“I am constantly ‘the transgender person,’” said Nancy Williams HM ’95, a Keck Science chemistry professor. “When you feel like you’re standing in for your entire minority because you’re the first person of the group they’ve ever met … it’s nerve-racking.”
Williams, who came out as a transgender woman in 2011, moderated Janet Mock’s Sept. 15 talk at Claremont McKenna College’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. Mock, a transgender activist and author, discussed transgender rights and her book, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More.
Mock opened by commenting on the gender-obsessed world in which we live. From referring to a restroom as the “ladies room” to asking about the sex of a pet we just met, gender permeates daily life. Stressing the importance of breaking free from early-learned gender stereotypes, Mock offered ways in which cisgendered people can make the world a more welcoming place. She advised attendees to become educated about trans issues and use their privileged voices to say what trans people cannot.
“We must expand our idea beyond the popular media notion of someone being born a certain sex and transitioning to a different gender,” she said.
Mock described a world dominated by whiteness and masculinity, one in which women who wear skirts instead of suits are not taken seriously and trans women aren’t considered women by some cisgendered people.
“If you exist in something that you see as the lower part of our [societal] hierarchy, how do you take pride in that?” Mock asked at the talk.
Moving on from widespread norms and restrictions can be difficult, but the default can become acceptance and inclusion. More open and inclusive spaces where all people can share ideas without the fear of further marginalization might prompt such a societal shift, Mock said. Although this world is still far from reality, Mock can already envision her dream.
She sees a world where she is able to “say that I love bell hooks just as much as I love pop culture and MTV and Beyoncé and not feeling as if I have to compromise; talk about my ideas; and feel comfortable in big hair and a short skirt and lipstick.”
Williams said she found the talk inspiring.
“When I see a strong trans woman up on stage it tells me, yes, we can be confident; we can be proud; we can be brilliant,” Williams said.
Jasmine Russell SC ’17 felt similarly to Williams, noting Mock’s effect on rallying students toward change.
“The talk was great,” Russell said. “Besides helping raise awareness about intersectionality, gender and privilege—about which CMC desperately needs to be educated, in my opinion—she also commented on women’s colleges admitting trans students. Hopefully her support will help Scripps follow in the footsteps of Mills and Mount Holyoke when it comes to inclusive policy change.”
Mount Holyoke, a women’s college in Massachusetts, began admitting all who identify as women in September 2014, announcing the shift as an issue of domestic human rights. In the wake of Mills’ and Mount Holyoke’s changes, other women’s colleges have begun to reconsider their own admissions policies. Russell is one of many Scripps students hoping for a revamp.
“The work of feminists is not to police womanhood,” Mock said. “Trans women for a very long time have been told by a lot of cisgender women that they are not real women.”
“I hope that these women’s spaces and colleges come to a point and say that womanhood is not yours to police, but it is yours to embrace,” Mock added. “If the Girl Scouts can do it, why not a women’s college?”