By Lily Zheng
Stanford University isn’t the haven I thought it would be when I first set foot on campus.
Across the country, I see my sisters fighting and winning against a system not made for us. I see the tireless work by trans communities like TAJA’s Coalition, see history made by transgender activists even as the cisgender community breathes silence. I see grief and mourning, celebration and victory. I see every day the desperate vivacity with which my community survives.
And I wonder what I’m doing here.
A poll by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation included a small statistic on transgender people: eight percent of Americans know or work with a transgender person. There was no further elucidation on that number, but I have no doubt that the percentage who know a transgender woman is smaller. I have no doubt that the percentage who know a transgender woman of color is smaller than that.
I comment on the intersections of these identities not to isolate myself as a trans woman of color, but to identify society’s – and Stanford’s – blindness to the particular injustices we face: trans women of color are disproportionately murdered, harassed and discriminated against on all levels of society. But even more concerning than this narrative of trauma is that trans women often find themselves with little else to talk about. What does it mean if whenever I hear the phrase “trans woman of color,” I brace for the words, “suicide,” “murder” or “incarceration” following it? In an editorial in Out & About Nashville, James Grady puts it bluntly: for trans people to make the news, we must “get famous, get caught in the ‘wrong’ restroom, get put in the wrong jail cell, or get murdered.” Few of us actually get famous.
At Stanford, things aren’t much different. Speaking about the probing stares I receive in bathrooms, misgendering I receive from institutions and transmisogynistic and cis-normative language in classrooms, at my residence and in community spaces has become my calling card on campus, my marker of trans identity. In every space, my presence seems justification enough for a constant barrage of questions about issues on campus, endless interrogation on trans politics, a request for the full syllabus of transgender 101 at any given moment. The mere act of existing as trans at Stanford is exhausting.
And when I defended in an article published earlier this year the benefits of being able to take a break, of safe spaces, a commenter casually suggested that I simply go home instead. And they have a point: there is no discrimination in my room, no harassment when no one else is there, no slurs or ugly laughter. I am safe in my room.
I am humiliated knowing that my room is the only safe space I am allowed.
To escape my own narrative of discrimination, fear and prejudice, I need Stanford University to be a place where I can thrive. Barring that, a place where I can at least survive. Earlier this year, I called on cisgender people to take responsibility in their own communities. Title IX, which protects transgender students in schools from discrimination, is clearly not enough – how many lawsuits would be appropriate to rectify the situation at Stanford?
I offer the following recommendations for Stanford University and its students, staff and faculty as the beginning steps to create a safer campus.
1) Mandatory training for residential staff, faculty and other university employees on not only LGBT, queer and trans issues, but also on best practices to reduce discrimination in classrooms and to increase feelings of safety on campus for transgender or gender-nonconforming students.
2) Clearly visible and accessible gender-neutral bathrooms in every major student, staff and faculty building, in order to make facilities more inclusive for transgender and gender-expansive individuals.
3) Inclusion of academic literature, research and critical study of transgender topics, especially in courses, programs and departments concerning gender, LGBTQ+ identities, health and medicine.
4) A standard, campus-wide policy guaranteeing gender-neutral housing for students on campus in all residences.
It is absolutely unacceptable for Stanford University to be named “Most LGBT-Friendly College” in the U.S. and fail on the part of its administration, organizations and communities to support its trans students. As an out and visible trans woman of color at Stanford, I refuse to be a fleeting memory for students to smile at in thirty years, a token trans person on campus. Stanford: it is your responsibility to do more than care about a theoretical community. It is long past due for concrete action to replace ineffective sentiment.
Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.