Meet the students who created a revolutionary trans student survival guide

the voice and vision of a new generation

Meet the students who created a revolutionary trans student survival guide

April 2, 2018

Entering college can be hard for everyone—you’re forced to make sense of a completely new life while meeting new people, taking classes, working, and joining extracurriculars. Now, imagine navigating college as a trans student who doesn't know which professors will be affirming and use your chosen name; you don’t know which buildings have all gender restrooms or if your campus health center is equipped to support your health needs.

At Yale University, students are taking matters into their own hands to support their trans community by starting a community resource to help trans students adjust to life at Yale. Titled the Trans @ Yale Survival Guide, the guide has information on getting identification changed, the Yale health center, classes that are trans-friendly, extracurriculars including athletics, and more. Intended to be a living document, the Trans @ Yale Survival Guide is meant to support trans students now and in the future.

In conjunction with the Trans @ Yale Survival Guide, the Trans @ Yale student organization also created and released a video, featured above, about the creation and importance of the Survival Guide. I had the opportunity to talk to SGH, former president of Trans @ Yale and a major player in the creation of the Survival Guide, and Rebecca Shoptaw, a Yale student and GLAAD Campus Ambassador who assisted in producing the Trans @ Yale video. The video covers Trans @ Yale, trans allyship, and institutional support.

On the creation of the Trans @ Yale Survival Guide and its importance

SGH: A member of Trans @ Yale created a Google Drive folder titled “Trans @ Yale Survival Guide.” It had different folders in it, from activism to appearance to coming out to transitioning/Yale Health. Someone in the group suggested that we could take that information and turn it into a document called the Trans @ Yale Survival Guide that would be accessible to anyone but geared towards people who were figuring out how to navigate Yale as a trans person.

The guide seemed important for a few reasons. First, it would compile information that had previously been passed by word-of-mouth in one place. This would allow the information to be more accessible to anyone, especially those who weren’t as connected with other trans people or who hadn’t gotten to campus yet. Also, it would lead people to a trans community at Yale. Finally, it was important to us that the guide be a living document, so that it could both capture “generations” of knowledge about being trans on campus and be up to date with the various and rapidly changing resources Yale does or does not provide.

On advice for starting a trans student group on their campus

SGH: Building community requires energy and care. As you think about setting up a trans student group, ask yourself: what are the acute needs of trans people on campus? Do they need a social space? An activist space? What resources do they need? New clothes? Set up a clothing swap. To talk about the challenges of being trans? Set up a support group. To find community? Set up a trans dinner or meet and greet for trans students, staff, and faculty, and publicize it as far and wide as possible.

Think about the power dynamics within our community. What are ways you will actively commit to building an anti-racist, anti-misogynistic community? How can you build a coalition with other campus groups working towards similar goals?

Ask for help. Whether it’s registering as a student organization and applying for funding from your university or asking your school’s LGBTQ resource center for assistance, don’t hesitate to use your resources.

And remember, to keep a community healthy you need to be healthy yourself. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it, and to put your own health first.

On how educational institutions can be more trans-friendly and affirming

SGH: There are so many ways that campuses could be more trans-friendly, and plenty of online resources already exist on the topic, so my first suggestion would be to read up on what trans people are saying about this.

A few big ones that come to mind are the following:

  • Make it easy for trans people to be housed in ways that are comfortable to them (key points are gender-neutral housing, at least on an opt-in basis, and singles for folks who request them).

  • Make it easy for trans people to change their names in the school’s information systems and for these changes to propagate over the entire system. It is especially important that students’ preferred names are displayed to professors, to avoid outing people as trans. Also, make it possible for students to have IDs displaying their preferred names.

  • Provide comprehensive, trans-affirming healthcare services, and make all trans-healthcare related policies clear and accessible. Read up on what this means—it’s more than gender-affirming surgeries. Trans people may also need other kinds of surgical and non-surgical procedures, as well as access to trans-affirming mental health care. Make sure that staff is trained to provide affirming care (there are books on this topic).

  • Be receptive to and supportive of trans activism on campus. Let trans students tell you what they need.

On cisgender allies and how to best support trans activism

SGH: First of all, it’s important for me to note here that the Trans @ Yale Survival Guide is a resource made by and for the trans and nonbinary community at Yale, and I think that’s really special. That said, there are definitely ways for cis people to support trans students. The biggest one is supporting trans organizing and activism. That means showing up to trans-organized events that are open to cisgender people.

Another thing that is important is including trans voices in organizing. This needs to be done without tokenizing trans people, though. One way to avoid this tokenization is making sure that your organizing actually addresses issues that are important to trans folks, and considers the stakes of your organizing for trans people. For example, trans-inclusive organizing around sexual culture would acknowledge and fight against the high rates of sexual violence faced by trans people.

Finally, where appropriate and when trans people ask for help, cis people can do behind-the-scenes work to benefit trans folks. Instead of organizing separately from trans campus activists, cis people should be ready to lend their support as asked, when asked.

Trans @ Yale was formed in the fall of 2015. They provide both material and administrative resources for trans and nonbinary undergraduate students at Yale. The organization hosts regular social events connecting transgender faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students, and is involved in activism on campus and in New Haven.  For more information about Trans @ Yale, check out their Facebook page. For the full Trans @ Yale Survival Guide click here.

To take action in your community, please continue to check out our student-activist-led campaign, revamp, as GLAAD’s Campus Ambassadors share insights on how to make your campus activism more inclusive and effective.

Adrian Vega is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a junior at Stanford University studying Communication with a focus on Digital Media. He is currently interning at GLAAD as a Youth Engagement Intern.

Rebecca Shoptaw is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a senior at Yale University studying Film and Media Studies. She believes in the power of representation as a form of activism. She recently wrote and directed the LGBTQ+ web series "Middlemarch: The Series," which is available on YouTube.

SGH is an amp contributor and senior at Yale University studying Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. They are the former President of Trans @ Yale and current captain of the Yale Women's Rugby team, member in the Yale Gospel Choir, and a Peer Liaison with Yale's Office of LGBTQ Resources.

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