Giving Transgender 101 Presentations

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #101, Spring 2003.

By Jamie Hunter, Program Director

New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy

NYAGRA has a loose speaker?s bureau of board members, members and allies, but most of its TG 101 trainings are given by staff. I have given nearly two dozen on behalf of the organization. I start with NYAGRA?s basic template and alter it a bit to cater each presentation to the audience. For example, training Positive Health Project staff and Kean University?s Medical Ethics course for postgraduate nurses, the emphasis was much more on health and risk factors. In a Bronx high school, I focused more on understanding the gifts and challenges of differently gendered students and hate crimes in the classroom.
The first thing I do in each TG 101 is to define gender. To help, NYAGRA uses interactive exercises, such as drawing a masculine/feminine chart and having the audience list stereotyped masculine and feminine characteristics. If there is time, I include cultural and historical differences in gender norms. I also use an interactive exercise illustrating how gender is different from sex is different from sexual orientation.

Next I list all the different types of sex and gender variance. I always include a discussion of the known types of intersexuality and associated health and psychological issues of IGM [infant genital mutilation], as well as gender artists. But most of the critical discussion turns to those most persecuted through violations of civil rights and those who have the highest risk factors for violence: transsexuals and dressed crossdressers. So many are persecuted because their birth gender/sex is listed on identification required for employment and housing and is for security checks everywhere.

I?ve learned that it?s important to meet each audience where they?re at. In addressing the NYPD police precincts and academy recruits where the audience is likely to be more socially conservative, I always remind them that I?m not trying to make anyone alter their beliefs or feelings; bigotry in all its shades is a fact of life. But I am trying to get them to alter their behavior in dealing with citizens; discrimination is preventable. I also point out that treating each individual with respect while on the job may save their department a lawsuit.

I?ve given four TG 101 trainings to the NYPD, and am always asked about incidents in which transgendered people are hostile and provocative toward police. This phenomenon is common among young transfolk as a defense mechanism. From past experience they learned to expect to be treated with judgmental and discriminatory attitudes. Officers who interact with any person are dealing not only with the person in immediate crisis, but also with all of their previous experiences with police, some of whom may not have treated them with courtesy, professionalism, or respect.

The bathroom issue always comes up. I tell my audiences the bathroom issue is essentially a safety issue. NYAGRA has taken over two dozen reports in the last two years of our members being victimized or harassed in public restrooms. But in the seven years I?ve been engaged in trans advocacy, I?m not aware of any bathroom case where there was any danger to a non-trans person from a transgendered man or woman using the restroom appropriate to their expression of gender.

I gave about a dozen such trainings last year, one of them to behaviorally-challenged thirteen-year-olds. But I have only come across outright hostility at the topic twice, both at universities. One man was obstinate with homophobia, and one woman with her Bible. I was able to help the woman with her understanding and compassion by focusing on the issue of motherhood and birth as well as transgendered Bible references (JoAnn Prinzivalli with NY Transgender Rights Organization has created a wonderful pamphlet on this). I met the woman where she was at as a follower of Christian doctrine. The result was positive. At the end of the lecture, she confided that her own child had gender-bending tendencies which made her uncomfortable.

The legal issue comes up everywhere. Last year NYAGRA gave TG 101 to three bar association
committees and to judges, attorneys, and graduating district attorneys. The most comprehensive information on the legal topic can be found at the Institute on Transgender Law and Policy,

NYAGRA is preparing to give a TG 101 to healthcare workers at a Ryan White clinic and to MSW students at a university, and I have been asked to do the presentations. Not being transgendered myself has its advantages and disadvantages, as does a presentation in which only a transperson is there, so I try to have a transperson with me to balance these out. If time allows, role play
exercises are also helpful.

Misinformation can sometimes be worse than no information. I have seen presentations by transgendered persons who knew nothing at all of hormone use or health risk issues. One transwoman presenter I watched was great on these subjects, but answered a question, ?yes, intersexed people can impregnate themselves.? The key is to educate presenters of any gender status to all different types of experience. Working with other organizations and sharing resources is also key.

Each person has their own style in presenting TG 101. Everyone discussing the topic publicly should be commended. I and my colleagues in New York look forward to learning about other TG 101 presentations. We thank Transgender Tapestry for its wonderful TG 101 topic!