The University of Nevada, Reno’s transgender community experiences ‘deadnaming’ and reminders of who they previously were prior to transitioning.
Healthline describes deadnaming as someone referring to a transgender person’s birth name rather than the name they chose prior to transitioning. According to Healthline, this can be a sign of invalidation for a transgender person.
“I identify as non-binary,” freshman Taz Harler said. “My professors very rarely ask about my pronouns, but the housing staff is very quick to pick up on my correct pronouns. It makes me feel frustrated because it takes a very small amount of effort to ask someone about their pronouns. I think that in addition to putting preferred names on WolfCards, we would have an option for pronouns. People aren’t always what they assume— even if I’m wearing makeup, or have breasts, I can express myself as masculine and prefer masculine or gender-neutral pronouns.”
Transgender refers to individuals whose gender identity does not correspond to their biological sex. Dr. Esther L. Meerwijk and Dr. Jae M. Sevelius found in 2016 around one million adults in the U.S. identified as transgender, according to an article from the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Cisgender refers to individuals whose gender identity corresponds to their biological sex.
“I identify as a trans male,” freshman Logan Kisner said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “Very early on in my transition, I experienced a lot of misgendering, and continue now to experience a significant amount of deadnaming. The system of the ‘preferred’ name is being put on attendance rosters for class and the ability to put it on one’s school ID is refreshingly easy and effective, but for what progress is made, there have been many issues. To speak only for myself, I’ve had a number of issues with the gym and with the Housing and Food Services department. Any email that comes from the latter department is guaranteed to use the legal name of a person, even in instances where it isn’t legally required, and this is something noticed by trans people and cis people alike. At the gym, because the website runs on a ‘purchase’ type of format, I got dead-named the first time I entered the gym because the computer gave the staff my wrong name. I also recently went through the interview process to become a Resident Assistant on campus, and because the website had no option whatsoever to give one’s chosen, non-legal name, I was dead-named a multitude of times, both in the one-on-one interviews and in front of the entire carousel interview group. Most recently, I and several other trans and [non-binary] students got an email from professors in Social Psychology, in which they both dead-named the person receiving the email and further identified the individual as specifically female.”
Kisner has felt humiliated each time these instances occur.
“Each of these incidents was deeply dehumanizing and humiliating to experience,” Kisner said. “One-on-one interactions in which I’m dead-named are their own specific kinds of demoralizing, but they’re inherently ‘better’ than group situations because I’m not being possibly exposed to total strangers. It is an individual’s choice whether or not they want to reveal their transness to another person, and in situations like my RA carousel group, I was identified by the wrong name in front of dozens of people, many of whom I did not know. In order to even have a chance for this job, I had to subject myself to humiliating, alienating experiences. I know that I live surrounded by cis frat boys and sorority girls, that in every class I am surrounded by a mix of well-intentioned cis people and what could be violent transphobes. When the university picks and chooses when to honor a student’s chosen name, I know that I am being put at risk every time.”
The transgender community often suffer from gender dysphoria, according to The American Psychiatric Association. The APA describe Gender Dysphoria as a conflict between one’s assigned gender and one’s gender identity. People with gender dysphoria often suffer from negativity and an increased rate of mental illnesses, which can interfere with school or work. In order to stop this, those with gender dysphoria may go to therapy, begin taking hormones designated for their identified gender or partake in gender reassignment surgery.
“I am non-binary and use they/them pronouns,” freshman Ozzy Hayes said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “I am consistently misgendered by students/faculty and consistently deadnamed by the university and university organizations. I was assigned male at birth, and I often get emails from fraternities and other organizations using my deadname and misgendering me as a man. To some degree I am habituated to it, because of how consistently and constantly it happens. Being misgendered is so much the norm that when my RA referred to me by my correct pronouns in normal conversation without prompting, my heart jumped and I felt great for the rest of the night. It’s logical to assume that it makes me uncomfortable with others, and it does, but the greatest impact it has on me is that I become uncomfortable with myself. Constant misgendering by the people and the environment around me makes me question myself and my identity, makes me push myself back into the ‘male’ box that I spent so much of my life breaking free from, and leaves me wallowing in dysphoria and self-loathing.”
