At UNG Gainesville panel discussion, a spectrum of gender expression

Held by the Spectrum Alliance, an LGBTQ club at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, the Gender Forum on March 29 was an open event featuring two presentations and a panel where students could talk directly and openly with transgender students.

Chanel Haley presents at the Gender Forum. (Photo by Cleveland Moses)

Chanel Haley presents at the Gender Forum. (Photo by Cleveland Moses)

The forum aimed to inform students about the LGBTQ community, specifically:
– Transgender: people who identify with a gender different from their birth sex)
– Intersex: people born with reproductive systems or a chromosome pattern that can’t be classified as typically male or female.
– Gender nonconforming: people whose expression of gender differs from conventional expectations, but who are not necessarily transgender.
– Nonbinary: people whose gender identity or expression does not necessarily align with male or female.

“We hear the concepts, but we don’t hear how students deal with it, how it applies to the way they live [and] act,” Spectrum president Elijah Wilder said.

In past years, the forum was a simple Q&A session. This year, Wilder, taking inspiration from the documentary “Gender Revolution,” altered the event to feature two presentations to further add context to the panel.

The first was given by history professor Johanna Luthman, who detailed the cultural evolution of gender in the western world, from the Romans’ “One Sex” model — in which physical and psychological differences were created by different balances of biological fluids — to modern day.

The second presentation focused on the difference between transgender, intersex and non-binary, and was given by Chanel Haley, the transgender inclusion organizer for Georgia Equality. The last half of her presentation highlighted the struggles their respective communities undergo, such as harassment, assault, domestic abuse, depression, and various forms of legal and social discrimination.

The panel itself featured five panelists intended to represent the LGBTQ spectrum: Luthman (a straight woman), Trace Long (a transgender male student), Wilder (a gay male student), Xander Rorabaugh (a genderqueer/nonbinary social worker) and Haley (a transgender woman).

The full discussion can be found here.

When was your moment of knowing? How was it for you as an individual?

Haley: “For me, the journey started as a child. Knowing that I felt different, that I was very different from the students and kids around my age. I actually transitioned 20 years ago around high school. That is when I learned what transgender was.”

Rorabaugh: For me, my identity as a genderqueer person has evolved a lot. When I was a little kid, I identified with girls. I didn’t start having any dysphoria until puberty … I don’t think I heard the word transgender until I was in college. When I first came out as trans, I came out as genderqueer, and then I figured out I wanted to go on testosterone, so I must be a trans guy. And I lived that life for about a year, but I didn’t fully identify as a guy completely either, so I stopped calling myself a transguy and switched back to gender queer.

Wilder: For me, it’s kind of like intrinsic … recognizing that I do adhere to my biological sex. One thing I’d like to point out is the line between [orientation and gender], because I am a gay man. So when you say cis-man and apply it to me it’s like … there are certain concepts, especially in the gay community, [built around] hyper masculinity vs femininity. So growing up, I definitely questioned myself … but there is a notable difference between my preference and my identity.

Long: I was not actually really concrete in my identity for a long time. For the most part growing up I pretty much appealed to feminine standards, but when I started reaching puberty I started feeling bad and not really comfortable with the way my body was changing. And I kind of suppressed that.

Luthman: I didn’t even think about any of [gender identity] until I started college. When I started to take classes in college that dealt with issues of gender history, that’s the first time I started to really think of it.

Does acting and liking things society associates with the opposite gender make me transgender?

Rorabaugh: A lot of the things we define as masculine and feminine are socially constructed. There are feminine cis-heterosexual men, there are masculine cis-heteroseual woman. Masculine and feminine can be used to describe our gender identity but also how we are.

Wilder: It all just come down to the way you look at yourself. I also picked flowers … when I was young, but I identify as male.

Luthman: I would hang around [my brother’s] friends all the time… and I would do thing that people said were for boys, not for girls, but it didn’t change the fact that I identified as a woman.

What would you say was the hardest part of being LGBT? How was your family’s support?

Haley: As far as friends were concerned, there was no issue. With my family there were issues, but because…and I already [had] the acceptance and the support of my school, I’ve never looked back… My mother and I are not on speaking terms, we haven’t been since my brother died in 2013. My brother held the glue together.

Rorabaugh: I grew up in a very controlling environment. The church that I grew up in… was really extreme…  Leaving [my] church was really difficult and when I came out as tans, my brother disowned me, my dad cried for a whole week and my mom basically told me that LGBT people have a bunch of mental health issues. It’s gotten a lot better since then. My aunt and Uncle have been my biggest family supporters. As soon as I came out as trans they immediately went “what things do you need to buy?” Really everyone else in my family was pretty cool about it.

Long: I’ve dealt with mental illnesses and tried to figure out who I am, and try and figure out how gender relates to me and what I feel. I haven’t had a lot of support from my family. They kind of said “I don’t care. You are what you are. I guess.” They haven’t been very supportive but they haven’t been very aggressive to me or anything. But you know, friends are definitely life savers.

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