Listen to the third episode of OutSTANDing Stories on the following platforms:
EMILY: [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 Irelanad, 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, I’ll be joined by Rob Fitzpatrick, a UCD student and current auditor of the L&H society. So, Rob, if you’re comfortable, can you introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and tell us a bit about your college degree and what you’re doing in college?
ROB: [00:00:37] So my name is Rob, my pronouns are he/him, and I’m doing a degree in social science, specifically social policy and sociology in UCD.
EMILY: [00:00:47] So can you maybe tell me a bit about where you were at with your identity when you started in college, and maybe a bit about how that has changed as you’ve progressed throughout your degree?
ROB: [00:00:59] I started my degree in 2019. I’ve just finished second year. When I started out in 2019, I, like, wasn’t out to anybody. My whole situation was that I came in on the first week of college and I knew myself that I was like, trans. I knew that I was a trans man, but I had told like a couple of people I had tried to come out to my parents, but I felt like it had gone really terribly. So I hadn’t like, taken any steps towards transitioning. I still went by my like, old name, I still presented as a woman. And I came to UCD, I think on the first week, I think it was orientation week presenting that way and talking to people that way. I didn’t know, like, how I was going to keep on going to college the way I was going. I didn’t know how I was going to talk to people. I felt like I was completely alone. All of those things that, like, a lot of people feel when they start college, but particularly a lot of trans people.
ROB: [00:01:55] And after that week, I didn’t go back to UCD actually for three weeks because I just couldn’t face it, I couldn’t do it. And in that three weeks, I started coming out to people. I think that, like, I went to one Gay Soc meeting or one LGBT Soc meeting during orientation week in UCD and I was like, ‘hmm, this is actually fine, maybe I will go for it’. So I like got a haircut and bought clothes and like took the stick or whatever from my family and decided to just present that way. And ever since then it’s sort of like, accelerated that one step. Actually deciding to do that, allowed me to do things like access health care and access like therapy services and accessing a lot of things that like, otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. And so, throughout the journey of like my degree, I think that like, the support that I’ve got in college and the support that I’ve gotten from my friends in college and just the ability to like see, new people in UCD and stuff has been really instrumental in like, how I’ve progressed with my transition and…
EMILY: [00:02:59] Obviously you weren’t out when you started college and came out during your degree, did that change then bringing about issues or opportunities for you within college?
ROB: [00:03:09] I think it definitely did, because before I came out I was very involved in like, sports. So I was playing rugby and I was playing like, women’s Gaelic football. And I thought that once I came into college, that was something that I would like, continue doing. And that was probably like, how I would make friends or how I would like, find a social group or something. So I think coming out and presenting as a man made it difficult for me to access those kind of things. But in terms of opportunities and accessibility, I think it also just made me so much more competent. Like I don’t think I would still be in college if I hadn’t come out and if I hadn’t started to like, present as a man or transition or just talk to people as like who I am or whatever the usual cheesy line is. I think that what I lost out on wouldn’t even have existed if I hadn’t come out. So I feel like the opportunity to even like, be college and get to where I am now and make friends is all dependent on the fact that I did that. I think that might be different for everyone, like maybe some people for like, a while, they don’t have the ability to come out. Maybe they’re not as lucky as me in the situation that they’re in or whatever, but for me, definitely it was really important at that time period that I, you know, take that opportunity to do that because for like, a long period of time, like I had dropped out of like two different secondary schools because I had like mental health reasons and I never knew why until I like it suddenly clicked for me or whatever. And then I knew that’s what I have to pursue in order to, like, gain any more opportunity in my life.
EMILY: [00:04:37] And so I guess then obviously, you know, you came in thinking that you’d be able to continue in the sports that you were playing and then being unable to do that and getting involved then in societies you already told us about, you know, getting involved in the LGBT society. Can you maybe tell me a bit then about getting involved in the L&H society and how your experience was there?
ROB: [00:05:01] Yeah, absolutely. So the L&H is a debating society like it does lots of stuff, it holds house debates every week where we get like, guest speakers in and we send people to competitions. We get guest speakers in, who are really cool, like we’ve gotten like, Imogen Heap. We’ve gotten like, Al Sharpton, and all of these really cool people in. But the main part of the L&H that I think appealed to me was sort of like this weird family aspect, well it’s not weird, but this family aspect thing that it has going on where, like, everybody works very hard for each other because there is so many things that we do in schools competitions. And so when I came into UCD, I knew someone who was on the L&H and they told me to like, come along, and I decided to come along. And at this point, like I had been, I’d missed a good first chunk of college because I had taken a lot of time out in order to, like, re-evaluate whether or not I wanted to continue going to college or whether or not, like, I was just gonna, I don’t know, give up on it because like, I couldn’t handle my first week. I couldn’t handle how I presented and stuff like that until I decided to sort of like, take those first steps. So when I came into college after those three weeks or after that month, I felt very like, ‘oh, no, I’ve missed the boat, I’m never going to make any friends.’ And so when my friend told me to come along to the L&H, I came along and got involved immediately. It was something that I knew I enjoyed because the people there were just all so like, lovely, and such an inclusive atmosphere.
