughout the day while others might stay relatively the same throughout their lifetime. Some may choose to only come out to those they are most familiar with and in particular situations while others choose to come out every day all day all year. While there are some similarities with some queer identities, the process can look different for trans people. Continue to learn more about these differences and how you can help support others.

3. Respect them for where they are at…

Respect between two people is the most crucial way to support your trans friends, colleagues, and relatives. What does R-E-S-P-E-C-T actually look like? Find out what it means to… them!

Confidentiality is key. Get permission and direction on what and to whom their info can be shared. Once you get direction from a trans colleague or student, then you should Respect their terms, as in how they identify, where they are in the gender galaxy, and what gender identity/pronouns they use.

Respect that the process is not easy, but your support and respect will make what they are facing that much easier. You can also respect their pace and progress on coming out and discovering who they are. We are all different on this planet, and we all grow, mature, and discover who we are at different times throughout our life. Trans people are no different. Give them the freedom to be people, too.

4. If you are not the decision-maker to institute trans-friendly policies, then advocate for them…

Trans students need private restrooms, selection process that is friendly, supportive, and does not force them to out themselves to friends/family.

If your institution does not have gender-inclusive restrooms, try to see if there are options available in the physical structures you have, which would be an easier change. Any single-stall restrooms could easily be changed to an anybody bathroom.

Signage matters to people. If you’re going to do something on campus in regards to inclusivity, use your resources on campus. Talk with your LBGTQ+ resources centers if you are not sure what the most appropriate signage would be. If you don’t have a center on your campus, use a center from a nearby institution or one within the region.

5. Work to become a strong and active ally…

This won’t look the same for every trans person. Being an ally will look different for every person. There will be some times when you leverage your power to make changes on campus (see #4.)

Interrupting microaggressions:

Microaggressions have macro-effects on people. If you do, make sure you’re interrupting from a place of education and respect.

  1. Take a deep breath and try to center yourself.
  2. Make the statement on what was the issue with their behavior and how it made you feel (or why the behavior was inappropriate)
  3. Give them guidance on what to say or how to behave in the future.

The complexity and unlimited varieties of genders make this topic ever-growing, so we wanted to stress the concept of Dylan Vade’s article, and that “everyone has a place in the gender galaxy.” Let’s make sure we are creating that space in the work that we’re doing.

Additional resources:

Oregon Department of Education’s Guidance to School Districts: Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment for Transgender Students Issued May 5, 2016.

Alberta Education’s Guidelines for Best Practices: Creating Learning Environments that Respect Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Gender Expressions, 2016.

Here are some NWACUHO institutions noted for making a positive impact in their communities:

Trans Student Educational Resources

  • TSER is a fantastic resource for more information, including great infographics that you might post in your halls and offices. *Note: there is an infographic titled, “Title IX: Know Your Rights Trans & Gender Non-Conforming Youth.” At the writing of this blog post, we are still unsure what repercussions might occur based off of the recent guidelines from the Trump administration. Our recommendation would be to investigate your institution’s policies prior to posting this particular infographic.

Transgender Law Center’s Tips for Working with Transgender Colleagues.

janelle wilson serves as the Associate Director of Student Life for Social Justice & Service. Noah Hurley is currently the Interim Director of University Housing. Both professionals work at Southern Oregon University.

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