Student Club Discusses Gender Identity

By Corban Brantley

Gender is a complex idea, and some people find that they are uncomfortable with the one they are assigned at birth. Synergy Club at Whatcom Community College is a group that meets weekly to discuss problems that transgendered students face.

“Synergy acts as a support group,” said Taylor Brooke, the president of Synergy and co-president of Whatcom’s Queer-Straight Alliance. During meetings, members support transgendered students, those whose gender identities are different from their sex at birth, with issues ranging from getting kicked out of their parents’ homes and dealing with harassment, to getting gender reassignment surgeries.

Synergy consists of students who identify themselves as transgendered as well as students who are cisgendered, those whose gender identities are the same as their assigned sex at birth, and is open to all students who want to support their transgendered classmates.

“…bathroom use is actually a huge issue,” said Colette Colburn, a psychology professor who teaches Human Sexuality at Whatcom. The same dilemma can come up when using restrooms or changing rooms at clothing stores because the transgendered person may identify themselves as one gender while others may not.

Colburn said that a transgendered man, someone who was female at birth but identifies as a male, might get harassed or beat up when using the men’s restroom, and a transgendered woman, someone who was male at birth but identifies themselves as a female, might not be trusted in a woman’s restroom because other women may feel threatened.

“Money is a big problem,” Colburn said. “Money for hormones, which have to be taken for life, money for other things related to appearance…[and] surgery that one might want to undergo…all of this is out of pocket.”

Along with the financial aspect of a transformation, transgendered people have to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine if they understand the extent of the transformation and to make sure they are psychologically ready. Colburn said that many times during the evaluation of a male looking to be prescribed female hormones, it is thought that he is mentally disturbed and must undergo a more extensive evaluation.

“Of course there isn’t any mental disturbance for either females or males desiring to have the physical characteristics of the gender that they identify with, that’s a judgment that we have as a society, even in the medical community,” Colburn said.

Some transgendered students face problems at home when they come out to their families, Colburn said. Some get kicked out and are often left homeless, and some resort to suicide. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 41 percent of transgendered people attempt suicide.

Brooke said the workplace can be a place of harassment for transgendered people. In some states there are no laws preventing employers from discriminating against transgendered people, but in Washington there are.

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