CHS students view public more open to viewing gender as spectrum

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With an initial reaction of disgust and agitation, senior Brooke Hosfeld stood among others at the Indiana Statehouse downtown with a sign that proclaimed “No Hate In Our State” to protest against Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Hosfeld said she believed it enabled discrimination and also said the law encouraged a problem many people with nontraditional genders face. The law, which will go into effect on July 1, was altered on April 2 to prohibit the refusal of services or goods to individuals based on their “race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military service.” Hosfeld said it brought more attention to nontraditional genders. However, she said progress on the path to equality is still hindered by a lack of acceptance by some individuals.

“No Hate in our state”: Protestors of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, among whom was senior Brooke Hosfeld, gather at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis. Hosfeld said the act revealed equality is still obstructed.
“No Hate in our state”: Protestors of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, among whom was senior Brooke Hosfeld, gather at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis. Hosfeld said the act revealed equality is still obstructed.

“These things that make up who a person is, are not the issues. The issues are that people are using religion as a scapegoat for being … discriminatory  —holes. I have an issue with that and with those people, and that is why I (protested) this law,” Hosfeld said.

According to Fusion’s Massive Millennial Poll published in January 2015, 50 percent of millennials consider gender a spectrum on which “some people fall outside conventional categories.” This increasingly popular belief is supported by many educational institutions, such as the University of Vermont (UVM), which began recognizing a third gender option of neither male nor female on forms and applications in February 2015. Such individuals are not defined by the pronouns “he” or “she,” as the term “nonbinary” better reflects who they are.

Colleen Connery,  officer of Gay-Straight Alliance and junior, said while people may be unwilling to disclose their true gender identity, she notices the gradual, growing trend of increased attention and consideration toward different genders.

Protest for peace: Senior Brooke Hosfeld (second from right) participates in a protest against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Hosfeld said the act allowed others to discriminate under a pretense of religion.
Protest for peace: Senior Brooke Hosfeld (second from right) participates in a protest against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Hosfeld said the act allowed others to discriminate under a pretense of religion.

“People may be unwilling to come out because they may have family, friends or peers that have openly shown that they don’t support nonbinary genders. I’d honestly have to say, do what you believe is safest for you,” Connery said. “If you are at risk of being harmed for your identity, tell the people that are safe and wait until you can be open about who you are without a major risk to you. Being in the closet does not make you any less valid than people that are completely out…Gender is a fluid thing…There is no harm in looking into different identities and possibly learning about yourself, and I think whether you can be true to yourself while keeping your gender a secret is something that really depends.”

In support of increased consideration for nonbinary and trans individuals, Nicholas Clarkson, IU doctoral candidate in Gender Studies and a transgender man, said gender is a fluid concept that cannot be confined simply to male and female terminology.

“We usually talk about gender being masculine or feminine, but actually there’s a different set of different kinds of femininity or masculinity. … If you think about how you dress one way when you’re hanging with your friend; you dress one way when you’re hanging out with parents; you dress one way when you’re with your grandma,” Clarkson said. “So you sort of move and talk in different ways in those different contexts. So you can think about that as gender fluidity…we all sort of shift or change our gender depending on the different kinds of time or stands, and those things also change over time.”

In 2014, the dating website OkCupid and Facebook expanded upon the traditional “male” and “female” gender options by supplementing their selection with 51 more options. The identifications “bigender,” “agender,” *“genderqueer” and “neither,” among others, were added. Hosfeld said representation or varying genders is crucial as it affirms others should be accepting of how individuals express themselves. Thus, she said she found the new Indiana law appalling as “people who were so opposed to the existence of people different from them, that they were willing to turn discrimination into law.”

“I love when schools or organizations offer more than just male or female checkboxes; it’s hugely uplifting every time I see other options offered,” Hosfeld said. “(They are ) small victories found in the hope of positive development. Baby steps. I find it really upsetting when there are only the two options and no option of another identity or nondisclosure. A person should not be forced to choose an identity that they do not fit or feel comfortable with, and people—especially organizations—should recognize that if they’re serving people in some way.”

