Emily Savage: [00:00:00] Welcome to the STAND student podcast, where we dive into important social, political, economic and environmental issues at home and around the world. STAND is an initiative for third level students and recent graduates across Ireland supported by Irish Aid. My name is Emily Savage, and this episode is all about the experiences of transgender students in universities across Ireland. On this podcast we will be joined by Jayson Pope, Auditor Elect of UCD LGBTQ+ Society, and BeLonG To volunteer.
Emily Savage: [00:00:30] Jayson, if you’re comfortable, can you introduce yourself with your name and pronouns and your college degree?
Jayson Pope: [00:00:36] Yeah, my name is Jayson. My pronouns are him/he and I am a final year social policy and sociology student majoring in social work and social professions.
Emily Savage: [00:00:47] Can you tell me a bit about where you are at with your identity?
Jayson Pope: [00:00:51] Yeah. So I came out of quite a number of years before I started college. I came out as trans when I was 14. I was still in second year in secondary school, so there was quite a number of years there. I was in the process of transitioning and kind of exploring my identity in myself before I even started college. By the time I had started college, I was already like out to everybody in my life. Everybody knew I was trans. I had already completed my legal transition, like I had changed my name. I had changed my legal gender marker. I had a new birth cert and all that jazz. So in that sense, I was very much kind of done. The hard parts were done. I had also been able to fortunately and like for the privilege to do so, I’ve been able to access like medical transition. So I had already been on testosterone. I’d already had top surgery. So by the time I started college and a lot of ways I was very like and I say this kind of in quotes, I was very post-transition, because obviously transition is something different for everybody. For me, a lot of the major milestones were over. And, so I was at a point where I was happy that I could kind of go into college and feel like I didn’t need to worry about being trans, not because I guess like, not because not because I don’t like being trans or because I didn’t want to be open about being trans, but just because I had been carrying a lot of, like stress and anxiety about like the process of transitioning.
Jayson Pope: [00:02:35] And I wanted to be able to leave that behind and just be confident and happy. So when I started, I was already, I was three months post-top surgery, which is hilarious to think about because. Oh, my God, why would I want to do so many stressful, stressful things in the space of like Leaving Cert, have top surgery, go to college. Clownery from me but over the course of my degree, I guess I, I guess my identity hasn’t really changed per se or kind of moved a whole lot. But I have been in that kind of shift from being a person who’s kind of early in their transition, who’s still kind of exploring their experiences as a trans person and to becoming somebody that other people look at as like what they want to achieve from their transition. And becoming somebody is less, I guess, seeking support and more providing it to people around me.
Emily Savage: [00:03:37] So as you said, you were, in your words, post-transition. Were you then out in college, did the people around you know that you were trans? And did this bring about any issues or opportunities for you in a social setting or an academic setting?
Jayson Pope: [00:03:56] I guess the best way that I would describe it is I like I certainly not stealth. I make no attempt to hide the fact that I’m trans. It’s not something that I try to keep secret or to keep private per se. But at the same time, because of the point that I was out of my transition, nobody was assuming I was trans on site unless they already knew me or had seen me at some kind of like trans related thing. And nobody was assuming that I was trans and I wasn’t in a position where I had to, like, disclose that I was trans to be respected, which I was really grateful for. But I would say that, like different people would know and different people wouldn’t, like it wouldn’t come up with all of the people of my course, they wouldn’t all necessarily know but, for example, people in the student union would probably know from me being a class rep, me talking about like trans related stuff in council or obviously people within the society would know because I talk about trans related stuff within society, people would know that there as well. So like, there’s some people who would be aware. Some people wouldn’t be. Some people might find out. I don’t know. At the end of the day, I don’t purposefully go out of my way to hide or necessarily tell people, unless it kind of comes up, I say that in terms of like opportunities or issues. Academically, I think it’s been a positive for me in a sense that I, within my course, because of the nature of it, there’s a lot of opportunities to talk about queerness, about gender, about trans identity.
