#TalkingTrans: Panel goes beyond the gender binary

Photo courtesy of Savannah Price

Krista Pylant
Sports Editor
@KristaPylant8

At 6 p.m. on April 17 in the Ross Hall Auditorium, Cameron PRIDE presented Beyond the Binary, a panel discussion about #talkingtrans.

The event featured three panelists at various stages of transition, from a high school senior to an adult who began transitioning 16 years ago.

Amy Merchant, a long time Oklahoma LGBTQ+ advocate, moderated the discussion and said Beyond the Binary is the largest LGBTQ+ event she has seen on Cameron’s campus with over 70 people in attendance.

For Merchant, Beyond the Binary’s title is about recognizing there are more facets to gender identity than those prescribed by societal norms.

“We are thinking beyond things just either/or, this or that way,” Merchant said. “I think what happens when you start to navigate your own personal identity, is that you start to notice things like, ‘I’m not attracted to all men, but I’m certainly attracted to most masculine energies.’ It’s just a specific type, and you are able to break that down much more clearly.”

Londenn, a 34 year old transwoman and mother of two, kicked off the discussion by sharing her decision to make the transition.

“I always knew I wanted to be a woman,” Londenn said, “but something always got in the way of making that possible. Eventually I started living my life for me and stopped worrying about everyone else around me.”

Gus, who began his transition 16 years ago, described the difficulties he faced finding information during the early stages of his transition. He said prior to the advent of online forums, he had to write letters to various support groups he stumbled upon listed in pamphlets.

“It took me years to find resources,” Gus said. “The huge change I’ve seen is a sort of network from social media that evolved very quickly.”

The discussion moved to the topic of Bruce Jenner’s story. Jenner, a former U.S. track and field athlete, is in the midst of his transition to become a woman at age 65. The panelists acknowledged disagreement over when Jenner should be identified as a transwoman in the media.

Londenn said, “It will take him coming out to say that he is a transwoman before I feel like anyone can jump on the word and identify him in that way. Just because he looks that way, doesn’t mean he feels like a woman.”

Next, Gus provided his take on the importance of transgender-related terminology. He said keeping his composure when individuals mislabel him is more beneficial than always correcting those around him.

“For me, the biggest thing when creating allies within my own personal life is my patience and understanding for them,” Gus said. “Not everybody understands, not everybody has a glossary of terms, so when they say things like ‘if you were a real man,’ I just have to grin and bear it. I have to allow them time to process it.”

While not always required, individuals who are approved for sex reassignment surgery typically receive therapy to help them adjust to their new lives in new bodies.

Gus, who facilitates two support groups for trans youth in his hometown, provided psychology students with advice on how to best attend to those undergoing transitions.

“Just listen and hear where they are coming from,” Gus said. “I think a lot of times it’s just putting them in touch with their community. As sympathetic or empathetic as you might be and as academically prepared for this process as you may be for them, I think the biggest thing they can get is not feeling alone in it.

“Community, in my opinion, is more important than any amount of textbook academic approach. I get that it’s important, but I think the biggest help you can give them is by finding something that mirrors them in another human being.”

Cameron PRIDE members wrapped up the discussion by presenting Merchant with a token of appreciation for her 20 years as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.

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