Take on Trans Issues
by Julie Johnson
Week (plus some) commences today, after two weeks of films and lectures,
with the film Its A Boy! a story of three people in transition
from female to male. The event focuses on building community and
educating the campus about trans, an umbrella term encompassing
transsexual, trans gender, intersex, cross dresser and other gender
We wanted to have the opportunity
for all the people
I know that get confused about why I am the way I am [to learn about
trans], and I cant afford to explain that to everybody,
junior co-organizer Harper Tobin said. Plus, my experience
is different from others. People are curious and puzzled. They want
to be supportive but dont know how.
Originally intended to be a lecture-focused series, Tobin said the
focus shifted toward film, including narratives, documentaries and
other video works, as she discovered the great wealth of video devoted
to trans identity. I realized that there were all these great
films on the subject, and that San Francisco, Olympia and Holland
have annual trans- themed festivals, Tobin said.
I felt the films were helpful in fostering a basic awareness
of trans peoples different experiences and some issues in
the trans community. Trying to create such an awareness is an important
process that I wish more Oberlin students had participated in,
sophomore Maggie Raife said.
Notable filmmakers include Canadian native Mirha-Soleil Ross. Ross,
a transsexual prostitute from Canada, has been involved in transsexual
and prostitute community activism since the early 90s. Video
and performance art have been key methods through which Ross has
tried to approach issues such as gender identity, transsexuality,
self-representation and AIDS education and outreach.
Of the four Ross films shown, her most recent film was perhaps the
most viscerally powerful of the group. Only four minutes long, the
film showed a masculine hand lovingly tracing another persons
body from the breast down the stomach to male genitalia and slowly
back up to the neck. It was a quiet gesture of love, acceptance
and celebration of the body.
Ross documentary, I Would Never Have Known...a Conversation
with Peter Dunnigan addressed the female-to-male transgender experience
of Dunnigan. Identifying early on with a masculine role, Dunnigan
discussed the alienation he felt within both the straight and queer
communities as a woman-born man, distinctly different from a butch
lesbian. He also talked about how the marginalization of trans people,
and people of any ostracized group, forces them to look for escape
routes through self-destructive means, including drug abuse and
violence. According to Dunnigan, supportive communities must be
created within trans communities, queer communities and straight
communities to erase the detrimental alienation of trans individuals.
Dunnigans call for a more supportive community for trans people
sparked a discussion of ways in which to build communities through
institutional changes, re-politicizing drag, promoting self-education
and by deconstructing history to incorporate the presence and struggles
of trans peoples. Similar steps can be seen in Oberlins attempt
to re-approach drag ball as more than an event exposing the novelty
of drag. Another sign of growing awareness is a recent proposal
in OSCA to create space for gender-neutral bathrooms, replace the
usual male/female categories with open gender categories, as well
as giving trans students priority in single room assignments.
I felt the discussion, though small, was open and productive,
though mostly for non-trans people, Raife said. Unfortunately
we did not discuss trans awareness and issues of the trans community
specifically at Oberlin, but perhaps that happend at another event.
Another notable film shown this week was XXXY by flimmakers Porter
Gale and Laleh Soomekh. The film was about intersex identity, focusing
on two intersex individuals and their stories. One of the people
interviewed told about how he went through 16 separate operations,
at least one per year between the ages of three months and 12 years.
An estimate of 1 in every 2,000 children are born intersex, and
the film pointedly exposed the frequency as well as the imperfect
and emotionally and physically destructive nature of cosmetic surgery
on the genitals of intersex infants.
Other events included a lecture last week by Allison Mieselman,
a lawyer from Maryland known for her significant and distinguished
involvement in trans issues, and films about hermaphrodites, cab
rides shared between a transgender cab driver and a pauper passenger,
and other interview films featuring trans people.
Its an opportunity for trans people on campus to see
each other, Tobin said, hoping the series will get people
to think about what gender is about.