Jayson Pope: [00:05:40] And I’ve really taken those. And I think that’s made the academic work that I produce in my course a lot richer and a lot more engaging. And it makes it that bit more unique, keeps me kind of interested and allows me to produce better work because it’s something that’s so engaging for me. And I think as well, because of kind of the academic path that I’m on towards becoming a social worker, it’s also been beneficial there. I think that, like, transness is part of what encourages me towards that in terms of like empathy and care for older people. And socially as well I feel like it’s positive because I have the society, I have my friend groups around me. Most of the people that I’m close with are also queer. Most of them also trans. So it’s very much part of my day-to-day life of my normal kind of average experiences and in a much more positive way than it was when I was still stressed putting up with all of the complexities of trying to transition. And it’s a much more positive way for it to be present in my day-to-day life. I wouldn’t say that like it’s caused me any particular issues in college, which I’m grateful for because it certainly did before I was in college. And I think that is in large part because I don’t have to tell anybody. I don’t have to deal with justifying myself to people. It’s really a privilege to have that opportunity to not have to disclose or not have to deal with it when I don’t want to deal with it.
Emily Savage: [00:07:26] And so then I guess that kind of leads onto the next question, which is, did your being trans, has that shaped your academic trajectory in any way?
Jayson Pope: [00:07:37] Yeah, definitely. Like I said, I’m finishing my course this year and I will be starting his professional master’s in social work in September. So I knew I wanted to be a social worker before I even left secondary school. And I think that was definitely in part motivated by experiences of like queer, but especially trans youth activism and the way in which the like we can help each other. We can provide each other with support, especially like older people providing that support to younger people, even within a youth space, you know, young adults providing that support for teenagers and stuff like that. And really kind of highlighted to me, made clear to me that I wanted to provide support. I wanted to be in a position where I was enabling people to have the best life that they want to have and to solve their own problems rather than having them solved for them by somebody else. So that definitely affected my, like, decision to go towards social work but even with, say, for example, sociology and social policy, by the time I was leaving secondary school, I was already familiar with, I guess, a lot of basic sociological stuff because I had been in these circles where people are talking about like oppression and privilege, when people are talking about systemic prejudices and stuff like that. There are a lot of these kind of social issues and social dynamics that I have become familiar with through my identity and through learning about queerness and transness in the wider world. So I think I would have, even without the desire to participate in social work, I would have still been pushed towards a course like the one I’m doing now, because it has that element of looking at the world, looking at what’s wrong with the world, and then looking at how we fix it and how we change it.
Emily Savage: [00:09:49] Obviously, there’s, you know, as you say, about supporting trans people and stuff. Obviously, there’s a lot of supports that are needed for these students. Do you have knowledge of what kind of supports and if any were available to you from the college, from the time that you’ve started? And has that changed recently at all? Has there been improvements to those supports?
Jayson Pope: [00:10:14] I think the like obvious, albeit biased answer is that the biggest support for students in UCD is the society. And I know I’m saying that as somebody who is the secretary and is about to become the auditor but, I think that because of the nature of the society, even though we are not professionals, even though we can’t solve people’s problems, the provision of a space that is created by, that is cultivated by and that is specifically for LGBTQ+ people, that provides students and especially trans students a place where they can feel safe, where they can feel legitimate and recognized, and where they can feel kind of comfortable exploring potentially their identity if they’re not fully certain how they feel yet and even when they are kind of certain in their identity, allows them to explore safely how they would like to proceed beyond realizing that they’re trans. And I think that, like, I know it’s, it is biased because I like the society, obviously, but I think that that social space is undeniably impactful, even though it’s not kind of a purposefully therapeutic space, for example. I know that outside of that does have a gender identity and expression policy, which I know that they were reviewing, not because it was dreadful or anything, it’s because it was quite fine, but more so because it was clear to them that students were not fully aware that it was there. Students weren’t aware of what the provisions were, and as well as staff who should have been aware, weren’t aware of how it was meant to work.
Jayson Pope: [00:12:17] So they were reviewing my policy this year as well. There is obviously like a lot of support staff and you said not specifically for the trans community, but there is the student health staff, there is student counseling staff, there is the student advisors. And from most accounts that I have heard of, those different services, they are generally positive, not necessarily the most super, extremely aware people, but people with genuinely positive intentions. The most recent kind of change, I would have said is that there is a push currently to provide some financial support to trans students in UCD and like some other universities have already. And that’s currently an ongoing process. It’s by no means guaranteed. It’s by no means set in stone. But there is a push there from the student union, from ourselves in the society to have the university provide a bit more financial support because it is expensive to be trans. And it is frustrating that there are students out there who can’t afford a binder or can’t afford to change their name or their gender marker because they just don’t have enough money. And that makes your college life harder in and of itself because people are disrespecting your name or your pronouns. People are not gendering you correctly because you can’t afford that stuff.
