Tips for Queer and Trans Students to Complete the Ph.D.

Graduate school is difficult for everyone.

For queer and trans students it can be an especially isolating time, since the politics of intellectualism can sometimes expose the prejudices of the academic elite. My experience as a graduate student taught me this firsthand.

In order to throw a lifeline to current and potential queer and trans students in the academy, I offer four tips:

1. Find support networks outside of your department.

Along with nurturing scholarly growth, the road to the Ph.D. is designed for professional development. However, the relationships between queer and trans students and members of their department can sometimes be strained, thus preventing solid networks that last beyond degree completion.

As a queer and trans student, it is imperative that you seek out and attend conferences, colloquiums, brown bag series, etc. that are designed to connect similar students in a professional setting. You will more than likely meet different colleagues who share research interests and who can act as sources of refuge if the work of living openly in the academy begins to weigh you down.

2. Do not feel compelled to work with people who do not respect you despite their academic celebrity.

I’ve heard a number of stories from queer students who enter a program to work with popular academics in their field, only to learn that the scholars they held in such high regard are ignorant to issues of gender and sexuality. These situations have led to advisors questioning the scholarly worth of their research projects and other forms of intellectual hazing.

When selecting your committee, make sure to meet with them one-on-one prior to officially adding them to your project. Granted, personalities can change, but it is better to have an opportunity to feel them out as a person. This helps to squelch the desire to work with them solely based on their academic accolades.

Also, be mindful that not all queer and trans professors are your allies. Do not expect everyone to relate to or understand your path. Like everyone else, queer professors come with their own biases and prejudices that can be race, class, or gender based.

3. Remember, you and your research are important.

This tip is an extension of #2 but I can’t stress it enough, your presence as a queer or trans person in the academy is just as valuable as any other student. If your department chair, advisor, seminar leader, or cohort members explicitly fail to respect you or your research, do not be afraid to speak up–you have rights.

Contact services on campus that can help mediate the problem such as The Office of Equal Opportunity. You do not have to address the situation alone.

4. Take care of your health

I left this tip for last because I believe that it is the most important of the series.

Since the academy isn’t always kind to our minds and bodies, it is important that we are. To help deal with the stress and politics, take advantage of the health options your campus offers, learn a hobby, or join a meetup/tweetup to socialize with folks outside of the academy. Do whatever it takes to step away from the books to check in with yourself and take care of your mental and physical health.



Why Isis King’s Ad Matters for Trans Folks of Color

We are living in an incredible moment.

With the explosion of transgender representation taking shape in the past few years, women of color are arguably the most visible and are taking the lead in elevating affirmative trans discourse.

Popular activists such as Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, for example, exemplify what TransGriot blogger Monica Roberts  defines as The New Black Transwoman–a nod to Alain Locke’s concept of the New Negro, which sought to challenge stereotypes of blackness through intellectual self-representation.

Included in this group of pioneering transwomen is model-actress Isis King, of Top Model fame whose recent American Apparel advertisement of the Legalize Gay campaign has both made history and sparked a wave of discussion regarding “appropriate” transgender representation. Despite the accusations lodged by activist Ashley Love and misinformed supporters that the ad misgenders Isis King–an argument I completely disagree with and choose not to engage–it is, nevertheless, monumental for multiple reasons.

At the same time that black transwomen are becoming so visible in the media as intellectually driven activists, they still dominate the transgender woman as victim narrative, which many trans and non-trans advocates alike are guilty of perpetuating. This victim ideology has reduced the experiences of transwomen to that of being fearful of their own existence as their identity has been likened to that of an inevitable death sentence. However, with the visibility that comes with being in a highly circulated campaign that has the potential to reach millions, Isis strategically challenges this offensive narrative by presenting herself as a fearless agent of her own representation. Her presence in the campaign introduces an alternative image to a mainstream audience that is used to only seeing black transwomen in news outlet photographs that highlight their deaths.

In addition to the nefarious representations of victimhood that accompany trans of color identity, the unemployment rate for us is overwhelmingly high. If anything, Isis is helping to pave the way for more trans people of color to seek and acquire employment in the modeling industry where we have been previously excluded or relegated to hypersexualized imagery. Furthermore, it is rare to see a woman of color, especially a black woman, exist in the mainstream as a symbol of beauty without having to flash her backside or gyrate in a music video. As black women of all gender expressions continue to be marginalized from the dominant standards of what makes a woman attractive, the visibility of Isis allows for a refreshing, albeit controversial, challenge to this history.

Finally, Isis’ ad matters because whether or not trans folks can agree on if it is a suitable representation, it is an important move that continues to shift the public discourse of trans identity away from privileging white bodies. Her visibility serves as a reminder to all trans folks of color that we are here, we are leaders, we are allies and we are indeed beautiful.