Editor’s Note: This piece is the fourth installment of the revamped “For the Record” series, highlighting members of the LGBTQ+ community across the Springfield College campus. The intention is to amplify the voices that, more often than not, go unheard. Please be aware that this story may contain derogatory, anti-gay slurs and were written by the author as part of the piece. The Springfield Student staff condemns the use of derogatory language and we support the author’s right to candidly detail what occurred in the past to try and build a better future.
By Bunny Halloran
First impressions count.
For what it was worth, I hoped that my crisp new bow tie, brightly-dyed hair, and tiny stars stamped in inky black by my left eye would generate an accurate impression of me.
Everyone knew me as the blue-haired kid and that was the only thing that really stood out about me. I preferred it that way in the beginning.
During the first week, the New Student Orientation (NSO) event called “Circle of Support” changed how I was perceived in the eyes of a lot of people on campus in an instant. Circle of Support is an event to show all new students that they are not alone in their experiences. It also serves to remind everyone in attendance that the differences between one another are too important to be ignored. Onstage, a speaker presents various questions to the audience. Whoever the question applies to can stand up and those that the question does not apply to stay seated. No matter what, everyone must clap for those who stand to promote support for their courage and honesty.
It was simple and clean-cut. As the event went on, with various sets of thought-provoking questions to raise participation and awareness, I found myself either shamelessly standing in solidarity with my classmates or contentedly seated to clap for everyone else.
The next questions focused on gender identities. To me, that was wonderful. I had only recently come into my identity as a genderqueer individual and was so elated to proudly stand before my classmates and see others like me standing, too. I spent the previous four years in a magnet arts high school where students were free to celebrate their LGBTQ+ identities fearlessly. I never had the chance to tell everyone who I was in high school since I was a sort of “late-bloomer” among them.
“Please stand if you identify as a man.”
I stayed seated and clapped for my classmates who stood and waited patiently for my turn.
“Please stand if you identify as a woman.”
Again, I waited.
When the question encompassing “other” genders finally came, I could not wait to stand. Admittedly, the initial shaking and anxiety came from excitement when my eyes darted around to see all my fellow transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary classmates standing with me.
Instead, my heart dropped with a dizzying wave of nauseating regret. In my mind, blinding spotlights could not have felt more harsh upon me when I realized how singled out and alone I felt in a sea of seated people. A mere handful of my classmates stood in the audience. Everyone still clapped.
What surprised me more is that two very kind girls rushed up to me after the event and introduced themselves to me. I had grown accustomed to sudden introductions because people liked my hair and wanted to tell me so.
“Hey! You’re the one with blue hair who stood for the other gender identities question back there, right? What are your pronouns?”
I gave my all to stop myself from stuttering, I was so taken aback.
“That’s really nice of you to ask. I’m genderqueer- so you can use he/him, she/her, or they/them pronouns for me. If it makes it easier, I don’t mind if you default to she/her pronouns since I look really feminine most days!”
That is what I tell anyone who asks, “Do you mind if I ask what your pronouns are?”
Even though there were so few people like me standing among the audience that day, I truly felt loved and included when others made a conscious effort afterwards to learn how best to address me in an affirming way. These expressions of mutual respect and acceptance at Springfield College are so very precious to me as someone who exists beneath the “other” category of gender identities.
However, I do worry for my fellow classmates that have not been as lucky. By the time I was starting my sophomore year, many of the students who had stood in solidarity with me had left Springfield College. At first, I had trouble figuring out what could have made them leave.
I learned that it starts off with the little things.
For example, consider this scenario: a professor continuously misgenders his student and uses the wrong name and pronouns in the classroom. Perhaps one or two students find the guts to correct him. Perhaps the student in question has already reminded their professor when no one else did. The professor always says the same thing: “Oh my gosh, it’s just so hard to remember!” It is the end of the semester. No one has taught him that the excuse is invalid and reflects extremely poor manners.
In another scenario, I leave my dorm in the morning with my hair styled so it looks shorter. I am wearing a suit and tie. With much practice, my makeup makes me look as though I have convincingly masculine features. My personal genderqueer experience encompasses a daily fluctuating feeling of associations with masculinity and feminimity so I dress accordingly. A woman working in Cheney comments, “You’re such a beautiful girl. Why would you dress like a boy?” She is coming from a place of ignorance, but the comment haunts me when I catch my reflection in the windows on my way to class.
These little things normalize disrespect towards transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary students on campus. Like a snowball effect, seemingly innocuous misgendering will enable a coach to not allow a transgender woman on her women’s sports team because everyone else treats her as if she were a man, simply because she was assigned male at birth.
Faculty and staff in public places may exclaim that I should conform to societal gender expectations because I have biological characteristics of someone who was assigned female at birth. I could just roll my eyes and move on, knowing that they are simply ignorant because the generation they come from. But their behavior encourages students to potentially be bold enough to tell me they would not want to date me or be my friend because I am “confusing” or “weird” to them.
I notice that almost every time I come out to people on campus, I grow just a little more isolated from spaces with a high concentration of cisgender people – people who are comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Somebody taught those two girls that introduced themselves to me during NSO that it was kind and normal to ask people their pronouns during introductions, the same way people learn that it is kind to ask a new friend, “How are you?” Someone encouraged them that this gesture is a huge reflection of good manners and basic respect to everyone around them.
I understand that Springfield College as a body and community strives for inclusivity, despite how accusations of its “liberal” agenda float about in whispers around campus and posts by classmates on my social media feed.
Respect is not an agenda. It is taught. It is practiced. It is healthy. For everyone.
Springfield College has a lot of work that needs to be done, that is for sure. The student body, staff and faculty know it. But that is where the knowledge stops: people know something has to be done, but do not receive the education or guidance to know how to start.
It starts with putting aside the fear that the basic respect that sparks true inclusivity and safety for transgender people – the absolute bare minimum that should be a given – is a political, religious, or “un-American” agenda, or even an agenda at all.
It starts with teaching everyone on campus that respect and good manners equal simple things like asking one another about each others proper pronouns upon introductions and actively remembering the names that may not match those on attendance sheets, even if someone looks like they are just a cisgender man or woman.
It starts when other students are unafraid to remind that teacher of their classmates’ correct pronouns.
It starts when the community encourages a positive attitude alongside comprehensive education about proper terminology, labels, and mannerisms that stretch beyond the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance meetings or the sociology classrooms.
Where will you start? Where will you take that work? To the classroom, to Cheney, to the residence halls, to the locker rooms, or to the Field House?
Your small expression of welcoming, mutual respect might be someone’s first big impression that creates a space where they feel safe, included, and loved at Springfield College.
Photo: Bunny Halloran