I am not an expert on trans issues, but a transgender person who decided now would be a good time as ever to speak up.
The idea for this article started at my first regional that I attended after coming out to a close group of friends as transgender. As I was constantly disappointed with the constrictions of the western gender binary, I also began to realize my own discomfort and dysphoria with my own body. I slowly came out to people first as transmasculine, then as nonbinary. I gave them a nickname that was passed on to others.
Although my experiences with robotics weren't exactly pleasant, I don't regret coming out to my friends, and I don't regret participating in robotics. It has brought me an amazing circle of friends and the confidence to maybe come out to others one day. For now, I wince when people unknowingly use the wrong pronouns but don't put up a fight. It is in my own survival to not put up a fight.
To some not acquainted with the Transgender Experience (TM), this may sound melodramatic, fake even. I cant change the minds of those people, but I can give suggestions to create an inclusive environment for closeted (or out) LGBT and trans students. Even if a student cannot come out for their own safety, it always feels nice to know that you're near people who at least don't openly hate you. Melodramatic again, but true. It’s important to remember that the more FIRST grows, the more those involved should recognize their privileges and create a more inclusive environment.
Some of the following paragraphs may be basic knowledge to some, and big news to others.
A very important thing to know is that one’s birth sex has nothing to do with their gender or gender expression. In fact, birth sex, gender, gender expression, and romantic and/or sexual attractions have nothing to do with each other. At all. None of these things are a binary either - there are not just two genders. Shocking!
With the introduction of the fact that the gender binary is a western social construct, there comes the introduction of non binary genders. Some people do not identify within the gender binary. Those people may prefer pronouns other than he or she. Even if they do, he and she pronouns can be used by anyone, regardless of the factors I listed above. A good way to know someone’s preferred pronouns is well… asking them. One way to explain it to someone, is “what words should I use to describe you if you're out of the room?”.
Want more ideas on creating inclusivity? Here are more. Do not tolerate heterosexism, transphobia, heteronormativity, racism, classism, ableism, ageism, or any other negative -ism.
Some of these words may be big. All of these words are on Google. Most of these words manifest through micro-agressions, such as “wow, you're pretty strong for a girl” or “so, do you like any girls lately?”. Things that have been directed at me include: “your English is so good for an ESL student!”, “You might be better off not doing heavy lifting, (with the implied “because you're feminine)”, and, my favorite, “stop having so much anxiety”. Micro-aggressions are not just in statement, but in body language, in how you look at someone, in what you whisper behind their back.
Some aggressions may come more obviously, such as the usage of slurs, or direct violence. Only yesterday (to the time I am writing this article) was a law passed that prohibited transgender people to use public restrooms in North Carolina. This is a prime example of institutionalized violence towards transgender and gender-non-conforming people. It is up to the organization of each team to decide how they will deal with things like these - things that do not allow a safe environment for non-cisgender non-heterosexual students. Mouthful, I know. Without these safe environments, your students will leave, or at the least, feel greatly uncomfortable in the environment the team has created.
So, you want to support trans, GNC, and other marginalized students? Be an ally. allyship is a verb. You have to be an ally and support/amplify the voices of others with fewer privileges than you. This is not all there is to allyship, of course. Those born anywhere in the world have had a Western influence on their life somehow. With this influence comes many -isms that we all have to unlearn. Not just you, allies. Everyone. There are things such as internalized homophobia and transphobia, just like they are externalized in the form of violence and laws.
Then there’s the societal standard of coming out. In TV and movies, this is a big public event that breaks hearts. It is seen as a necessity. It is not.
If someone trusts you enough that they come out to you - Congratulations! Use their preferred name and pronouns. They may desire that you do this online, or around others they are also out to. This is common and should be respected. One could put a closeted person in danger if they are outed to others. There are of course, particular dangers to coming out. One may not do it out of fear, or further marginalization, stigma, or harassment. Nobody is required to disclose to anyone if they are transgender or not, and nobody should expect it from anyone. Trans people are not out to “trick” anyone. They are also human beings deserving of equity and respect.
FIRST is trying to push a message of inclusion and diversity to a field full of mainly white cishet able-bodied white men, and I applaud them for that. It is time for others to realize that the person they see at face value may not be a girl OR a boy. I remember an event I had the pleasure of attending where one of the students (who I knew from social media) did not fit neatly into the boy/girl dichotomy. I winced with them when they were misgendered. I felt so fiercely protective of that student in that moment that I knew I wanted to be someone that would loudly and proudly support marginalized students in the FIRST community.
There will be people who think what I’m writing is “feminist sjw propaganda”. I’ve been called a “totalitarian communist” before, whatever that means. I am transgender and unapologetic. I am transgender, unapologetic, and participate in FIRST Robotics. There are many like me.
Thanks for reading,
a/n #2: if you experience harassment from a teammate or mentor, please contact your FIRST Senior Mentor. They are kind and amazing people that will be able to help you. if you are harassed by a member of another team, please let your mentor know or find volunteer staff that can help.
a/n #3: To my brothers, sisters and siblings - marginalized students who, after everything, take time to participate in FIRST - you deserve respect. You may have to live in a school environment that ignores your intersections as a person and makes you feel lesser because of them. Remember you are going to do amazing things even when everything feels rock bottom.
This blog post was written anonymously. If you are interested in blogging for blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.