The LGBTQ+ community has grown rapidly over the past number of years, yet it can remain something of a taboo subject in certain spheres. It’s true that Ireland has progressed in the past to accept the Lesbian and Gay community, but in recent years there has been an explosion of diversity when it comes to gender identification. The university campus can regularly be seen as the foreground for social movements, and the current transgender movement is no exception. To find out more about how it feels to be on the front lines of this cultural shift, I spoke to three UCD students about their experiences with gender, transitioning into their current gender identity and what it means for their lives, on and off campus.
Marcie O’Brien is a transgender woman who is currently going through her transition period and she feels a lot more comfortable when referred to with female pronouns and female name. Transitioning refers to the period of time between the individual’s past and current gender identification. O’Brien says that being transgender helps her feel more capable, driven and empowered. She also says it ‘eases a lot of [her] gender dysphoria’ which she goes on to explain as ‘the state of being uncomfortable in your own body and gender’, something she cites as being quite common in members of the transgender community.
Jason Andres is a queer person of colour, originally from the Philippians, who identifies as ‘non-binary’ and prefers the pronouns they/them when referring to them. Gender non-binary can be defined as one feeling association with a combination of masculine and feminine traits without strictly fitting into either gender exclusively. Andres transitioned to identifying as non-binary on coming to university and since then they ‘feel comfortable in [their] own skin,’ and their ‘peers make me feel accepted and loved … in college I feel more accepted.’ Andres went on to say how it felt like it was ‘an avenue that I could explore, to be myself.’
A.E. Quinn identifies as ‘gender fluid’ and transitioned while in their second year at UCD. ‘I don’t feel like I fit distinctly between the binary of trans[gender] identities. So, I’m not a cis[gendered] woman and I’m also not a trans man.’ They tend to ‘fluctuate between the realms of non-binary and trans masc.’ They are more ‘fluid’ depending on the day, rather than being on a set and binary position on a ‘spectrum of gender’. Quinn feels that identifying as non-binary gives them ‘the confidence to be who I am, rather than feeling constrained to this tight box and feeling really uncomfortable, and kind of hating myself for not feeling how other people feel’.
O’Brien is still going through her transition period and only since the start of the semester has she started presenting herself full-time as a woman. Her tips for transitioning would be to ‘find a close group of friends … help them help you work out your own identity and realise who you are before you launch yourself into the whole thing, I guess.’
For Andres, enrolling in an all-boys school in Dublin and moving here from the Philippians was no walk in the park: ‘I just felt like such an outcast.’ Andres was ‘this queer kid from a foreign land who was just not used to this huge masculine energy.’ They saw college as their way out, and on arrival it ‘was almost like an explosion, to be honest … it was so surreal to me when college came around and people were just like ‘yeah man, do you.’’ Andres says to those considering coming out: ‘Just be you, but also be you when you know the time is right and you know that you have a comfortable circle.’
Quinn discovered the terms of gender fluid and non-binary when they were 15, and took some interest. When Quinn came to university, they rediscovered the term gender fluidity after many of their friends ‘came out as transgender’. Quinn had an ‘inward existential crisis of realising that that’s what I’ve been ignoring all along.’ They soon told their partner, who is non-binary, and then went through the process of telling people in their friend group. Quinn says that ‘telling friends was nerve-wracking’ and to ‘start off small: tell a friend that you’re really close with and you really trust.’ It’s helpful ‘finding those friends that you can trust to help you through socially transitioning, … choose one person [to tell] and take it in stepping stones.’
O’Brien’s experiences on campus have been overtly positive. She says UCD Estate Services were ‘very helpful’ with changing the name and gender on her student card and student record, while off campus it can be a ‘long, drawn-out process’ which ‘takes time and costs money.’ The ‘medical care on campus has been absolutely fantastic.’ She’s been seeing Dr. Joe Conway from UCD Health Services who has been ‘brilliant’ and a ‘strong motivator’ towards her transition. She’s happy with her own personal experience as a trans woman on campus but acknowledges that there are a variety of other gender identifications on campus such as gender non-binary which may have different experiences.
Quinn’s on-campus experiences have been ‘very accepting,’ with the university attitude being ‘as long as you’re not hurting anybody no one cares.’ However, Andres explains the need for more gender-neutral bathrooms in UCD. They want it to feel more inclusive for transgender and non-binary students. Even though they suggest multiple inadequacies in the part of UCD, they ‘really have hope for the future.’ Andres sees that the current culture on campus towards trans and non-binary students as ‘definitely a step in the right direction … where UCD is headed right now, I’m really positive on that. … Third-level education is in itself a little community, and if we’re not shaping each other’s beliefs and challenging each other’s notions, then what are we doing? We’re just being complacent and living in a bubble.’
Though these testimonies stand for only a small fraction of the LGBTQ+ community, their validity remains clear. These stories shared, represent a wider community who seem to desperately want to be themselves, unchecked by others. If the university campus represents the future of our society in any way, it seems we can be optimistic about the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in the future, and their place within society.
By Conor Capplis – Features Editor