What to do when I meet a trans person?

Another document written by JJ of Trans on Campus, also taken in to a meeting with Vice Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon this morning.

The first important point is to not panic. A trans person (including all who express gender diversity) is still a human being just one that doesn’t necessarily fit within the normal binary gender expectation of society. One thing to be aware of is that just like everyone is different so is every trans person. There is an enormous amount of gender diversity and we all don’t have to fit into the male/female boxes. Although some trans people do transition between the genders some don’t and transition doesn’t just mean surgery. Of course you are not entitled to know about a specific person’s life history, unless they choose to share it with you.

Some of you may also be wondering “why do I need to worry about this? There can’t be that many trans students?” The big issue with trans people is we don’t really know how many there are. But we do know for example that intersex people are actually more common than redheaded people. A reasonable estimate is that about 1% of people might identify as trans but of course many may want to keep this secret. This document and the work of Trans on Campus is all about trying to make the University a place where people can feel free to express their gender diversity if they wish to.

Therefore here is some useful guidance for you to follow:

  1. Best thing to say first is, “awesome, come be yourself at the University and contact JJ and the others at transoncampus@auckland.ac.nz”.
  2. Ask the trans person their preferred gender pronoun and name and stick to it.
  3. Be aware that trans individuals while under the LGBTI umbrella when it comes to how they are dealt with they do have slightly different needs. Advice can be sought through the Trans on Campus group.
  4. Also contact your Faculty’s Rainbow group and suggest the trans person gets in contact and involved.
  5. Help make others aware who will be in contact with the trans person are aware of this document.
  6. Be aware that the trans person will use sometimes use the toilet for the gender they are expressing. This shouldn’t be an issue as people are grown-ups we shouldn’t worry who is peeing in the stall next to us. Looks and comments making them feel unwelcome or an intruder are unnecessary.
  7. Make sure the trans person is aware of the counselling services that are available at the University.
  8. Do not ask inappropriate questions. For example you wouldn’t ask someone you’ve just met, “have you had a hysterectomy/vasectomy?”
  9. Be prepared to have “low-key conversations” with people that make unwelcome comments or who treat the trans person unfairly.
  10. Most importantly: if in doubt, ask the trans person (in a sensitive way) how they would like to see a situation dealt with!

For Students:

Being a student is an extremely stressful and busy time in a persons life even without the added complications of transitioning or questioning one’s own self. Many trans students will encounter everything from antipathy to hostility from students and staff during their time as students. This is unacceptable and we all need to be working towards an inclusive atmosphere where everyone can be free to be who they want to be without fear of discrimination or attack. Trans students can be especially vulnerable with the assumption from looking around at staff members and other students that they are the minority and possibly not welcome at the University. The “Trans on Campus” group was setup by students to provide a group for them stay in contact with each other and realise they are not alone. Therefore as mentioned above the first thing to do is direct any student to Trans on Campus. Other important things to bear in mind in addition to those above are as follows:

  • Point the student towards the “Change of Name” form (AS-66). Although this is only applicable if a legal name change has been undertaken.
  • Tell the student to update their preferred name in “iam.auckland.ac.nz”.
  • Contact lecturers, tutors and demonstrators for the students courses ensuring that they are away of the preferred name policy of the University and that they stick to it.
  • Ask the student how they feel they are treated, if there are negative comments take these on board and make improvements. This will improve things for the student and also future students!
  • Make sure the student is also aware of Queer space in the city campus if they want a place they can go and study and work.

For a staff member:

Trans staff members may be at a different stage of their life but coming out as trans may be terrifying. The key thing is allay any fears and allow them to be themselves. While the Trans on Campus group was begun mainly as a student initiative there are staff who are members and we are all facing the same problems. A few relevant points to consider:

  • If the person will be lecturing/teaching it is relevant to provide support for them. Possibly considering how best to give them experience teaching to smaller groups before putting them in front of a large stage 1 lecture.
  • Make colleagues aware of the change but only with the consent and consideration of the persons views. It is probably best for them to pass this on with your support rather than you taking preemptive action.
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