By Lyric Snodgrass
Since coming out as agender (and yes, Iâ€™ve heard every â€œspecial snowflakeâ€ joke conservatives make and every passing â€œthatâ€™s not realâ€ comment you can come up with) and started using they/them in the spring of 2018, Iâ€™ve paid closer attention to the way the Institute of American Indian Arts treats its transgender and gender-nonconforming students. Itâ€™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 â€œpreferredâ€ name. Itâ€™s my name. If you need to know my deadname for any legal reason, I will tell you at my discretion. This doesnâ€™t mean you get to use my deadname, it just means you know what it is.
Now, when it comes to paperwork, no, I havenâ€™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 Iâ€™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, Iâ€™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 donâ€™t care. Thatâ€™s fine. Some people mess up, make a quick apology for a slip of the tongue, and then correct themselves. Thatâ€™s fine too. Whatâ€™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 â€œsingular they isnâ€™t grammatically correctâ€ I have news for you. People always use singular they/them without realizing it. How many times have you said something like â€œOh, your friend left their phone, I wonder if theyâ€™ll come back for itâ€ or â€œI just got a text from my Uber driver, they should be here soon.â€
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 arenâ€™t quite sure how to use peopleâ€™s pronouns like singular they or neo-pronouns like ve/ver or xe/xem, thereâ€™s hundreds of guides online about how to use those pronouns correctly. If you still arenâ€™t sure just ask the person with a genuine want to learn.
Third, Iâ€™m a person. Just because I identify with what some people might call a â€œspecial snowflakeâ€ gender doesnâ€™t mean Iâ€™m not worthy of dignity and respect.
And Iâ€™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 everyoneâ€™s nose. Keep in mind that I donâ€™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.