Megan: Thanks so much for making the time for this interview, I really appreciate it. Can you tell me a little about yourself and your background and why you wanted this position at the Pride Centre?
Rene: I am one of those students who came from an isolated, small community. I was the token gay kid; I was basically one of the only people who was out as a kid… just me standing up like that had a ripple effect after I left. The kids behind me saw what I was doing, saw that they could be out and happy and successful. Now there’s a GSA developing, a bunch of pride stuff happening… but not everyone who comes from a small community like that has a positive experience. So there are a lot of intersectional issues involved when students come to the university and encounter queer culture and identity issues at the same time. My life experience has positioned me to help them work through their identities and answer their questions.
Megan: What are some of the challenges trans and non-binary students face, on campus or elsewhere?
Rene: Safety is always a concern. Trans people are subject to some of the highest rates of violence of any demographic, especially once you layer in other intersectional identities like race—so Black, Indigenous, or People of Colour (BIPOC) trans folks will face even higher rates of discrimination and gender-based violence. (Link to video: What is Gender-Based Violence)
Bathrooms are a major issue—this is a basic human function, but without gender-neutral bathrooms, it can be a struggle for non-binary folks to find somewhere safe to go. USask has some great gender-neutral bathrooms in newer buildings, but I have done campus tours where you have to run across campus trying to find a gender-neutral bathroom and that is less than ideal. Sometimes there are gender-neutral bathrooms that require a key, so that’s an added barrier to access, too.
Megan: Let’s talk about language, and how the use of preferred pronouns is such a contentious issue in higher education and other spaces.
Rene: Absolutely. But I do need to clarify that the term 'preferred' is not the best way of phrasing that, because it’s not a matter of preference—it’s a matter of fact. For example, your pronouns are she/her, and your name is Megan. That isn’t what you prefer, it’s who you are. You wouldn’t want to be called Kevin or referred to as he/him. So it’s a matter of respecting someone to simply use the name and pronouns they give you.
Megan: I’m so sorry! I didn’t realize the implication of using the word preferred but now that you’ve explained it that way it makes perfect sense.
Rene: It’s OK! I’m learning too, all the time. The whole trans and non-binary identity concept is very new, and it’s evolving all the time. People are safer and freer to explore the concept of gender and identity in public now, and so the language used to describe and convey the experience is changing rapidly. The important thing is being honest and vulnerable about your desire to learn and share with the queer community; that goes a long way.
Megan: Let’s talk a bit more about language and the student experience for LGBTQ2S folks on campus. What are some important things for faculty and staff to consider?
Rene: Gendered structures are pervasive in most institutions, and Campus is not immune. Outdated terminology and phrasing are common in older textbooks and course materials, especially if a professor has taken it upon themselves to write their own materials but not kept them updated—an example of this would be say, the use of the word hermaphrodite, which was used in the past but has been replaced with the word intersex.
Another issue is when gender identity or LGBTQ2S issues are used for academic debate. Imagine being a queer student listening to their class debate whether they should be entitled to the same human rights afforded to their cis-hetero classmates.
These kinds of things are so hurtful on so many levels—not only to queer students but for those students who have no prior experience with trans and non-binary people. They will learn, from their professor who is a trusted source, the outdated language and schools of thought and that will be how they form their basis of knowledge on the subject. It’s not only hurtful, it’s dangerous.
Megan: Does the Pride Centre offer resources to help with these kinds of issues?
Rene: We do! And I find that most faculty members are happy to make changes. Some are more stuck in their ways, and that can involve a more intense conversation. But overall, my experience in this area has been positive. We have a few training options—they’re currently on hold because of COVID-19, but we will open those back up when everyone returns to Campus. And of course, faculty and staff can email the Pride Centre at any time to get their questions answered or get help with appropriate resources.
Megan: Thank you so much for your time, Rene. Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t covered here today?
Rene: We have found that trans people have started to come out more; there are more people finding each other in the queer community, realizing there are more of us out there than we’d ever thought, and all of a sudden, the populations are increasing in number. This doesn’t mean that there is something in the water—it means that people feel safe enough to come out, are not fearful of abuse or shame.
Generation Alpha is supposed to be the most gender-diverse population coming up. I can’t wait to see how they take on the world. Gen Z is trying to make some big changes, and the future is looking really bright. It’s still going to be a lot of hard work, with people like Trump trying to destroy everything we are building. But love conquers all, and we are pushing that agenda.
Resources for USask, Saskatoon, and Saskatchewan: