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Transitioning, life beyond: Panel shares North Country experiences

From left: Panel speakers Jessie Pokorny, Chris Chamars and Lindsey Bradley share a laugh at the Alumni Conference Room on March 27.

 

By Aleksandra Sidorova

There’s little data on LGBTQ+ populations in the North Country, a historically conservative area in a state with some of the most transgender-friendly policies in the nation. To fill the gap, six transgender members of the greater Plattsburgh shared their stories in a panel discussion March 27.

The panelists were Chris Chamars, coordinator for multicultural initiatives; Jessie Pokorny, director of Information Technology Services and Network Administration at Clinton Community College; Lindsey Bradley, weekend service desk supervisor at Feinberg Library and co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Resource Committee; student Leo Greer; and Sage Wolf, co-founder of the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance. The final panelist is not named because they expressed concern for their safety.

“The reason I’m here is because I really enjoy talking about my trans experience and trying to raise awareness, because not everyone knows or understands some of the things that we go through on campus,” Greer said.

The panel, organized in collaboration with ANCGA, was part of a day-long series of events hosted at SUNY Plattsburgh to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility, which is observed March 31. Executive Director and Co-Founder of ANCGA Kelly Metzgar guided the session by asking questions and later accepting questions from the audience.

 

TRANSITIONING

Transitioning changes how people are perceived. Chamars said he is sometimes perceived as a cisgender man, even though he identifies as a transgender man who is also agender, meaning not feeling aligned to neither male nor female, nor a combination of those genders.

Chamars said he faced more difficulties when he looked androgynous — both masculine and feminine — than after he transitioned because he felt people took him seriously only after they knew which “box” to put him in.

Others, like Bradley, sometimes are perceived to be women when they are not one.

“For me, it’s not always comfortable saying I do use they/them pronouns or correcting people, so it’s a process, but I am here,” Bradley said. “I am here, I’m visible, I’m nonbinary — that’s me.”

One of the sorrows of being trans is not being accepted, for one reason or another. Bradley said they feel hurt when people insist their identity is a disorder or a trauma response.

“Having to sort of fight for people that love me for the image that they thought I was and then decide they don’t love me now, that I’ve ‘changed,’ which I’ve always been this way, it’s sad that I have to fight to be me,” Bradley said.

Most of the panelists shared stories of not being accepted by their birth family, but instead finding belonging among friends.

 

LIVING

Laws and social attitudes can influence where transgender people choose to live. 

Chamars said he did extensive research to make sure he would have legal protection and access to healthcare wherever he worked or studied. Even then, it sometimes took him months at a time to find a healthcare provider who educated him instead of the other way around.

In the case of Pokorny, who is originally from Oklahoma, it was too dangerous to be visible, and there was only hiding.

“We looked around a lot, and ultimately, up here, it just seemed like the right ecosystem, because you have Vermont nearby, you have Montreal nearby,” Pokorny said. 

 

BEING ACCEPTED

As far as acceptance within the community, Pokorny said she generally hasn’t had issues in the North Country, especially after she started passing, being perceived as the gender she identifies as. The most trouble she experiences is stares and “funny looks.”

The area she lives in — “no man’s land between here and Malone” — is a “mixed bag.”

“We have neighbors who have threatened me, we have neighbors who threatened them for threatening me,” Pokorny said. “So overall, I have to say safety is a lot better than where I’m from.”

On campus, gender and women’s studies professors usually do well respecting students’ pronouns, chosen names and gender identities, but other departments may need more work, a panelist said.

Change doesn’t have to come instantly, however, as transitions affect more than the individual themselves. Sometimes, Chamars said, transgender people experiment with the names or pronouns they want to go by or accidentally misgender themselves. What Pokorny said she values most is effort put into respecting trans identities.

“There’s an understanding that for 30 years, you knew me a certain way, and for me to expect that you just turn on the dime to all these different pronouns for you to call me, I don’t expect that, but I want to see progress,” Pokorny said. “I want to see that you’re trying. If I can tell that there’s no effort there, we’re going to start having issues, but if I see that there’s general progress, I think all of us can say that we understand, genuinely understand.”

As difficult as being transgender can be, it is also liberating.

“The greatest joy of being trans — I think it’s just the fluidity to be who you want without anyone saying you have to be a certain way,” Pokorny said. “You’ve already broken past those barriers.”

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