Last month, Sara Turkington wrote a post describing some of the initiatives she has been involved with in her role as Equality and Inclusion Officer at Ayrshire College.
This month we welcome Oceana. Oceana is a trans activist, Community Development Worker with the Scottish Transgender Alliance, and a Stonewall Scotland LGBTI Role model. She is involved in many projects across Ayrshire and nationally, designed to raise awareness and promote understanding of LGBT+ issues. Oceana actively supports the College in our commitment to trans inclusion and has facilitated several student trans awareness sessions with Sara.
Oceana was recently part of the ‘Translating LGBT+ Conference’ held in East Ayrshire. The Conference was the first of its kind to be held in Ayrshire and was organised by the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, of which Ayrshire College is a member.
Trans is about gender, people are not trans by choice, we are trans by birth and have as little control over this reality as anyone else does. The only choice we have to make is how we are going to deal with this knowledge, and what steps we are prepared to take in order to be able to lead happy, productive lives.
There was no one more disappointed than I was when it became apparent I was a boy. As far as I was concerned I was a girl; I’d always been a girl, I just didn’t look like one. From the moment I became aware of the difference between boys and girls I knew something was wrong. Conditioned from birth to conform to the gender norm I was in permanent conflict, I hated my physical self but was too afraid to talk to anyone about it, and so I spent my entire adolescence thinking I was the only person in the world to have ever felt this way.
Not surprisingly then, the educational environment was not easy for me. I was intelligent, articulate and capable and yet I was completely unable to focus or concentrate on study. The pressure to conform was all-consuming and, after being excluded from school on multiple occasions for disruptive behaviour, I was eventually permanently expelled with no idea of what to do or where to go with my life.
Back then, I had no language to express my feelings or anyone to turn to for support. It wasn’t until much later in life, helped by the explosion of information provided by the internet and the advent of social media, that I was able to interact with others who felt the same way. I began to come to terms with my trans status and make informed decisions about what to do with the rest of my life.
Translating this cyber freedom to the real world is an altogether different challenge. Trans people are still isolated within our communities, they face the risk of verbal or physical abuse every time they leave their homes, and they are still greatly misunderstood by a large proportion of the wider population.
Trans students are on the front line of this challenge, our institutions are filled with those who share the misconceptions and misunderstandings of the wider communities they serve, and it is here that we have a real opportunity to change minds and make a difference to peoples’ lives. I am actively involved in this process of change and one of the most important and rewarding relationships I have is with Ayrshire College.
Twelve months ago I received a telephone call from Sara Turkington, the College’s Equality and Inclusion Officer, and it started a process that has subsequently enabled me to support the College in all sorts of ways – from signposting support options for students to trans awareness presentations and webinars. I am very proud of the work that Sara and I have been able to do and looking forward with great excitement to what can be achieved in the next twelve months.
Access to education is one of the most fundamental and powerful tools society can give and the ability to be yourself within the learning environment is crucial to its success. Trans students, like any other, should be worried about what they are going to do with their lives, not which bathroom they are going to use.
Ayrshire College is making huge strides toward LGBT+ equality, and I am deeply impressed by the progressive and inclusive attitude of the College as a whole.
Keep up the good work!
If you would like to learn more about Ayrshire College’s LGBT+ work please contact the Equality and Inclusion team at firstname.lastname@example.org.