Author: Emily Gao
Last week’s Trans-I-Am Week hosted events on campus surrounding transgender issues, including a talk from transgender rights activist Janet Mock, an art exhibit and a panel discussion.
Intercultural Community Center (ICC) Programming Assistant (PA) Mylan Gerbeyesus (junior), who came up with the idea for the event series, wanted to increase the Occidental community’s consciousness of intersectional identities that are often silenced.
“My goal isn’t to necessarily make everyone allies, because that is a process that takes much longer than a week,” Gerbeyesus said via email. “I want students and faculty to remain critical of themselves and see how they are contributing consciously or unconsciously to the harm that the queer/trans community has to face every day.”
Gerbeyesus hoped that Occidental students would become more conscious of what transgender means and the role of the intersectionality of race and queerness in perceptions of the transgender community, as well as how students interact with queer people of color on campus.
Chance Ward* (sophomore) and PAs Ricardo Parada (sophomore) and Zawadia Lefang (sophomore) helped to actualize Gerbeyesus’ idea, which was sponsored by numerous departments and offices across campus. Lefang organized the Queer Art Showcase that took place in the Green Bean last Friday and Parada managed logistics and collected funds for the keynote speaker.
Trans-I-Am Week hosted an Intersectional Activism night at the ICC Oct. 20 while Oct. 21 was dedicated to bringing awareness to violence against women of color with a movie screening and discussion. A panel of queer students last Thursday talked about the queer and trans experience at Occidental, and the week ended with an open mic and media art exhibit in the Green Bean titled “Queer in Here, Exploring Race and Queerness through Art.”
Keynote speaker Mock, a New York Times bestselling author, was the week’s opening event Oct. 19. Mock spoke about her intersectional experience as a trans woman of color. She stressed the need to talk about the trans experience beyond when people are famous or dead. Mock also told the audience they should not have to validate their identities, something with which she has struggled personally.
“I lived in a world that told me in big and small ways every day that who I knew myself to be was invalid,” Mock said.
Mock expressed how she was compelled to share stories about herself as well as marginalized groups because they did not receive enough coverage.
“I deserve to take up space,” she said.
Lefang said she was dismayed that Thorne Hall was barely over half full, despite Mock’s acclaim in transgender activism and journalism.
“There are certain groups of people on campus that I see at every event, but it should honestly be the campus as a whole that is interested in diversity, discussion and action,” Lefang said.
According to organizers, there was not campus-wide support for Trans-I-Am Week on campus. The 24 sponsors listed on the posters advertising Trans-I-Am Week include the Associated Students of Occidental College, Residential Education and Housing Services, the President’s Office and numerous academic departments.
Gerbeyesus said that she is happy with how Trans-I-Am Week turned out but wished there had been more support from groups on campus in planning.
“[Planning Trans-I-Am Week] was a pretty difficult process; there were a lot of departments and offices that didn’t support Trans-I-Am Week,” Gerbeyesus said via email.
According to Gerbeyesus, she and other Trans-I-Am Week organizers were given a one week timeline to raise and secure around half of the $16,500 needed to bring Mock to campus. In a week, they were able to raise around $9,500. They raised the remainder of the funds in the following three days.
“Having more support from clubs would make it easier, especially from clubs dedicated to these issues, such as Queer Student Alliance [(QSA)],” Gerbeyesus said via email.
According to QSA Vice President Margaux Ziss (junior), QSA was not approached about co-sponsoring Trans-I-Am Week.
“We’d like to make it clear that [QSA] is completely supportive of Trans-I-Am Week,” Ziss said via email. “To say otherwise is to imply that support is something that comes solely in the form of co-sponsorship; though those who put on Trans-I-Am Week reached out to many cultural clubs and departments, QSA was not approached to be a co-sponsor of any of the week’s events.”
Ziss said QSA supported Trans-I-Am Week programming through email and Facebook advertisements, as well as attendance by executive board members at the events.
Gerbyesus is unsure if Trans-I-Am Week will happen again in the future. She hopes the week’s events educated people on trans misconceptions and showed them that the trans community is diverse and revolves around other issues than just gender reassignment surgery.
*Ward is a Weekly staff member.
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