Hayes feels the university should do more to support transgender and gender nonconforming pronouns
“The easiest and most accessible step to improving the comfort of trans/gender non-conforming students would be to normalize introducing oneself with one’s pronouns and asking others what pronouns they use in that space,” Hayes said.”The university is already taking the first step, but asking others what pronouns they use in that space both allows a trans/gender non-conforming person from outing themselves in a space that they are not comfortable being out in, and ensures that instructors, faculty, and classmates know how to address someone in a way ensuring their comfort. One of my professors in my two semesters at the school so far has bothered to do the second step, asking everyone at the beginning of the course to write on a card their preferred name and pronouns so he knew how to address us properly. We are some of the most downtrodden, marginalized people in the United States and around the world. We have been around for centuries, and we will not be bullied into staying silent. We have been a loud voice for decades, but for us to gain equality and liberation, we need cisgender allies to amplify our voices that have been crying out for so long. We are not a trend and we are not a danger. We are a community struggling to survive and fighting for our lives. We need your help, not your patronization and your silence.”
In 2018, 26 transgender people were killed in the U.S. due to violence. The Human Rights Campaign finds fatal violence to disproportionately affect women of color and that their intersexuality puts them at risk for employment, housing, healthcare and more.
“I think cultures respond to that transformation unevenly,” Gender Race Identity director, Dr. Jen Hill said. “We all have to be advocates for our friends, neighbors and colleges. It shouldn’t be on the person to always to correct them. Students who want to learn about these issues should take GRI classes. I think people, more generally on campus, a lack of support comes out of ignorance, which comes from that culturally lag. Part of it too is that the university is the time of discovery and that makes people cling to more tightly to people who they use to be. Be open to the transgender community, be open to people who differ from your own experience. It can be exhausting for people in minoritized positions. The rising visibility in the trans community that the trans community has always been a part of the human experience, and that it is a good sign that more people are willing to express themselves. The university has preferred name and preferred pronouns. I would say there is a lag in that system. If people are being deadnamed and misidentified, they need to go to Admissions and Records and make sure that it is recorded correctly. If it happens to them individually, persistently as a form of aggression, they should seek out Title IX and Student Services for support.”
There are some classes students can take to learn more about LGBT history and culture. GRI premieres a course on the Introduction to Intersectional Study of Identity. The students in this course will study the relations of gender, race, sexuality and identity. Dr. Emily Hobson teaches HIST 115, the History of Sexuality in the U.S. this fall as well as HIST/ENG 493, Queer History and Theory.
The Human Rights Campaign also found only 25 percent of transgender youth have supportive families, 26 percent of transgender youth feel safe in their classrooms and 77 percent of transgender youth were reported to feeling depressed. The transgender community has high suicide rates as well with American Academy of Pediatrics reporting 14 percent of transgender youth attempted suicide—the highest being female to male (trans male) adolescents.
The university offers resources for transgender students.
Founded in 1985, UNR Queer Student Alliance is dedicated to supporting LGBT students on campus and in Northern Nevada.
“I have had some issues feeling comfortable coming out as transgender in many of my classrooms,” Queer Student Union Historian, Skylar Tomchek said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “Specifically my Creative Writing class where I wrote a story about a person whose gender I did not reveal, and many of my classmates assumed it was a girl because of how I looked. One classmate actually pointed at me and said he thought it was a girl because I was a girl to him. It wasn’t even that moment that got me, to this day it is because he never made an effort to point out his own flaws in doing that. Not to make a bigger deal about it and pour salt into the wound, but just for me to have peace of mind that he learned not to do that. There are homophobic and transphobic staff and students all over this campus. Something that could help ease the fear that queer students constantly face would be educating them. Moreover, educating them in a way that they obviously have not been before. Without religion or even politics, being a decent human being does not need either of those things.”
Counseling Service also has counselors who specialize with the LGBT community and offer a support group for those individuals.
