Opinion: An Open Letter to IAIA from an Agender-Pansexual

By Lyric Snodgrass

Since coming out as agender (and yes, I’ve heard every “special snowflake” joke conservatives make and every passing “that’s not real” comment you can come up with) and started using they/them in the spring of 2018, I’ve paid closer attention to the way the Institute of American Indian Arts treats its transgender and gender-nonconforming students. It’s not an openly hostile warzone in the classrooms and in the dorms, but IAIA could do better by its transgender attendees.

As a queer person on the IAIA campus, I only ever ask three things of my peers, my instructors, and my administration:

First, use my name. It is not my “preferred” name. It’s my name. If you need to know my deadname for any legal reason, I will tell you at my discretion. This doesn’t mean you get to use my deadname, it just means you know what it is.

Now, when it comes to paperwork, no, I haven’t started the process of legally changing my name. However, the use of my first name on identification cards or assignments is a nonissue. At best, a person who sees a different name on my identification or my work than what I’ve introduced myself with, will have questions. At worst, this could cause an incident of bodily harm to myself because this person gets the notion, I’m a -insert your choice of slur here-.

The best thing to do, as administrators, is to let people change their first names on their identification cards. My previous campus, the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, allowed

transgender students to change the first names on their identification cards with no hassle and no interrogating. I cannot express in words the overwhelming relief that comes from having your name recognized and accepted.

Second, use my pronouns and use them correctly. This is the most polarizing, it seems. My peers understand singular they/them just fine and don’t care. That’s fine. Some people mess up, make a quick apology for a slip of the tongue, and then correct themselves. That’s fine too. What’s not fine is someone who had to be repeatedly corrected after a semester or even a year of having courses with me and then turns the situation around to try and milk pity out of the issue. Just apologize, amend, and move on.

And for those people who complain “singular they isn’t grammatically correct” I have news for you. People always use singular they/them without realizing it. How many times have you said something like “Oh, your friend left their phone, I wonder if they’ll come back for it” or “I just got a text from my Uber driver, they should be here soon.”

Professors who invite students to introduce themselves with their name and pronouns help foster a comfortable environment for their transgender and gender non-conforming students. And for those who aren’t quite sure how to use people’s pronouns like singular they or neo-pronouns like ve/ver or xe/xem, there’s hundreds of guides online about how to use those pronouns correctly. If you still aren’t sure just ask the person with a genuine want to learn.

Third, I’m a person. Just because I identify with what some people might call a “special snowflake” gender doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of dignity and respect.

And I’m just one person. My experiences are not the standard, nor do the glasses of my critical lenses of gender and society fit on the bridge of everyone’s nose. Keep in mind that I don’t speak for everyone, nor do I claim to.

At the end of the day, you as a person need to do the legwork. You can take every queer sensitivity training course under the sun and still hold biases about transgender and gender-nonconforming people. You, as a human being in society, need to overcome your own preconceptions and be an ally.

Lyric Snodgrass
Photo credit: Jesse Short Bull

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1 Response
  1. Z

    I’m a fellow nonbinary student at IAIA (in the grad program.) Thank you for putting your voice out there. All we want is the same dignity and respect shown to our cisgender counterparts, that our names, pronouns, and genders are respected. Just know you’re not the only one at IAIA who’s felt the same slight grating sensations. Like you said, it’s not an active warzone, but the environment was definitely not built with the inclusion of trans students in mind. I find myself having to constantly assert my identity in order to be correctly gendered. And almost none of it is malicious. It comes from simple ignorance (and I mean that in the definition of the word) of nonbinary folks and their genders. A little basic education and small administrative changes would correct the vast majority of the micro-aggressions we face daily in academia.
    Thank you again for putting yourself out there and trying to pave the way so hopefully future nonbinary students who won’t have to struggle the way we do.

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