You have all heard in vague terms about the transphobia present at our school in the form of a list of demands, but I want my personal story to be heard. This article has no agenda and this isn’t a call to action. If you see me around campus do not thank me for writing this or tell me you didn’t realize. I just want to give people a window into how this has affected me as an individual, not me as a co-writer of the call to action, not me as a member of a group. Because this issue is important and it’s personal. First and foremost I have felt unheard, and I refuse to let those feelings consume me.
It all started when someone I considered a close friend began to manipulate me with transphobic beliefs as I was in the process of coming out. I confided in her about my dysphoria, and she shot me down in a way that was framed to be for my own safety but really just taught me that what I felt about my own body couldn’t be trusted. I began to internalize the feeling of not being worth listening to, feeling isolated by my identity because what I thought I wanted wasn’t what I should do, and I became depressed. I went to her because I saw her as someone who would believe me and would speak against the societal norms that told me I couldn’t be who I thought I was. Instead she just increased my feeling of isolation without me even realizing it. I felt a need for her approval and wanted her to like me, despite her showing generally little respect for me. I found other people to talk to about my gender with and came out more publicly, but I still have trouble accepting that my friends are going to believe and listen to me.
After many more incidents with her involving me and my friends, I realized how she had manipulated me. During an appointment with a Colony Care therapist where I attempted to discuss what happened and how I felt because of it, my therapist showed me that the adults in my life would not believe me. She told me that it was a misunderstanding without even asking for my side of the story. When I interrupted her to tell her the very serious things that had happened to me and my friends, she put words in my mouth and said I “suspected” that the harasser was transphobic. She continued on to tell me multiple times that this is the real world, and that we should have more discussions with our harasser. This left me in a state of panic. I felt so small and insignificant, as if my feelings did not matter even within the context of my personal therapy appointment. I then spent the next three months without a regular therapist while dealing with all of this.
At the same time, all summer while working on campus I felt like my voice was being heard just enough to placate me but not enough to change anything. I felt like I was being humored so that I would shut up, and I had to fight to be taken seriously. Nothing was changing no matter how hard I pushed, no matter how unsafe I felt, no matter how much it got in the way of my ability to do my work. My feelings once again did not matter.
These repeated incidents of being unimportant and small have deeply affected my self-esteem. When I am having a hard time (which is frequently), I struggle to feel worthy of help, and I struggle to feel like I can give any valid contributions to conversations. I still struggle to believe that I was harrassed “enough” to warrant feeling as bad as I do. Even as I am writing this article, part of my brain is telling me that I am making this up and that it’s my own fault I feel this way.
I feel like I am simultaneously tiny and taking up too much space. I have nightmares where I am trying to communicate with a close friend but they keep raising their voice and not hearing me, until I am screaming at them and they get upset that I am yelling. There is no balance between feeling unheard and being “too loud.”
I had to drop one of my classes and frequently miss my other three because of the emotional energy it takes to walk out the door or do my work. I sit in my room and take care of myself in the ways I know how to, and I get off campus as much as I can, but in the end I have to continue to be a student here, and I am pissed that my opportunity to learn was taken away from me. All I want to do is dig myself an appropriately deep grave in POE, hang out with my friends, and learn math, and my passion for those things is gone.
Institutionally, things are getting better. But I know that as things change here, as the school continues to listen to their students and do what is right, I will also continue to be traumatized by what has already happened, and these ideas that have become ingrained in me will take a long time to unlearn. It will be a long and hard process to make all of the changes we are hoping for in order to turn Olin into the place we know it can be. Yet even if those changes were instantaneous, I would still be here feeling the real-life effects of being ignored.
Aside from the actions we take, we need to heal as individuals and as a group. Olin is supposed to be a space where we all feel safe and accepted, and it will take work on all of our parts to get there. That comes in the form of showing support for the efforts we are making to change Olin policies and practices, as I have seen so many of you do, but it also means finding ways to allow people space and time to heal while still including them in the broader community. I’m not sure what that means or how to go about doing that, but that is for all of us to figure out.