by Micah Smith (they/them), Student Body President, Kenyon College, ’22
For many students in Kenyon College’s class of 2022, I was the first out transgender–and specifically non-binary–person that they had ever met.
I had gone from concealing my identity and fearing the consequences of coming out to being the first out trans and nonbinary Student Body President–a hypervisible embodiment of what it meant to be unapologetically trans. It was and is overwhelming, and in the days following Trans Day of Visibility, I continue to question what it means to be one of the most visible students on campus, while simultaneously embodying one of the least visible experiences of Kenyon.
In Kenyon College President Sean Decatur’s Trans Day of Visibility blog post, he reflected on the consequences of trans visibility—the increase in anti-trans legislation across the country (including Ohio); the violent transphobia and transmisogyny inflicted upon Dr. Rhea Debussy following their public resignation from the NCAA in January, which was prompted by the NCAA’s declining support for trans student-athletes; and more.
However, these are just two examples of many that are close to our community. It’s important to recognize this and the ways they reverberate on our campus. For example, the President’s office took more than two months to publicly condemn the transmisogyny that Rhea has faced, including waiting four weeks to send out any statement in support of Rhea’s actions, despite repeated calls of support from transgender leaders and organizations from our own campus, across the state, and beyond. There is also no recognition of the harm that this has caused to trans and non-binary students– especially since Rhea is a mentor to so many of us–and the following loss of trust that many of us feel in Kenyon, embodied in the demands that trans students delivered to Ransom Hall in early March.
Towards the end of the post, President Decatur states, “let us also recognize the ways in which we have fallen short of being strong allies.” I recognize this attempt to acknowledge Kenyon’s failings in supporting the trans members of its community. However, this is a surface-level and purposefully vague gesture toward the numerous times Kenyon has “fallen short.” With all of these experiences at Kenyon and more in mind, a statement that asks for grace for “falling short of being strong allies” is unacceptable.
There have been many times in my Kenyon career where I–and I’m sure other trans students on campus–have faced consequences of visibility from my peers and faculty, from telling me that I didn’t deserve respect because my identity didn’t “align” with someone’s values to refusing to share a bathroom with me and other trans individuals in my own home. I’ve even been told by a former staff member that students were scared to have conversations with me, because they were afraid that they would come off as transphobic. This former staff member proceeded to tell me that I needed to be more “considerate” of where these students were coming from.
These are just a few examples of many, across campus, across Ohio, and across the country. Being a visibly trans person can be alienating. There are stares, hushed comments and slurs, and even physical avoidance some days, and I know that fellow students, employees, and community members have faced this treatment on our campus as well.
When I have repeatedly witnessed a complete and utter lack of effort, the insincerity stings a little harder than usual. This statement invokes a passive, blameless stance: “we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and you should forgive us.” This is probably extremely familiar to fellow trans people.
While words without action are exactly what I have come to expect from cisgender people when we have these conversations about visibility, we must do better. Making a mistake is one thing. However, repeatedly and consistently making the same mistake–while then asking for grace–is an attempt to escape fault and, therefore, consequences for bad decisions. Again, we must do better.
While I may not agree with everything in President Decatur’s statement, I do agree that we should all align ourselves with his aspirations to become “a community in which every person has a sense of full belonging.” But we must take that first step. To the cisgender members of the Kenyon community and beyond: start to see trans people as you see yourself–as full and authentic individuals who navigate a complex and often dangerous world but who choose to push on anyway. Recognize our strength, and provide us real and action-oriented support when we cannot pull from that strength. Make an effort to hold yourself and your peers to a higher standard of respect and care, especially when a trans person isn’t around. Frankly, don’t let the comments you would usually laugh off slide. Stand up and do something about it–just as you would for yourself.
And to my fellow trans folks: understand that–even when you know that you have to be visible and that you have to show up for others–it’s okay to do that in ways that let you take care of yourself. Know when to rely on your real allies and accomplices, and model that behavior for others. If we’re to call this place home, then we need to protect ourselves; otherwise, somewhere that’s as small as Kenyon can feel devastatingly isolating. 🔥