Penn is recognized as one of the most LGBT-friendly universities in the nation, and for good reason. We have a terrific LGBT Center, a great Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program, thriving queer student communities and more LGBTQ student organizations than you can keep track of.
However, although Penn as an institution may have more resources for queer and trans students than other schools, many — I’m inclined to say most — Penn students know little to nothing about queer and trans identities and the struggles we face. For those who do, the stories that are told are mostly representative of the G and the L in LGBTQIA, while little is known about bisexual, trans, intersex and asexual individuals.
It’s time for this to change.
Being a queer and/or trans student here at Penn can get overwhelming. We can find sanctuary with our friends and take shelter in the LGBT Center. However, the vast majority of our daily interactions take place with those who are unfamiliar with our identities and who make assumptions about our genders and sexualities. This is an extremely uncomfortable experience.
This is not to say that students at this school are actively undermining and ignoring queer and trans people’s identities. Most of us have been raised in environments where people are assumed to be heterosexual and cisgender and where identities that do not fit into that assumption are either completely ignored or demonized.
For us queer and trans folks, it is already alienating to have our genders and sexualities underrepresented. Most of us have a long history of hiding parts of ourselves from our friends and families. For those of us who are out, the assumptions made about our identities at Penn discourage us from being as open about who we are as our cisgender, heterosexual peers. For those who aren’t out, these assumptions make that process even more difficult.
There are many ways for the Penn community to make its fellow queer and trans members feel more welcomed and comfortable. Educating oneself about queer and trans identities is key, and becoming familiar with the words that we use to describe ourselves is one of the first steps. Here is a (very) limited list of a few lesser-known, but important terms:
Trans — an umbrella term often used to refer to those whose gender does not correspond with the gender that they were designated at birth. Some of these identities are transgender, agender, bigender and genderqueer.
Cisgender (Cis) — a term that refers to people whose gender corresponds with the gender that they were designated at birth.
Non-Binary — a term that refers to a gender that falls outside of the societally enforced binary of man and woman. Some non-binary people identify as trans, and others do not.
Queer — an umbrella term often used to refer to those whose sexuality and/or gender falls outside of societal norms; also used as an identity term for some people. Some queer identities are bisexual, lesbian, asexual and gay.
Asexual / Aromantic — refers to people who experience little to no sexual or romantic attraction, respectively. Some asexual and aromantic people engage in sexual or romantic relationships, while others do not.
Intersex — a term that refers to an individual born with sex characteristics (genitalia, chromosomes, hormone levels) that do not fit societal expectations for male or female.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I highly recommend spending some time to research queer and trans identities and the ways that we talk about gender and sexuality in those communities.
I encourage you all to not only passively accept queer and trans people on campus, but to go out of your way to make Penn a better place for queer and trans students. This often involves stepping out of your comfort zone and unlearning a lot of the things that you have been taught for years about gender and sexuality, but it’s well worth it. We deserve to not only feel comfortable in spaces that we have carved out for ourselves on this campus, but also in every aspect of our Penn lives. Help us make that a reality.
Roderick Cook is a College sophomore from Nesquehoning, Pa. studying gender, sexuality and women’s studies. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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