Transgender studies progressive addition to UA
The UA announced in September that it will be hiring four professors in transgender studies in the coming years, culminating in the program’s debut in 2015.
The transgender studies program demonstrates the university’s commitment to progressive ideals with regards to gender and sexuality. By acknowledging the existence of identities outside the traditional male/female and gay/straight binaries, the university has also acknowledged the significance of other, historically marginalized perspectives on sexuality and gender.
The media’s treatment of transgender woman Pvt. Chelsea Manning, convicted this year of violating the Espionage Act for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, is a recent but unsurprising example of how transgender* people are marginalized in our culture. During a Fox News segment on Manning’s transition, for instance, Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” was played over separate images of Manning in uniform, and in wig and make up.
In portraying transgender people as a sort of grotesque “other,” the media promotes the idea that trans* people are not worthy of the same kind of respect granted to those of more “traditional,” socially-accepted gender identities.
“These social gender systems are changing rapidly,” said Susan Stryker, associate professor of gender and women’s studies and director of The Institute for LGBT Studies. “Gender is something that touches our lives every day. Most people think of gender as just having to do with what’s masculine or feminine, but it’s also a system for regulating bodies.”
As college students, we have been thrust into an environment in which we are encouraged to question the ideas and goals we have been inculcated with. A transgender studies program will help students do just that.
“From the moment we’re born until the moment we die, gender systems unequally distribute life changes to all bodies,” Stryker said, “based not only on whether we’re men or women, but what kind of men and women we are — are we good girls or bad girls, gay or straight, fat or thin, white or brown.”
Maneuvering the social politics of college life involves addressing these questions directly and indirectly. While life in college won’t define us for the rest of our lives, the time spent here could be the foundation for how we present ourselves in the future.
Francisco Galarte, an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies, said the new program will allow students to “think critically about gender” and “provides some innovation” within the current gender and women’s studies program. Such a program would have been “inconceivable” just 15 to 20 years ago, Galarte said.
Stryker said that the transgender studies program has already made an impact: “[It has] ‘given permission’ to other universities to take this field more seriously.”
The point of a college education is to expand students’ ways of thinking, and the new transgender studies program will allow students to take in perspectives they probably have never considered and to approach a subject that is growing in popularity and urgency. This is crucial in light of the media’s treatment of Manning and the historical “othering” of transgendered people.
Carson Suggs is a senior studying English. Follow him @crnsggs.