I remember the first time I shared my Trans* experience in class. I wasn’t “out” on campus yet, but my experiences were relevant and offered a different perspective on the topic at hand, and I wanted to share. I remember feeling paralyzed though, like I couldn’t breathe, but I couldn’t understand why I felt this way. For years I have been an out Trans* activist, both in person and online. I’d spoken in front of crowds hundreds strong like it was nothing, and posted videos on YouTube that received over 250,000 views. So what was different? Why was this so hard?
Being at Mills College, a place where Trans* women haven’t always been (and still often aren’t) welcome, exemplifies the importance of creating space. But what does that actually mean?
For me, it’s about place. When I arrived on campus, no place existed where I could be myself. Everywhere I went, people were discussing whether or not Trans* women belonged here. In classes, at lunch or even in the student news, the conversation was everywhere. And yet, in all of that, the voices of Trans* women were missing. That space simply didn’t exist, and that made all the difference.
In all of my previous experiences in sharing my story, I knew that I belonged. I had been asked to be there, recruited if you will. Those spaces had been created, intentionally, to be inclusive of Trans* identities. At Mills, I felt no such thing. I had no place. Sure, the school had announced a policy saying that I COULD be here, that I was allowed, but no one was saying that I SHOULD be here, that I was wanted. And without that sense of belonging, I was afraid.
This is why I think creating space is so important. It’s about creating a place of belonging, a space where I can stand up and say that I am proud to be _____________ and people respond with “HELL YA! You belong here!” It’s more than just being allowed; it’s about being wanted.
I know what it means for me to create space, but this is bigger than just me. Much bigger! Which is why I’ve been asking students what “creating space” means to them. Here are just a few of the responses:
“Creating space is difficult. People who have had the space for so long don’t want to lose any ground, even if they have literally all of it.” ~Katy S.
“Reaching out to everyone so that a diverse group can weigh in on the topic.” ~Anonymous
“Centering marginalized voices.” ~Greyson
“Welcoming all people and their differences, allowing for ‘safe’ spaces for conversation, including differences in opinion, and not pressuring people out of the space because of their differences.” ~Anonymous
“Creating a place where you can say or do something, such as be a different gender presentation, and nobody will treat you differently. You can say something and nobody will judge.” ~Anonymous
“A space where anyone can feel comfortable and supported to say what they want with no judgment from the people listening.” ~Casey
“Creating space means everyone feels like they can speak to their personal experiences and feelings. Even if they aren’t ‘correct’ in the opinions of some others, there is an opportunity for constructive dialogue.” ~Anonymous
“Mills should be a safe(r) space, but it should also be a brave space for people to dare to be vulnerable so that we can work through our internalized inferiority, phobias and dominance.” ~Mia Satya
There are many important spaces that have been created on campus, and I have been privileged to help carve out a space for diverse gender identities. From that first time sharing my experience in class, to bringing the Trans* Week of Visibility, progress is being made. But we still have a long way to go, and the work is never done. It has taken a lot of work to get to this point, but as this academic year comes to a close, I truly feel that Mills is a place where I belong.