I'm Not Up For Debate
“I’m of the opinion that you’re born with either a penis or vagina and that decides what you are. You can feel however you want but facts are facts,” Chad said on the first day of his Introduction to Gender and Sexuality class that he took to prove he was a “feminist” and thus that women should sleep with him. Now, Chad was not asked for his opinions on the intricacies of the separation between sex and gender. Rather, he saw that I, a transgender woman, was also in the class and thus he felt compelled to put my identity up for debate.
As a transgender woman, I am expected to be willing to debate my existence and my rights at any given time. I am expected to have facts and numbers to back up anything I say, and most importantly I am expected to be completely objective and show as little emotional attachment as possible. While these debates may not come from a place of ill will, what Chad does not realize is that minorities are expected to debate aspects of their identities or lives, especially in a classroom setting, all the time. Whether the focus of the discussion surrounds my ability to use the restroom, the pronouns that I use or, like with Chad, my very existence, professors are often very willing to have these debates since they inspire classroom discussion. A classroom discussion that, like I said, surrounds the validity of my existence with no second thought given to how I, or other minorities, may feel about being up for debate. So allow me to address the many kind of people that I have encountered on Hofstra’s campus in my three years here so far.
To the guy who approached me as I left the women’s restroom wanting to talk about where I should or should not have the ability to use the restroom: I do not care about your personal opinions on the national debate surrounding my bathroom usage, I do not want to give you a crash course into why I as a woman should be in the women's restroom and I do not want to hear your list of pros and cons for forcing people to use the bathrooms that matches their birth certificates.
To the professor who thought a way to increase class participation was to bring up how “homosexuality and transsexualism” was once classified as a mental illness and then opening that up for the class to debate: I do not understand the educational benefits of having all your LGBTQ+ students learn which of their classmates see their identities as mental illnesses. I do not see the educational benefits of having a class debate on real people’s identities that could be hindering the learning of some students who are paying a lot of money to sit in your class. I do not see the educational value of making students uncomfortable or unsafe in your classroom by putting their identities up for debate.
When you are not a part of a minority group of some kind, discussions and debates surrounding that identity can seem trivial and distant; but by asking minorities to debate their own existence, you not only lay a heavy emotional toll on them, but also create an atmosphere in your classroom and on your campus that certain students will always be “othered” and will always be expected to debate their own lives at the drop of a hat. As long as people feel comfortable approaching people as they leave restrooms, or professors feel comfortable allowing and encouraging these debates, that is the atmosphere being presented here at Hofstra: debate your own rights because you had the audacity to use the bathroom.