Definition of Gender Dysphoria:
gender dysphoria |???nd?r d?s?f?ri?|
the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.
North Carolina bathroom bill:
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory passed the HB2 bill (“bathroom bill”) on March 23. It not only states that all transgender people must use the bathroom which corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate, but also prevents protection against LGBT discrimination. The supporters of the bill stated that they feared sexual predators and harassment in public bathroom, causing an uproar in the transgender community. This is voiding the dignity and safety of transgender people.
In 2007, Jazz Jennings, formerly known as Jaron, introduced the world to her new female self. At the age of 3, Jennings was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a disconnection between biological sex and gender identity. However Jennings’ diagnosis came at a notably young age, and she is one of the youngest people documented to identify as gender dysphoric. By the age of 5, Jennings was beginning to transition to a female and now is a strong advocate and activist for LGBTQ+ rights and motivational speaker for the transgender community.
Emma Rudesill (’19), who views Jennings as a role model, came out as a transgender female this year, after beginning to identify herself as female around two years ago. “It wasn’t just like one day I woke up and said, ‘yeah, I’m a female’. It [took] over a gradual period of one to two years,” Rudesill said. As her transition was progressive, she waited until this year to come out to her friends and family.
Similar to Jennings, Rudesill experiences gender dysphoria. For Rudesill, this dysphoria is comforted by the comfort of associating herself with female attributes. “Gender dysphoria for everyone is different, but for me however, it’s like sure I’m a biological male even though I feel like I should be a female, and because of [stereotypically] connotated male things… [I] feel more validated with female things,” she said.
When Rudesill came out, she was not formally introduced to the community, unlike previous transgender students at ASL who introduced themselves in a high school assembley. “I kind of just came out as I went I guess… people just picked up on it. I came out to friends, that was obvious, and of course [to] the GSA. Everything else people just picked up on… when I was using a different name or they just asked.”
With Rudesill currently being the only openly transgender student in the High School, the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) served as a wealth of support. The GSA assisted her transition in many ways, with one being a clothing drive to help Rudesill tackle her gender dysphoria. “For lots of people, especially Emma in our case, looking the way you identify [to fit] societal norms is really important to expressing yourself,” GSA Co-President Rami Kablawi (’16) said. “[The GSA] felt like doing that clothes drive was a good way of showing Emma that she has support, that she has friendship, even in people she didn’t think she did in before.”
This encouragement also expands into groups such as the Social Justice Council (SJC) and the Gender Equity Club. “[The ASL community is] a much more supportive area, especially since we do have GSA [club], with other LGBTQ+ [students] who also understand,” Rudesill said. “Also, there are people here who know me, and my friends, and like me. It was easier to come out here because I knew people were going to be supportive.”
For those in the LGBTQ+ community, support can come from the High School community as a whole. “It’s very important for us as older students to support underclassmen students who want to come out. High school is tumultuous time for a lot of people and I feel maybe older students who have come out already…can [act as] a support network,” Co-President of the Gender Equity Club Victoria Dreyer (’16) said.
The gender advocacy initiated by these student organizations, Angie Kukielski (’15) former President of the Gender Equity Club and GSA member, began to raise awareness in the High School in recent years, for students like Rudesill. “My senior year of high school, I think that there was definitely a prominent conversation happening about gender, particularly among the upperclassmen,” Kukielski said. “And that conversation led to further awareness and thus support for gender-based advocacy and activism.”
Despite the outpour of support, coming out as transgender was still challenging and difficult for Rudesill, as she feared the stigma toward transgender people. She knew there could be “bad reactions” making her more hesitant to openly express her gender identity.
Kukielski understands the dificulty Rudesill faced. “It’s difficult to come out and be anything but cisgender [one whos gender identity matches their biolgical sex] in literally any school that I know of,” Kukielski said.
Although the administration was helpful in aiding Rudesill with her transition, the community had to become accustomed to using the correct gender pronouns. “You do not really need to know someone’s sexuality in everyday conversations to respect them, but gender, since we speak about it, when you are referring to a person, you need to know their [prefered] pronouns if you want to refer to them correctly,” Dreyer said. Dreyer believes gender is “a more all-encompassing thing than even sexuality because it influences everything.”
While many immediately adapted to the change in pronouns and name, some still took time to do so. Rudesill understood if it was by accident, but not when it was intentionally. “If you’re purposely doing it I kind of feel pissed off about it and like, ‘c’mon… [are] you really doing that on purpose?’” Rudesill said.
Despite her fear of backlash from the community, Rudesill received minimal negative reactions after openly identifying as a female. “It has been actually [a] fairly good response. The administration has been taking pretty good care of it and people are dealing with it pretty well,” Rudesill said. “I didn’t feel like [being the only current transgender student] was a big issue to be honest…It was more about if the community would be accepting, and luckily they were.”
Gauging from experiences at other schools, Director of Student Life James Perry believes the ASL community is understanding of situations similar to Rudesill’s. “My experience at other schools in other parts of the world leads me to believe, and I hope it’s not naïvely, that this is a [safer] place to come out than a lot of places,” he said.
However, Kukielski believes the conversation can be expanded from recognizing that issues exist, to taking it a step further with advocacy. Now a student at New York University (NYU), Kukielski sees an increased interest in these topics on the NYU campus. Kukielski noticed this change specifically at orientation, when students were wearing “gender pronoun pins.” Through small actions like this, Kukielski believes the ASL community could “increase the volume on conversations about transness.”
While Kukielski believes it’s important to recognize such topics, Kukielski also hopes the conversation will de-sensationalize with comfort. “I wish transgender identity could be less of a big deal, but then again, it’s so necessary to make a big deal about transness, to raise awareness and create new, trans-friendly consciousnesses to get to a point where we can all just stop caring because trans[gender] inclusion is just natural and normal,” Kukielski said.
Through consistent communication with Rudesill’s family, friends and teachers, Perry too hopes the school can help everyone adapt. “I’m sure it’s hard for friends, peers, teachers, family members, all to just adjust and so anything we can do to help all those folks. I know teachers, while they’ve had experience with this, it’s still a new thing for a teacher to know what’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s hard, but hopefully, we’ve had a lot of conversations with teachers, and coming together we decided what’s the best thing to do.”
The administration had been supporting Rudesill with her transition, whether it be by informing her teachers of the situation or dealing with more logistical aspects, such as name changes in transcripts and reports. “We realize this is a huge moment in that student’s life, so I think the first thing we do is spend a lot of time communicating with counselors, parents, faculty, staff and administration, to determine what’s the best way to support and protect this studentEW moving forward,” Perry said.
Similarly, Kukielski also believes that the community has to be educated first in order to fully understand. “A lot of the trans[gender] conversation is limited to young people nowadays… I don’t think most cis[gender] adults know about those conversations, so making sure all faculty members are informed and ready to put that knowledge to use in the classroom is important,” Kukielski said.
Perry also recognizes there are organizational issues that have to be considered during any student’s transition. “There are always some logistical things, like the little things that [other people] take for granted everyday, like what bathroom we use,” he said. “Taking a look at we have currently offered, and decide do we need more unisex bathrooms that aren’t associated with one gender?”
Apart from just conversations, Kablawi believes acceptance and support should be the community’s sole response. “I’ve said it maybe a hundred times… but there’s no number of times it’s enough to say it,” he said. “Once people understand the situation, there shouldn’t be any other reaction but I want to help this person.”