I had the opportunity recently to speak to a couple of Intercultural Communication classes about being transgender. Before I share some of my thoughts on the presentations, I want to share a couple of pics of the new dresses I bought for the occasion :)
I wore the red dress to my first presentation and the blue dress to the second. Both dresses were purchased from Chadwicks, which is one of my favorite stores :)
Both presentations were structured in the form of an interview, which is a format that had been used in a speaking engagement earlier this year, with the Instructor for the course filling the role of interviewer. It is a useful format because it keeps the discussion on track.
Both talks began with definitions of transgender terms about which most of the audience was unfamiliar. I personally use transgender as an umbrella term to include all forms of cross-gender behavior, as many researchers do, and I also discussed what being transsexual means to me. Talking about being transsexual was interesting for me because this was my first opportunity to discuss this with a large group since coming to my own understanding that I am transsexual.
Both talks also featured long discussions of religion and dating/relationships. One class found the dating part especially interesting as evidenced by the furious shuffling of paper when the topic was introduced :)
When the floor was opened up for questions at the end, I was impressed by the level of respect from the audience. Some of the questions were very interesting, particularly one about raising children, but everyone who asked a question was respectful. The university I attend and teach at is very conservative so I can never be 100% sure of the reception I will receive when sharing my transgender identity with others. But so far I have found that the undergraduate students are mostly respectful, particularly in the context of the classroom.
I also feel that one reason I have received the reception I have is that I don't come across as angry when discussing transgender issues. I am passionate about discussing my own experiences and the treatment of transgender people, but it's not in my nature to be angry. I try to live by example and to me it's more important to be myself on campus and in the classroom than go off on some angry rant. I feel that the students pick up on that.
I hope to continue speaking to students on campus. As one instructor said, most of the students just don't have any personal experience with transgender people and I think that it's important to give them the opportunity to learn more about what being transgender means.
In the future, I believe I will structure my speaking engagements as talks instead of interviews so that I can be more focused on what I want to discuss. I also hope to start talking to groups outside of the campus environment. I believe it's important for everyone to have more exposure to transgender people, not just college students.
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