By Madison Danielson; edited with Mrs. Grimesey
January 5, 2017
When you hear the word “trans” what do you think of? Do you think about Orange is the New Black’s star Laverne Cox or former Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner? Whichever one you think about, “trans” people are becoming a widely discussed part of our world now, and some people still don’t understand them. This misunderstanding has led to teen suicide and teen homelessness. But this article is not about Laverne or Caitlyn; this is about a college student named Ryan Bishop – a trans student very similar to you and me – and what it means to be a trans student in our world today.
Ryan Bishop is a Bulgarian born, American college student attending Ohio Wesleyan University. In March of 2015, he pledged to join Chi Phi fraternity at his school, however, the national chapter denied him the right to join the fraternity because he was assigned female at birth; they did not want him to join because he is trans. If you would like to know more about his experiences, read this article from The Guardian newspaper.
On Oct 23 2016, I interviewed Ryan Bishop over email. I asked Ryan Bishop about what he does at his University and this is what I found out: “I’m 20 years old (going to be 21 in December). I go to Ohio Wesleyan University where I study Zoology and East Asian Studies. Here [at Wesleyan] I serve on our Student Government and helped create a committee on it which addresses the concerns specifically of minority students on campus. I’m also the co-chair of the Zoology Student Board, and serve on several other organizations as an active and aware campus community member. I’m also an RA (resident advisor).”
When it came time to ask about what life was like growing up and where he grew up, this is what he had to say:
“I grew up in Bulgaria – a country in Eastern Europe – in the capital city, Sofia. I went to high school at the American College of Sofia where Ms. Grimesey was a teacher for several years. High school was an awfully tough time for me for many reasons; some being that I was not able to express my gender identity and that I felt worlds away from my classmates.”
Sounds like a very hard and rough time, but on the bright side, high school was when he found his hobbies:
“I like reading (I’m a huge Stephen King fan), watching t.v. shows, reading science and culture magazines. I’m a K-Pop fan and I enjoy creative writing. I also love animals with a passion and I hope to be able to work in animal conservation for a career.”
After getting to know Ryan a little more, I began asking more personal questions about his life:
“How hard was it for you growing up and being trans?”
“I would say it wasn’t too bad until I hit my teenage years. Slowly, a rift began opening up between me and my parents, my peers, Bulgarian society, especially in terms of values and morals. As I was growing up, I began experiencing a lot of gender dysphoria, which meant I was very uncomfortable with my body but didn’t understand why at all. There was a lot of pressure from my family, too, to be a certain way and that only intensified as I began to realize I’m trans. I felt very alienated from people at my school, increasingly so, and academics were very tough as a whole, too. I was in a state my therapist called ‘suppressed depression’.” (Suppressed depression means that you are depressed, but you do not allow yourself to understand your feelings; not admitting that you are depressed because you need to be high-functioning [need to go to school, go to work, etc]. Sometimes, this means that your depression shows up in other ways, such as becoming sick or being easily angered).
Ryan is a true hero for not taking the easy way out of this situation. It is very hard, as I have read, being a gender different from the one you identify with. There have been some recent cases of trans high school students committing suicide, and it can be very emotionally hard for trans students as they try to understand their bodies during the changes our bodies face during puberty. The Youth Suicide Prevention Program in Washington State reports that, of those surveyed, 25% of trans students have attempted suicide and 50% have thought about suicide. Ryan was not one of these kids; he stayed strong even while facing the overwhelming feeling of being completely misunderstood and depressed.
Now some people still don’t understand what “Trans” means. I mean, most people know of Laverne Cox or Caitlyn Jenner, and they’ve heard about gender neutral bathrooms and all, but what would have happened if Laverne Cox did not come out or get the job on Orange is the New Black? So, my second question was: “Can you explain “being Trans” to people who don’t understand what it means to be trans?”
This is what Ryan had to say: “Trans is often used as an umbrella term for people who don’t necessarily identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Transgender usually refers to people who identify with the ‘opposite’ gender of the one they were assigned at birth, ‘opposite’ assuming a gender binary.” (Gender binary = only two sexes; male and female).
Now I know people in the US are starting to accept bi-sexuals and homosexuals more, but do people accept trans people? Ryan had this to say about this important question:
“I think this is a loaded question and there are many, many different factors, from religious to political, that have had a long history [influencing the acceptance of the Trans community]. I’d say some of the main things are that being trans is being visibly different and people are always scared of what’s different. A huge lack of education [about gender identity] is also a big factor.”
Now, I know that some people are afraid to come out as Trans because they feel as if people won’t accept them for who they are. It is the same with being homosexual or even bi-sexual. But here is some advice from Ryan to help kids who are struggling.
“Do it on your own terms and when you’re ready. If possible, don’t rush – think it out, think through the possible consequences and make a plan. Make sure that if there’s a chance you might end up on the street,* [make sure] you can support yourself in some way. But definitely do it on your own terms if you can. If someone outs you or, for some reason, you’re forced to come out when you’re not ready and things go south, trust yourself that you can make it through that time and be your own person on your own terms.”
*Note: The National Coalition for the Homeless says that 43% of all reported teen homelessness cases (as in teens who are homeless, but have asked for help) are LGTBQ teens who have either been kicked out or have run away from unaccepting parents.
Now if you have not read The Guardian article about Ryan, you should! It’s really good. But, I asked him one question that I felt I needed to ask after reading it: Why do the article?
“I was contacted by the reporter doing the article…asking me to share my experience. I wanted to get the info out to more people because it very often feels like people just ignore this whole thing that happened with Chi Phi and me and how messed up it was.” Again, Ryan was not accepted into this national fraternity JUST because he is trans; he qualified on every other level.
My final question to Ryan before we ended our talk was: How do you deal with people who don’t accept you?
“It depends on who it is and what impact they have on my life, but generally, I try to stay as independent and strong as I can be and not let things get to me. I am fortunate to be at a school where transphobia is unacceptable and I’ve been working to make this campus a better place for minoritized students, too. Education is also key.”
Overall, Ryan is a really cool guy. I believe that you should get to know trans people and students a lot more before you judge them. Hopefully, acceptance and education will lower the trans teen suicide rates and LGTBQ teen homelessness rates.