ROB: [00:06:29] And it was like a situation where I had never been in a space that wasn’t like an exclusively gay space, that was so welcoming and was so nice and was so understanding. And who didn’t really care about anything. And the like, the people who were in charge when I was in first year were so accepting, they never questioned anything about me really. All they were interested in was like, what I could bring socially or like my personality or whatever. But also they like, accepted people from whatever type of like, social aspect that they brought. So like whether or not you were really loud or quiet or whatever. They were fine with that. And they like really made me feel at home. And if you were having any difficulty, that was something that they really tried to like, talk to you about or help you with. And because they were older students, it made it that little bit easier to adjust to college life, especially when I missed out on so much or I felt like I missed out on so much in those first three weeks. So slipping into that was really good for me and getting the ability to, like, do so many things because there are so many activities that the L&H runs as well. But I think it’s the same for like, any society, like, the L&H is just the one that I happened to end up in. And I’m really thankful for the L&H and everything, obviously still here. But there are like, I think that generally, once you find something that you’re interested in or find people that you click with, college societies are so good for making people feel welcome and making people feel like they belong.
EMILY: [00:07:56] In an earlier episode, I spoke to the current auditor of the LGBT society and you know, about how he kind of settled in and stuff like that. And it’s interesting to hear that it isn’t just within one society, that it spreads across others and that there is this air of acceptance among UCD students.
ROB: [00:08:17] I definitely think that there is like an air of acceptance among a lot of UCD students. I think obviously there is like, always that caution that you feel or something or that’s like, sort of fear that you feel. I think my general experience with societies has been like, pretty positive. No matter what society I’ve try to get involved in gay soc or LGBT Soc, I call it ‘gay soc’ a lot of the time… force of habit. But like, I was involved in that a lot and that was great, but also not exclusively LGBT societies like, I would work a lot with like Law Soc as well.
EMILY: [00:08:52] Moving away from the social aspect. Did being trans shape your own academic trajectory?
ROB: [00:08:59] Oh, absolutely. When I was like, picking what course I wanted to do, even when I was, because I did a PLC and when I was choosing what degree to go into, it was always in the back of my mind or I thought anyway that I would be like incredibly unemployable because I’m trans. So I was like, I have to go into something in which they value that diversity rather than something that I actually might want to do. Or I thought I might have to go into something where I can help other people to give back, because I don’t want anyone to feel like I fell for the past. And so that really shaped like what I chose to do with my degree. And that’s why I chose like, social policy with the aim of becoming a social worker so I could help people who are in similar positions. And even when I came into college, I still was sort of in that mindset that, you know, I’m not going to be able to succeed in like any of the careers that I actually want to succeed in, because they’re made for like white straight men, cis men, who like, have all of these connections and who are good at talking, can like, network with anyone, and I never saw myself as the kind of person. So I never really thought that, like, I could enter into any of those any professions, like the legal profession or into like, business, or into politics even or anything.
ROB: [00:10:21] Not necessarily that I want to do any of them but… I never thought that was even a possibility until sort of, again, with the L&H and speaking to past memories and stuff like that were there like, you can literally do whatever you want, we’ll support you and just sort of the air that you get when you’re surrounded by people who do support you, that you can actually go and achieve those things. So I think that, like throughout my academic journey, I’m always interested in my course. And I love learning about the things that I’m learning about, but I think that I’ve changed my goals since I got into college rather than sort of trying to settle for something that I think I’m supposed to do or think that I should do because of my identity, or I think I should help people because like, I do want to help people, obviously. But I think that it’s also a bit like having your own goals and having whatever you want to do and like making sure that you’re limiting yourself because of what you think is expected of you or what you think you can achieve because of being trans or because of being gay or any of those issues… issues? They’re not issues.
EMILY: [00:11:20] You have that support even, you know, academically and you know, professionally from the L&H, because it’s so you know, it’s so important to have that kind of support behind you. And I wonder what kind of supports have you had available to you from the college itself, academically or you know, even personally? And has that improved or changed over the last two years that you’ve been in UCD?
ROB: [00:11:46] I would say that I haven’t had any supports that are necessarily different from any other student. Student counseling services – they were like, good, and they got to me quickly based on the fact that I was talking to a student adviser about it. I will say that like, the student advisors in UCD are very good, they’re kind of like the people who will, like, sign off on you asking for an extension or something. And they always, for me anyway, Ciara Maloney in the Social Science Department, will always like, listen to you and always sort of help you out, which I think is really good because a lot of the time when I present the reasons for why I’m asking for an extension or something like on an essay, it sounds like really minimal, for someone who wouldn’t understand but like, it’s nice that they will take you seriously. There is like issues that I have faced in the past year – online harassment, you might call it, where people were targeting me online based on my position and the L&H and just saying like, transphobic things to me. And that was something that I was like, kind of disappointed with the university about their response to. I think there’s definitely room for improvement. But I think, I don’t think that’s particularly related to, like, me being trans. I think that’s just like general welfare policies in general for students.
