Trans adults in C-U fight struggles, find community in Uniting Pride

Ivory+Chorng%2C+graduate+student+studying+Information+Management%2C+speaks+at+a+Uniting+Pride+meeting+on+May+5.+Uniting+Pride+is+a+local+non-profit+LGBTQ%2B+organization+that+creates+a+space+for+LGBTQ%2B+adults+in+the+CU+community+to+gather+and+support+one+another.

Sydney Laput

Ivory Chorng, graduate student studying Information Management, speaks at a Uniting Pride meeting on May 5. Uniting Pride is a local non-profit LGBTQ+ organization that creates a space for LGBTQ+ adults in the CU community to gather and support one another.

By Shreya Rathi, Staff Writer

As conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ people become more widespread and nuanced across the country, a lot of focus is placed solely on youth experiences, while their challenges once they become adults are often easily overlooked and underrepresented in such dialogue.

Mitigating this issue in the Champaign-Urbana community is Uniting Pride, a local nonprofit LGBTQ+ organization that, among holding other events, LGBTQ+ groups and resources, also hosts a trans support group.

Daisy Ford, a rural mail carrier, and Elijah Greenwood, a family sports specialist, are the two co-organizers of the group. In addition to providing education and a safe space, they also aim to provide a casual sense of community and friendship between participants.

Among these participants are Felix Fletcher, an author, and Ivory Chorng, a first-year graduate student studying Information Management at the University.

Almost all of the group members found that the process of coming out, both to themselves and to others, resulted in them questioning their identity and severely strained their relationships with those close to them.

Greenwood realized they were non-binary in part through creating a gender-ambiguous Dungeons & Dragons character and finding they felt very comfortable with it. Additionally, Greenwood said that having a twin sister further complicated their coming out process.

“But so, with having a twin sister, it was difficult to realize that I’m not a woman,” Greenwood said. “One thing that’s devastating was wondering, ‘I hope that my sister doesn’t hate me (for it).’”

While Greenwood said their sister did eventually come around to their new identity, they recalled how traumatic coming out to their mom and changing their name was. 

“That was a terrifying interaction,” Greenwood said. “The worst part about it was the way she looked at me. There was no love in those eyes; it was really painful; she was so angry. She said, ‘I’m never gonna call you (Elijah), you’re always going to be a woman.’”

Fletcher recalls having to find another place to live solely because of his gender identity. Fletcher said that he was only getting money from disability benefits when his mom kicked him out.

“At the time, I remember crying and saying, ‘Disability doesn’t give me a lot,’” Fletcher said. “‘I’m not gonna be able to live on this. What am I going to do?’”

Fletcher said he was used to poor treatment and was not used to speaking up for himself.

“Growing up in a kind of bad household, I’m used to just taking a lot,” Fletcher said. “I’m used to being people’s punching bag. So I don’t really advocate for myself.”

Fletcher’s tolerance of abuse became especially concerning as he tried to seek hormone replacement therapy in the Deep South.

“The one doctor I found to actually prescribe me (testosterone) was very handsy in an uncomfortable, unprofessional way,” Fletcher said. “And I was like, ‘Why are you touching me?’ But I didn’t want to say anything because he was the only one I could do hormones from.”

Especially in areas where the community is hostile to queer folks, self-advocacy is vital in asserting the validity of your orientation or sexuality. The participants, luckily, found C-U to be relatively tolerant of their gender identities, but said a lot of work still needed to be done. 

“It’s so, so different, Fletcher said. “Not only are people kind of more chill about it in general, but there are more people willing to be out and feeling safe enough to be out. I can hold hands with my partner and not be afraid.

Fletcher, who moved to Champaign-Urbana from Texas, noted a drastic difference in trans acceptance between the two communities.

“We went from Texas, where you always hide a little bit, to here where (my partner) says, ‘I see dudes in dresses, I see people with their pride pins that are openly trans, openly themselves, openly queer,’” Fletcher said. “It’s crazy.”

Ford, however, still feels alienated because of her gender identity.

“At work, people have no idea how to handle me,” Ford said. “I’m pretty certain that no one there is ever going to say the word transgender, because they think they can’t, or like they think it’s a bad word or something. I can tell there are some people there that ostracize me.”

Uniting Pride offered a solution to the problems they and the trans community continue to face — education and active learning

“I think it would be really helpful if people understood that we’re all kind of a little uncomfortable with these topics and that it’s okay to make mistakes, so long as you’re willing to learn and willing to listen,” Fletcher said.

Greenwood, a University alum, said that the University could be doing a lot more to incorporate these topics into their curriculum in the same way that they stress the importance of multicultural acceptance through the Diversity and Inclusion modules, as well as sexual assault and drug and alcohol education.

“I think it would be great to have that as another addition to what the University students already get,” Greenwood said. “I think everyone should want it. It would be great to be like, yeah, you have to take Gender & Women’s Studies 100; it covered everything that I think is a good starting point for general gender equality, including transgender people.”

However, others feel the University has a long way to go regarding transgender inclusivity. Chorng noted the complete absence of medical resources on campus for transgender students, and the lack of attention to detail for students who change their names.

“I sometimes feel like they just don’t care,” Chorng said. “We are a pretty big school; we have over 50,000 people but we don’t even have one gender doctor here, and McKinley cannot prescribe HRT.  The second thing is our i-Card. The top right can print your preferred name, but they don’t care enough, because when you flip it over, your dead name is written and you cannot get rid of it.”

Despite all the problems and stigma still in the C-U community, at the end of the day, all the participants said they are grateful to have met each other through Uniting Pride.

“There’s nothing like having people that you can sit here with and say, ‘Not all of us are on the same exact journey, but we all understand each other, the great big things that are happening, the difficult things,’” Greenwood said. “There’s something special about that.”

 

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