Clarkson said while increased options on paper are beneficial, other forms of progress require more concern. He said he partly attributes the increased visibility for gender identities in the media to Laverne Cox, transgender LGBT advocate, in the popular Netflix show “Orange is the New Black” and Janet Mock, an American writer and transgender activist. Clarkson also said many new governmental policies are “trans-friendly,” which represent “a general growing trend with visibility and awareness about transgender issues.”

“I don’t think it’s most important to have those options on forms. It’s way more important that we have some way to shift social understandings of gender and social responses to allow people to be in some sort of genderqueer* or nonbinary form of expression,” Clarkson said. “So my experience with IU has shown that there are some facets of the administration here at IU who are becoming more receptive of trans issues and trans students…there’s more sort of attention now to the fact that (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) LGBT students generally should be accepted and welcomed at universities with some school’s status to be more welcoming or marketed more welcoming to LGBT students.”

Trans issues also gained increased attention recently when Bruce Jenner, an Olympian and reality television star, publicly came out as a transgender woman last month in an interview on 20/20 with Diane Sawyer. Echoing the sentiments of Clarkson, Connery said while colleges are working in the right direction, it is time for more changes.

“I definitely think there needs to be more awareness of nonbinary genders,” Connery said. “Our IPR (interpersonal relations) and Health courses are perfect outlets for teachers to educate students on nonbinary genders and sexualities. A lot of people don’t think that’s worth it, but if we start at the schools and educate people, it will help to spread acceptance.”

Even though many universities are starting small with the changes they enact, much funding and effort goes into each alteration of the systematized databases. UVM reported that in order to add gender-neutral options to its information structures, it compiled a group of dedicated students, administrators, faculty members, about 10 years of campaigning, $80,000 and six months in staff time for the programming of new software. Clarkson said other colleges, such as IU and Purdue, also offer more options for students of varying gender orientations.

“I know at IU, they’ve been able to enter a preferred name for a long time…but we’ve been making sure to get that standardized across all the universities to make sure that if you enter a preferred name, then that will then show up on the course roster the professors see…rather than your legal name,” Clarkson said. “Another thing I’ve noticed is that Purdue is now printing preferred names on student ID cards.”

Clarkson said the oversight of such information is helpful as some individuals do not desire to publicize their gender identity or are “weary of reporting a nonbinary status or trans-identity on forms when (they) don’t know where that information is going.” According to Clarkson, individuals should be able to decide if they reveal their gender status to others. He said while, given the fact that he is an adult, he does not spend time with people who may have an issue with his gender identity, others, especially younger people who are financially dependent on someone else, are not given that luxury.

While Hosfeld said the student body here is not necessarily unaccepting of nontraditional genders but merely unaware due to a lack of education or experience, Connery said she knows of students who experienced discrimination due to their gender.

“I think the acceptance of nonbinary peers is a very mixed thing at CHS,” Connery said “As someone with many nonbinary friends, I have heard mixed experiences with our fellow students. Some have been harassed, mocked and had slurs thrown at them; others have had no problems being accepted and have easily been able to work towards expressing the gender they identify as.”

In order to target the social biases ingrained in society with language, the University of Virginia added pronoun options that included “they” to reflect nonbinary student gender status. Since 2009, according to The Huffington Post, 1,891 students at the university have declared a preferred pronoun. Other pronouns include “ze” and “xe,” while 228 of the 1,891 specified that only their names should be used.

“If you take a minute to think about the way you feel about yourself as either a man or woman, or the type of man or woman you are, it’s so central to how you relate to the rest of the world…if you feel like a different kind of man or woman, or if you feel like everyone’s telling you you’re a man, but you feel like a woman, that feeling is really apparent,” Clarkson said. “I would just say that it’s just a part of who you are at some level, and it can be hard to become aware of that early in life for some people…When you’re born, the doctor says you’re a boy, so when you come out, you’re supposed to do boy things like playing with trucks and wearing blue…It can be hard to become aware of what exactly is bothering you about that, but then there are other people who have known from a very early age, like they knew the problem was ‘I feel like a girl, and everyone is telling me I’m a boy.’”

Therefore, the ultimate goal, according to Hosfeld, is acceptance.

“People are people, and people are fragile and need to be treated with love and care, not hatred and ignorance,” Hosfeld said. “Every single person deserves respect, regardless of gender, sexuality or anything else that makes them who they are.”

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