“As a transgender man I can say that the university should do more with their trans students and avoiding things like dead naming, putting the wrong gender on things, providing more transgender therapists and doctors, or at least therapist and doctors who are truly familiar and welcoming of trans students,” Tomchek said. “There is not one transgender therapist in the Counseling Center and the only therapist trans students are really referred to for gender is a cisgender person.”
The Center: Every Student. Every Story’s Pride Collaborative helps LGBT students community service, safe-spaces and political activism. Pride Collaborative hosts several programs, one of them being Ally Week. Ally Week is hosted during the week of Sept. 26 to Sept. 30. The week is dedicated to identifying, supporting and celebrating LGBT allies against homophobia, bullying and harassment in U.S. schools.
The Center’s program coordinator, Ricardo ‘Ricky’ Salazar feels the university advertises itself as a home for students and as faculty, it is important to welcome all types of diversity. To Salazar, a student cannot thrives they feel unwelcome on campus and in this community. Salazar advocates for the creation of safe spaces on campus, especially for transgender individuals.
“It’s important to acknowledge a tran’s identity, acknowledge they can change their name at the university level so it reflects on the My Nevada and on Canvas,” Salazar said. “We want them to be comfortable and confident we will get their name. There needs to be a mechanism in place to help self-identity for people who want to be identity so we can reach out them and give them resource, scholarships and more. If we don’t know who these students are, there’s no way we can do that. We have to be really cognizant…at any moment it can be very unsafe for a trans student on campus.”
Sponsored by the Center and LGBT Task Force, the LGBTQ+ Student/Faculty Mixer will be held Thursday, March 28 at the John and Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art in the University Arts Building. The mixer is a social event aim at bringing together LGBT students and faculty held once a semester. The mixer’s goal is to increased visibility of the LGBT community at the university.
“…For both professional and personal reasons, my commitment to diversity and inclusivity is not only an abstract philosophical principle but as a deeply meaningful part of my day-to-day work as a faculty member at UNR,” said English professor, Dr. Katie Miller. “I always come out on the first day of class by mentioning my wife so that my queer students know I’m a resource and an ally. I think it’s important to have that kind of visibility on campus. While the semester progresses, I appreciate events such as this as a way to reach out and check in with my queer students. Events such as LGBTQ+ faculty mixer are an opportunity for me to socially engage with students outside of the classroom in unique ways. I get to learn more about their lives and share a bit about my own life. It’s a chance for mentorship. Also, a member of the LGBTQ+ Task Force, part of my job is to be an advocate for the LGBTQ+ students, and these informal events are a chance to hear about the experiences of students and develop a better understanding of what we can do to make our campus a more welcoming and inclusive place for members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
The university’s Writing and Speaking Center is hosting an event every other Wednesday in March and April called ‘Writing the Self: The Queer Experience’ to reflect experiences LGBT students face on campus. Topics that will be discussed include facing invisibility or not, the awkwardness or discomfort of queer expression in a heteronormative society, the spectrum of queerness, allyship and the future of the queer community.
Senior Cadence Botley feels discomfort when she came out and decided to use her preferred name. When she signed in to a computer on campus, it showed her dead name. She decided to talk to campus staff at the Joe Crowley Student Union to change her legal name to her prefered name on her WolfCard but was declined. She was told she could not change the name on her WolfCard until she legally changed her name. Botley also faced transphobia in the workplace. When Botley worked at Home Depot, coworkers were uncomfortable with her being transgender. One time, they asked for her to use the male bathroom. Although it was workplace discrimination, it was blatant. Botley also worked at Sushimi’s and faced transphobic jokes from the chefs and was suddenly fired due to “not being good enough”.
Incoming LGBT+ freshman will have an option to live in the Living Learning Community’s Gender, Sexuality, and Identity floor. The LLC’s Gender, Sexuality and Identity floor aims to teach their inhabitants about LGBT identities and history. The housing department also allows for Gender Inclusive Housing and aims to make transgender, gender-nonconforming and other LGBT students feel more comfortable to express themselves.
Taylor Johnson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.