On Thursday, March 23rd, Bates celebrated Trans Identity Day by hosting a space to discuss and learn about experiences of people in the trans community and some issues they face in regards to representation and identity. Before discussion, everyone agreed to being recorded and featured in this article.
After watching a video, students and faculty joined in a round table discussion, answering questions regarding the video and its content. The first question asked to participants was, “What is your experience with HIV/AIDS been and what social or cultural elements have had an impact on this experience from your life?”
For Raye Chappell ‘18, HIV/AIDS was very real growing up, “We talked about it a lot just because a lot of people had it. But there’s a lot of stigma attached, especially to some notable figures–like Magic Johnson, Eazy-E…I think we know it’s serious, but we think it’s always someone else, we don’t think that it’s our problem. We need to talk about this too…It’s a community and public health topic: it’s not something to be pushed to the side, you know you wouldn’t joke about cancer.”
For many, past discussions about HIV/AIDS never left the Health Classroom. Cameron Huftalen ‘19 reflected, “There’s just a disconnect and I think that it’s harmful, because it takes away any type of personal face or connection to it: so you start thinking of it as this far-off concept. You don’t get the sense that it actually affects people. You’re like, ‘This is some awful disease and we talk about it in health class once.’” They added, “You only hear about it in the context of people suffering, really you don’t get to hear, in your health class or your isolated communities about people who are living with this and doing work with it and being successful.”
Dylan Carson ‘18, a SPARQ Peer Mentor highlighted how people have recently turned to normalizing HIV/AIDS: “I feel like the last few years have had this shift from all this attention for how it was treatable or how people can live for years and stay healthy and have sexual activity and lead regular lives with it, so it also decreases the urgency of it when people are still getting infected by it and not everyone may necessarily have access to PrEP or adequate healthcare to stay healthy.”
One goal of the group conversation was to dismantle typical narratives that we hear regarding the trans community and trans individuals. For Angela Eustache ‘20, “Something that I struggle with, that I see happening in the black community, are the hate crimes against people who identify as gay or LGBTQ. It’s very normalized, and to be someone of color, and to witness some of things that go on in the black community, it’s very disheartening and trying to address it with your peers who might think it’s a joke or it’s not that big of a deal.”
For Danny Carmona ‘18, a SPARQ Peer Mentor, one issue they face at Bates is the expectation placed on people who identify as trans to advocate for all trans individuals: “A lot of times that [expectation to be a representative for an entire identity] further puts on a burden onto those people who hold these identities because it’s like, not only do they have to deal with figuring out themselves, but they also have to appease other people and deal with the notions of people thinking that their identities aren’t valid because you have to dress a certain way, or like you have to uphold someone else’s standards— which is something I think we don’t talk a lot about, and a lot of the blame for their subjugation goes onto them rather than society as a whole.”
Near the end, people discussed how to keep the balance between discussing issues that severely impact trans women while also not erasing other identities. According to Lexi Mucci, the Assistant Director of the Office of Intercultural Education, many outside things influence the erasure of the trans community, “The binary notions of what transness needs to look like and the representation across the media of what the problems are within the trans community, who is deemed as trans enough, and what that looks like— I think all of that plays into the erasure of the trans community and the hyper visibility of the struggles and who those struggles impact, and those are the only people included in this community.”