AI: Coming Out for Education
Yesterday was my first day of classes at my new university. I’m going back to school for a second bachelor’s degree, this time in nursing, and just started taking the pre-requisites to get into the actual nursing program. A friend of mine started on the same path at a school on the other side of the state, located in a much more conservative city than where I now live.
Now, it will probably come as no surprise that hospitals aren’t the most LGBT friendly places, especially for trans* folk. To help combat this trans-ignorance, my friend has set up a “Trans 101” lesson for her classmates, and has asked me to help design it so the information is actually correct. Since the people in her class will never know me, I have no problem telling my story, but this got me to thinking; since I’m in the same type of program, will there be a lesson on how to treat LGBT patients at my school? And if not, would I be willing to out myself in order to educate a group of future nurses?
In the same fashion, would you be willing to out yourself for the greater good? If you’re pretty hetero-normative, would you be willing to expose a similar secret of yours in order to educate people? What would it take for you (both LGBT and hetero-normative) to do so?
The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, at 3pm ET.
(Featured image is the cover of “Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue” by Nicholas M. Teich found on Amazon)
Hmm… on your situation, you might want to see if you can find any allies there in the program who could help you out if you don’t want to risk outing yourself. Chances are your university has some sort of LGBT(+allies) organization you could check with. On the other hand, the program might actually work out better with a trans* person teaching it.
As for the question… it’s hard to say. The closest secret I have would have to be mental illness. I’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression, which has a stigma of its own. Would I be willing to out myself about it? I’d probably be more comfortable after I’ve become more established in the program, so it’s already obvious that I’m functioning fine.
But even then, it’s probably a lot easier in my case. I could point to just how common mental illnesses are (and depression is one of the more common forms). Transsexuality is rare by comparison, so things get tougher. But I think it’s still common enough that any nurse could expect to deal with multiple trans* people throughout their career, so focusing on that angle might help.
I do this on a 1 to 1 level all the time, especially when I first came out as trans during my teacher training but then it was more to the group just by being myself…
I ended up coming out as trans to both of the classes I’m teaching this semester as a grad student. My motivation was partly to clarify the confusing status of my name on registration documents, etc, but honestly partly just for trans visibility. I am fortunate to work at a university and in a very liberal area, but I hope it has an impact on some level.
Hell yes, I would! I can be perceived very heteronormatively, and I actively try to defy those assumptions. I’m female, and I’m constantly mistaken for a woman even though I’m genderqueer. I try to be really really open about it, especially to people I want to be friends with.
I’m also pansexual, but female in a relationship with a cisman. I do actively state my orientation and being poly, because it’s important to me that those identities not get lost in people’s perception of me.
I would DEFINITELY tout those differences for the sake of education. I’m the definition of incorrect assumptions, and I’d love it if people could widely accept the dissolution of gendered language. I consider education to be the most important part of my activism, and I’m really open about a lot of things most people would keep under wraps.
I’m open about my depression, my gender identity, various sexual orientations, body dysphoria, my past as an abused child, and my atheism. All of these things shape who I am and shape my interactions with others, and all of them defy the ‘norm’.
Wow, great responses so far!
Infophile, I would say there’s definitely stigma surrounding the term “depression”. It could totally color how people view you, especially if they don’t know who you are yet. As for myself, the university I go to is actually very LGBT friendly, and the nursing program faculty all have rainbow stickers on their office doors, haha. I don’t think I would actually personally come out, since I’m just forming my personality as a girl and really don’t want people to view me as “a transsexual”; I would rather just be seen as “a girl”.
Catherine and theelectricturtle, I admire your courage coming out or transitioning during teaching. I did student teaching myself, and couldn’t fathom coming out to a group of young students.
And Elly, there’s really not a lot of knowledge about genderqueer people out there, so thank you for the work you’re doing. Breaking the binary does more work for all trans* folk than anything else in my opinion, so we all owe you.
I think it’s incredibly important to share personal stories, because people want that direct, human connection. They don’t feel that the information is as “real” without knowing who it comes from (even if, scientifically speaking, anecdotal evidence is pretty much worthless).
Being relatively cis-gendered (I have my dysphoric moments, as I’m sure most women and especially queer women do, but mostly I’m happy to be a girl and have boobs and hips and all that), I can’t speak to the trans angle as much — I’m an advocate for my trans friends, love them dearly, but their experiences are so different from mine. But I’m also a rape and abuse survivor, and in the past couple of years I’ve started talking openly about that (after years of denial and hiding and whatnot). I never would have guessed just how much people want to talk to someone who “understands because they’ve been there” — no matter that I’m not an expert, that I don’t have training in psychology or counseling, what matters the most to people is that I’ve “been there”. They appreciate my sharing of my story, and will open up with their own. I’ve had people thank me so many times for how much I’ve helped them, when all I did was talk.
And a big part of what got me to open up about my story, to face what I’d been through and deal with it until I could talk openly about it without crying or freaking out? Was seeing other people doing the same thing. So talking to others helped me, too.
Coming out is legitimately scary — you can end up making yourself a target. But there’s a lot of good you can do when you’re “out” that it’s harder to do from “in the closet”. But it’s a calculated risk … you have to feel secure in your safety nets and social group. If you’re not feeling up to that monumental challenge, perhaps a friend could act as advocate and lead your class, without people knowing that it’s your personal stories being shared; just getting the information out there is huge.