I’m Not Google

“Our campus claims to be accepting of diverse identities, but even here, I have had to explain myself in countless situations. I don’t mean that I chose to; I mean that I had to. It’s not that the people to whom I had to explain myself weren’t well-meaning, it’s more that ‘well-meaning’ isn’t enough.”

By Indigo DaCosta

Something that comes up often on social media is whether or not marginalized groups should be expected to educate others on their identities. The consensus seems to be that individuals with these identities should, of course, not be expected or forced to educate others. Essentially what this means is that, for example, as a trans person, I should not be expected to explain to anyone what a transgender identity is or means.

In my mind, the basic reason behind that is that we simply can’t do it. Of course, many people (regardless of their identity) can and want to. However, not everyone with a marginalized identity can, and in any case, you can’t expect someone to explain their identity to you just because of their identity itself.

For example, when engaging in conversations about gender diversity, especially around freshman orientation, people often cite their hometowns and the lack of sensitivity to diversity there when asking questions such as what it means to be trans. (It is important to note that I am often willing to have these conversations; still, I think it’s a reason people like to try, but perhaps fail, to engage in effective discussions surrounding diversity.) While this is completely valid on its own, it is important to note that even though I am trans, I too come from a hometown that did not respect transgender identities. Even though I have lived it, I don’t fully know how to talk about gender diversity correctly. I too have spent a lot of time in a transphobic space, and I too need to unlearn it. It’s just too much for me to be expected to explain my identity all the time, when in truth I don’t know how to explain it and am struggling to learn myself.

However, what I have also noticed is that, at least in my own life, the wisdom of the Internet (so to speak) does not hold true in real life. Our campus claims to be accepting of diverse identities, but even here, I have had to explain myself in countless situations. I don’t mean that I chose to; I mean that I had to. It’s not that the people to whom I had to explain myself weren’t well-meaning, it’s more that “well-meaning” isn’t enough.

One question I have started to ask myself is whether or not I should try to assimilate or overturn the system altogether; i.e., is it enough for me to “pass” as my gender, or should I focus on overturning the (oppressive) gender binary altogether? My current (albeit evolving) answer is that my ideal is a delicate balance between the two wherein people of marginalized identities can exist comfortably and we can really examine and overturn the gender binary in the long run. However, in the past, I’ve found myself confined to trying to assimilate as best I could. Whether that sense of confinement should be attributed to my own personal motivations, the influences of my past, or the gender binary in general is hard to say, but it was still there.

For example, it was with much excitement that I became a first-year overnight host last year. I thought I could be a resource for trans and non-binary prospective students while also doing something I loved. However, most first-year hosts will house students of the same gender as them, but I wasn’t able to do so because I’m trans and didn’t pass. While passing privilege is a topic too broad to cover here, it’s important to note that had I passed, it’s likely that it would not have been seen as an issue.

I didn’t work for that program for very long, largely due to unrelated factors (such as my schedule), but the conversation I’d had to have at the beginning of the year was not an experience I would like to repeat. Even though everyone involved had good intentions, it was uncomfortable. Essentially, that’s because it’s hard for me to talk about my identity. I was asked what my needs were, and I didn’t know how to respond in an effective, clear, demanding way. I didn’t know what my needs were.

I came into this space unprepared to adequately articulate my needs, and as a result, more was expected of me than I was capable of giving, at that point. This proved a problem when the program was unable to accommodate my relationship with my identity effectively.

That’s why it’s important for these structures to already be in place. I think a lot of people agree that campus, and the world at large, needs to be made more equitable for marginalized identities. But how, specifically? I can’t answer that. I don’t know. I know that it needs to be such that people are institutionally educated about how to accommodate all identities, instead of asking individuals when it applies. But other than that, I don’t know. I am trying to learn more, but I don’t have all that information. I just don’t. And you can’t expect me to just because of my identity.

But you know who can? The Internet. A lot of the questions people are asking are so basic that Google can answer your questions. Although institutional change is slow, you can answer many of your own questions on a search engine instead of taking up the time and energy of someone who is tired of hearing it. The information is there.

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