Transgender Panel Promotes Communication and Understanding on Campus

A panel on transgender issues was held in the multipurpose room of the UC on Thursday, March 12. The Unity-sponsored event was held as an effort to promote education and open communication about transgender individuals.

WCU senior Kaleb Xander Lynch and Dr. Stephanie Dykes, who will be speaking at the Gender Conference, at WCU on Mar. 26, were the key speakers for the event.

Lynch is a female-to-male transsexual (FTM or transman) who began transitioning last year, on May 28th, 2008. He is post-operative, meaning that he had sexual reassignment surgery on January 21st, 2009. Dykes is a male-to-female transsexual (MTF or transwoman). She began taking female hormones in her mid-40s.

The conference began with definitions of terminology that many people find confusing. Lynch differentiated between the terms transgender and transsexual. As he explained, transgender people are those who do not identity with their birth sex, while transsexuals are those who go through SRS (sexual reassignment surgery) or HRT (hormone replacement therapy) to physically change their sex. He also pointed out the difference between sex and gender.

As Lynch stated, “sex is between your legs; gender is between your ears.”

Additionally, Lynch and Dykes discussed the social repercussions of coming out as transgender. Both experienced disruptions in family relationships as a result of their gender identity. Dykes went through a divorce and an abrupt end to her relationship with her son as a result of her decision to transition.

Transgender individuals are also more likely to be the victims of harassment and violence. About two people per month are murdered in the US for their gender expression. Many more are the victims of hate-crimes.

After establishing a base of knowledge, Lynch and Dykes opened the floor for questions and discussion. Many questions were regarding sexual orientation in regard to gender. Dykes, who is lesbian, explained that gender identity and sexual orientation are completely separate issues. She is a woman, and is attracted to other women. A person can identify as male, female, both, or anything in between, regardless of their sexual orientation. Likewise, a person can identify as homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, or any other orientation, regardless of gender identity.

The speakers took students’ questions in stride and with good humor. When asked how a vagina could be surgically constructed, Stephanie demonstrated by taking off one of her socks and turning it inside out.

Overall, the panel provided students with a safe and comfortable space to discuss a segment of the population that is often misrepresented or underrepresented.

More information about gender identity and sexual orientation is available to students through Unity. Unity meets every Thursday at 5pm. Meetings are held in the Catamount Room on the second floor of the UC, unless otherwise posted.