Everyone was laughing while taking notes and listening to the guest speaker. The Plattsburgh State Alumni Conference room was full. Some students had to decide between sitting on the floor and standing in the back.
It was all for Mari Brighe, a local activist with Michigan queer and transgender advocacy groups who writes about queer, transsexuals and feminist topics.
Brighe came to PSUC to discuss common misconceptions and myths about being transgender. Brighe is a female transgender, and she shared her story while making an informative presentation.
Brighe moved up to the Plattsburgh area back in the fall, and she said she found it to be an adjustment. She grew up in the Midwest in a large city and was used to a big transgender community.
“There’s a little bit of a learning curve living an area like this,” she said. “I feel like that’s often an experience that’s pretty universal for folks who come from big cities to small places. Here, I get stared at a lot.”
Though Brighe said adapting to the area has been a challenge, she said she does like being at PSUC because there is clearly more diversity than the town of Plattsburgh.
“There are non white people. There’s queer people who are comfortable being out. There’s a wonderful pocket of diversity here that I’m pleased to be a part of.”
For this reason, Brighe said she incorporates her own experiences.
“I’m just one person, so when I do talks like this, I feel like it’s my responsibility to try to represent the community the best that I can,” Brighe said.
Brighe said she also likes to incorporate some humor in her panels because there are some dark, depressing statistics.
“If sex and gender were on Facebook instead of relationships, your status would be it’s complicated,” Brighe said to the audience.
She said there are many misconceptions and myths about transgender people: Transgender people are mentally ill, transgender people are just confused gay people and being transgender is about having surgery on genitals.
Brighe also shared that a common misconception is that there are many transgender people.
“Where do all these trans people come from?” She then asked the audience what percentage of people are lesbian, gay or bisexual. Someone in the audience chimed “30 percent.” Brighe said the actual statistic is three percent of the population. She then asked how many people were transgender and told them there was no clear statistic.
“Trans people tend to hide and avoid confessions about their genders. The best research we have rounds off at about one half to a quarter of a percent,” she said.
After delving into the misconceptions and myths, she went into the reality of being transgender.
She said that transgender people face extreme levels of discrimination, with half of the trans community losing a job because of their gender identity and 63 percent of transgender people facing significant discrimination.
Nineteen percent of a sample from a study reported being refused medical care due to their identity, with even higher numbers among people of color in the survey, according to a report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.
Brighe ended her panel by telling people how to be a good ally to the transgender community. She said people should start with basic respect. Brighe said there are certain comments she receives that are insulting such as “You look like a real girl,” and “I would have never known.”
“Don’t make jokes either. Try to remember we’re humans,” she said.
She said she was really impressed by the turnout and it was far more than she expected.
“Everyone seemed open-minded. That’s not something I experience. I’ve given talks on campuses where I’ve been protested, so I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was nice to get a warm reception,” she said.
Brighe said the school was looking for someone to open their forum session for this semester.
Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies and associate professor Dr. Susan Mody met Brighe last summer and knew it’d be an opportunity to bring a voice into the community that needs to be heard.
“What I want students to get out of this is, first the understanding of the clear articulation of definitions and the debunking of myths and misconceptions,” Mody said.
Mody said she also wants her students to have an increasing capacity to want to participate and not be a passive.
“They’re a lot of hate talk and misconceptions and if people can begin to talk back, then they will be more empowered and they can educate others,” Mody said. “Education is key in enforcing human rights everyone has.”
Mody also said she liked that Brighe embedded her own experiences throughout the presentation.
“I think it’s so valuable that she did that. I believe my students see this too,” Mody said. “There’s a whole body of literature with gender women’s studies that focuses on the importance of experience as forms of knowledge.”
Sophomore and nutrition major Jacqueline Casas attended the event for her Global Gender Issues course and said she was glad she went.
“I thought it was really informative, and I’m a supporter of all kinds of people, and sometimes I just don’t know how to relate in the right way,” she said. “I learned a lot just now.”
Casas said she learned about common misconceptions in society. She said she also learned about proper pronouns and to what extent transgender people are respected. She said she didn’t realize the amount of discrimination the transgender community faced.
“I feel like my views were skewed because of our society, and I feel like she really opened my mind up to the real numbers of transgender people in our society,” Casas said. “I think everyone should be an ally because at the end of the day, we’re all people.”
Email Kavita Singh at email@example.com