Unveiling stigmas of transgenderism

(Photo by Ryan Hueglin)
(Photo by Ryan Hueglin)

Student, activist and mentor Ethan Jackson is a positive individual who is proud of the progress Wilfrid Laurier University has accomplished. Jackson is also a transgendered person who describes Laurier as progressive.

As for his fellow students, he believes there are many barriers within the community that still exist however he is hopeful that we will continue to move forward to create an inclusive environment.

I first noticed Jackson in a women and genders studies class. In a heated debate between classmates, he spoke of how  particular students privilege was speaking for them. For some reason, these words really spoke to me and many other members of our class. What does it mean to have your privilege speak for you?

According to Ethan, it means speaking for individuals who have barriers that you do not personally face. This could mean telling people how they should live, without being in their particular position.  For example, Jackson believes his white skin gives him privilege that other students do not have, therefore he cannot speak for students of other colours, but he can be their ally.

What can students do to be allies for other students with different backgrounds? Well, according to Jackson, acknowledging our own privilege and being respectful is one of the only ways we can come together to create an open dialogue. “As academics, it is possible for us to pick and choose what information we use to describe others; we have to remember what power and privilege we bring to the table when doing this,” he said.

Jackson recalled a particular incident in which a student asked him why he wanted to choose the particular sex he did. He replied by asking this student the same question. “You’d never ask someone a question like that because it’s rude, so why should I have to answer that?”

Jackson added that this situation demonstrates the ignorance still present on Laurier’s campus. However, he is hopeful it will continue to diminish. When asked what barriers exist for transgender students on a daily basis, Ethan believes the smallest things like choosing a bathroom can create a dilemma for some students.

As for what Jackson is doing to specifically address these issues, he makes significant efforts in the events he plans to make sure every student is comfortable and safe. Although Jackson believes in Laurier’s community, he also confesses that some students may not initially feel comfortable.

“I want to be hopeful and say it gets better, but it doesn’t always get better,” he said.  Jackson believes students facing barriers would benefit from getting involved in the Rainbow Centre at Laurier and the larger Waterloo community.

Jackson’s one piece of advice for students facing transgender barriers: “To access the resources you need to feel safe.” Although there are still issues within the Laurier community, Jackson believes we have to turn our passion into hope.

“Without passion, all you have is anger, and anger is a good thing but anger won’t change the world, that is why we need hope.”

Jackson is making a significant effort in creating an inclusive environment at Laurier, and believes through awareness we can all make changes to make Laurier a better place.

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