EMILY: [00:13:09] Yeah, like I think that’s something really important that, you know, even in the general sense to, you know, the university needs to have ways to protect students as far as possible.
ROB: [00:13:21] Because UCD is such a large university, it can feel sometimes very anonymous if you don’t have other support. So like I said, like, I’m lucky that I fell into a position where I’m in a society, and that is where I’ve made like a lot of very good friends who I could rely on. But if you aren’t able to do that, I think there should be more accessibility for people like I think that student visas are brilliant and like a lot of the people within UCD are brilliant but there should be more connection between the university and their students if people are having issues. Because I know that, like, a lot of people feel that way, particularly when they go into, like, a massive course, they don’t know anybody, that kind of thing.
EMILY: [00:14:04] And then, I guess kind of comes to my last question, really, which is: if you could be able to give any bit of advice to trans students who are now starting their degree or those who are already in their degree the way you were and only coming out as trans now, what would it be?
ROB: [00:14:25] I suppose try and like, foster connections with people that you like, know that you can rely on or know that will support you. And that’s difficult sometimes because you don’t necessarily know who will support you. But I think that within most colleges, there is either going to be an LGBT society or a gay-straight alliance or even, most debating societies are very gay. Like, most people in most debating societies that I have ever interacted with, because I’ve interacted with societies like across Ireland, in Trinity, Maynooth, but also in England, and nearly all of them are gay. Maybe you should get involved in debating. [Laughing] I know, but like honestly finding an institution or like a society or something within a university that, like, has the mandate to help or have a mandate to serve their students will always allow you to at least talk to people, because I think when it feels so lonely coming into college, when you aren’t able to express yourself, where you don’t feel like you can talk to your family, it’s really important to have sort of like a support network that you can go and just be yourself to, even if you can’t, like, put everything on them, because I wouldn’t recommend doing that either. But even if it’s just people that you can, like, hang out with in this environment who will only ever have known you as that person. I think that’s really valuable. I was talking to one of the people who were, like, in charge of the L&H. She was the vice auditor when I was in first year. And she was like, ‘I didn’t even know you were trans until like the end of the year.’ And I was like, ‘that’s crazy.’ Like, I literally had just cut my hair and come in to be part of the L&H. And she was just like, ‘yeah, man.’ I think that’s really valuable. That was really cool for me because, to hear that. But also it was cool that, like, she found out after and was like, ‘that’s funny, lol.’
EMILY: [00:16:26] Thank you for, you know, for giving us that bit of advice. You know, it’s really been interesting. This is the third episode that we’ve done. Each one has had like a bit of advice that almost builds on each other. You know, about joining the LGBT society, getting involved in your SU and getting involved in debating societies who you yourself have said tend to be so diverse and accepting. This has become a debating society, pro-debating society podcast now, I guess.
ROB: [00:16:59] Oh, yeah, absolutely.
EMILY: [00:17:02] [Laughing] But I think this is going to really help students who are, you know, already in their degree or coming into their degree and maybe they’re only coming out or even those who have been out for years and maybe now with everything going on in the world, need that extra bit of support and don’t quite know where to go for it.
ROB: [00:17:22] Yeah, because I think that particularly when you get involved in something like my society or like any society. And there’s so many opportunities that open up for you as soon as you go. Whether those opportunities be making new friends or finding connections with people who are also trans or even being able to, like, go abroad to compete in something, because a lot of the time for me, I felt like I would never, ever play sport again or whatever. And debating isn’t a sport, but it’s still competitive and it’s still like, fun to get your competitive kicks out of, and like, there’s so many opportunities with that, there’s so many opportunities with like, dancing, or like drama, or like band, or whatever. There’s so many cool things that you can do that don’t have to be one particular thing, and those doors are always gonna to be open to you. And if they’re not, in your university, then there’s always somewhere else you can go to. I would just say, like never give up on finding your group of friends or finding, like, what makes you passionate about whatever.
EMILY: [00:18:29] Thank you for joining me for this. Thank you to everyone for listening. It’s been really, really great to speak to you and to hear about all this and to hear about your experiences and your advice. And, you know, it is so vastly different to the other episodes that we’ve done, and it’s really interesting to gain that different perspective. So I’m Emily Savage. Thank you, Rob, for joining me today. I really hope we’ll be able to do some more of these.
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This podcast was supported and produced by: STAND Diversity + Inclusion Editor Conor & Programme Assistant Alex