To close out Pride Month, LGBTQ @ Venable hosted a panel discussion over Zoom on personal gender pronouns and gender identity. The panelists, Genny Beemyn (they/them), Director of the UMass Stonewall Center; Jody L. Herman (she/her), Reid Rasmussen Fellow at the Williams Institute; and Audrey Grossman (she/her), Venable alum and mother of two LGBTQ + children, addressed some questions for an audience of Venable personnel and external guests about the broad spectrum and evolution of gender identity and the role gender pronouns play in fostering inclusiveness.
LGBTQ @ Venable: Let's start with gender identity. Can you explain the difference between cisgender and transgender?
Genny: Transgender or trans refers to individuals whose gender identity expression is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. In Latin, trans means "across from, opposite from, or on the other side of, beyond." So, it is a term that can be used for individuals who are binary trans, meaning transwomen or transmen, or nonbinary trans, meaning they don't identify as a particular gender. The term cis then came about as a means of identifying non-trans people, whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth. In Latin, cis means "next to or on the same side of," so its meaning is the opposite of that of the Latin word trans.
LGBTQ @ Venable: Does nonbinary (enby) fall within transgender or cisgender?
Audrey: Speaking from personal experience, my enby child identifies as transgender nonbinary. This means that their gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth or the anatomy with which they were born. I don't know if that's the case for everyone who identifies as enby, but I think it often is.
Genny: I would say most nonbinary folks identify as being trans and see nonbinary under the trans umbrella. But there are some who don't because the terms trans and transgender have begun to be used to refer to transwomen and transmen. So, enby individuals who don't identify as exclusively male or female have been excluded from that term.
LGBTQ @ Venable: One element of the trans experience that isn't often discussed is the changing of names and the concept of "dead names." Why is naming so important?
Audrey: A "dead name" is the name that a person was assigned at birth and they used until they changed their name to match their gender identity. This may not seem important to some people, but it is an issue that is very important to the trans community. A person's name is a key element of their identity, so, for a trans person, being referred to by their "dead name," the name that they had to use before presenting their authentic self in the world, can evoke really painful memories or even bring forth feelings of gender dysphoria. It can also be hard if you have known somebody for a long time, as I knew my child for a long time by their name at birth, to switch to a new name. It's inevitable that people will mess up, but it is important to try to respect a person's chosen name that is reflective of their true self.
LGBTQ @ Venable: Pronouns are also a key factor in expressing authentic identity. Is it helpful or patronizing when cis-gendered people state upfront what their pronouns are?
Genny: I think it's quite revolutionary because it gives the message that we should not make assumptions about anyone's pronouns based on their appearance. It can feel awkward to be the only person in the room or in any setting who might be using pronouns that are nonbinary or pronouns that may not match a person's physical appearance. So, when cis-gendered people share their pronouns, it really makes it more comfortable for trans people to do so. Ultimately, it would be ideal if sharing pronouns became the norm.
LGBTQ @ Venable: Through federal and state surveys and academic research, we are slowly gathering more data about the trans population. What are we learning from this data and what are some of the implications?
Jody: Using a compilation of census and other data, researchers had estimated that about 0.6% of the U.S. adult population identifies as transgender. But as more data becomes available, we're refining those estimates upwards. For example, through risk behavior surveys, researchers recently found that 1.8% of students identified as transgender across 19 high schools. Another recent study that was just carried out in some high schools in Pittsburgh found that fully 10% of youths were identifying as trans, or nonbinary, or some non-cis gender identity. So, overall, we are seeing a trend of higher levels of non-cis identities among the youth population. And this is something that employers really need to be aware of and take seriously, because entry-level individuals joining organizations today are far more likely than previous generations to have diverse identities.
LGBTQ @ Venable: What has the survey research revealed about the impact of discrimination based on gender identity and expression?
Jody: We have learned through surveys that trans people experience a variety of discriminatory behavior across major areas of life, including employment, housing, and education. There are people who have been offered jobs only to have the offer retracted once it came to light that they are transgender. Trans people report being treated differently by employers, being removed from interactions with clients and the public, and so on. We've also found that these discriminatory experiences are pervasive and are having detrimental impacts on trans people's economic well-being, as well as on their mental and physical health.
Audrey: The state‑by‑state nature of our laws also plays a huge part in this. My 15-year-old came out to us as nonbinary around age 12. We have since legally changed their name and gender, which thankfully is an option available to us here in California, but not in Tennessee, where they were born. So, their birth certificate still bears the gender they were assigned at birth and their deadname. Until the laws change, the ability to legally change one's name or gender, the ability to use the bathrooms that coordinate with your gender identity, and the ability to be safe from harm often depend on where one lives. A primary reason that my family moved from Tennessee to California two years ago was so my child could be safe.