Emily Savage: [00:13:58] What other supports if there are additional loans that you think there should be. And do you think colleges should be able to provide for their students?
Jayson Pope: [00:14:08] There is, there’s a lot of stuff I would change about how colleges support trans students, as young people, as though everybody in college is not young. And but there’s a lot of there’s a lot of things I would change. I think that off the bat I would make sure that policies like gender identity and expression policies that pertain to how you would change your name or your gender marker, they need to be easily accessible. Students need to know they’re there. Students need to be able to have some flexibility with those, and, for example, some students might not be out to the people they live with. How can we work around that? And how can we make sure that they’re respected on campus without outing them to other people as well? Sort of like making sure that there’s always non binary inclusion in that kind of policy, because even if somebody can’t legally change their gender marker to be non binary in Ireland, they should still be represented in their academic institutions regardless of that. I also think that a lot could be changed in terms of more health focused supports.
Jayson Pope: [00:15:17] Like on a broad level, UCD’s counseling service is not fit for purpose solely because they don’t have enough people to provide for the number of students that UCD has. But on a deeper level, that is going to disproportionately affect queer and especially trans students who are in need of mental health support at a higher rate than the average person and won’t be able to access it through the student counseling service. As well say for example, with student health, I think that student health services like GPS and stuff like that need to all be extremely trans aware, and need to be supporting and pushing for trans students to have access to the transitional related health care that they need on a local informed consent basis. They could be such strong allies going forward in pushing for improvements in trans health care if they step up to the plate really and take that on. And I would hope to see that some of those changes would come to pass and that there would be that more kind of ingrained support and respect for trans students from the get go.
Emily Savage: [00:16:28] My final question is that, you know, obviously being so far into your degree and having so much experience in the college and knowing and seeing that there’s more trans students coming in, that, you know, some of them are coming in and they’ve been out for years. Some of them are in college and only starting to come out, if you could give them any bit of advice, you know, about their degree,academic support, social support, anything like that. What advice would you give these students?
Jayson Pope: [00:17:03] I think the two biggest pieces of advice that I would give to trauma students coming into college now would be that first and foremost, build up your support structure around you. Obviously, a lot of, a lot of people’s trans experiences include losing support from people in your life or being afraid of losing support from people in your life. So find those people who will support you, find the friendships, the relationships, the professional connections and the health connections that will support you throughout your transition and won’t kind of leave you in the dust. And just because you trans, make sure that you have those people who are able to listen and understand and support, support you where you’re at at that point in time. The other big thing I would say in this goes, I think especially for students or school leavers, anywhere coming like straight off the back of the Leaving Cert, you’re at that point in your life as you kind of you know, you’ve left school, you’ve become an adult, you’re going into college, you’re at that point in your life where you have to learn more and more to take care of yourself as an adult. And part of that is having a strong ability to advocate for yourself and failing the ability to advocate for yourself, to ask for help. You’re at a point where people won’t necessarily provide help and support in the same way that they would have when you were younger.
Jayson Pope: [00:18:43] There isn’t going to always be somebody who can speak up for you and cultivating that ability to be confident, to be assured and to say this is what I want, this what I need, this is important to me, that matters a lot as you become an adult in college and as you go through college, especially as a trans person, when there are people who will disregard your needs and will not care about what you want. And when that self advocacy fails or when you struggle with that self advocacy, knowing that there are people who you can ask for help from and knowing that there are people who will be willing to give you the help and relying on them and working with them so that you can get what you need. Because it’s, it’s a shame to me to think that any trans student will be put in a position where they are denied the respect and autonomy that they deserve, especially when there are people there to help. There are people there to support them in that. And there are people there who want to show them how to kind of really strongly advocate for themselves and for other trans students.
Emily Savage: [00:19:56] Thanks very much for that, Jayson, and thank you for agreeing to come on and speak to me. I think this will really help students who are just coming out now while they’re already in their degree or students who have concerns about starting in college. And I think that advice can be very helpful for them.
Emily Savage: [00:20:17] Thank you, everyone, for listening. I’m Emily Savage and I’d like to thank Jayson Pope for joining me today. For our next episode, I’ll be joined by Robert Brennan, TU Dublin student and committee member of TU Dublin LGBTQ+ Society. Make sure to find out more about the work of STAND and checkout STAND.ie.