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Emily: [00:00:03.50] 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’ll be joined by Robert Brennan, a student from TU Dublin. So, Robert, if you’re comfortable, can you introduce yourself with your name and pronouns and your college degree?
Robert: [00:00:37.53] Yeah, sure, my name is Robert, my pronouns are he/they, I’m a non-binary trans man and I am doing a general science degree in TU Dublin. My degree actually changes next year, so I find out in September what my actual degree is.
Emily: [00:00:56.43] It’s always fun.
Robert: [00:00:57.60] Yeah, a good old general year where they just kinda put it in a lucky dip and you see what you get.
Emily: [00:01:04.89] So you being a college student, can you kind of tell me a bit about where you were at with your identity when you were starting college and how did that change as you progressed throughout your degree?
Robert: [00:01:17.07] So by the time I started college, I was already like out, I had all the legal work done. I was very comfortable myself. So when I started college in first year, so when I started college like I was already in a point in my transition that I was like, you know, here I am. I’m trans. Hello. So I was openly trans throughout the entire year and my identity hasn’t really changed over my first year. So I’ve been doing college from nearly entirely from my bedroom. So it’s, it’s been a wild time to say the least.
Emily: [00:01:57.30] Obviously then you’ve been out in college, even if also that did end up being through online, have you find that this has brought about any issues or has it maybe given opportunities throughout your college life?
Robert: [00:02:10.20] And I joined my college’s LGBTQ society within a couple of weeks I ended up being their trans rep so it kind of gave me a lot of opportunities. But also, like with lecturers. So we use an online, like virtual classroom called Bongo and with Bongo most people don’t turn their mics on or they don’t have the cameras on so we use a chat box. Whenever I do have to turn my mic on for something, some of the lectures always be a bit taken aback by my voice because I don’t exactly have the most deepest voice in the world. So they’d be taken aback and be like this is Robert right? I’d be like, yeah, yeah, this is Robert. So but that was mainly the only issue that’s come up. I did, I did go into campus a couple times for lab work. And it was, I didn’t have any issues then, but, yeah, it was quite strange to have to confirm my identity to my lecturer.
Emily: [00:03:18.73] And so has that, you know, having to affirm your identity and, you know, kind of defend yourself in that way. Has that led to any differing or is it helped you to shape your academic trajectory? Has it made you want to change what you’re doing or has it given you a new lease to what you are doing and to kind of change things?
Robert: [00:03:42.37] My college, it’s fairly like trans accepting. I kind of want to do more to so that like what I get in-person things will change, and I expect that I might be misgendered a bit more because like it’s not just me in a chat box 90 percent of the time it’s going to be in face-to-face settings looking like this, me in my free testosterone self just, you know, walking around campus, you know, I expect I’ll be misgendered a lot by lecturers, especially when we’re like, especially when the masks are off because the mask kind of makes me look more androgynous than I thought I would without. So. So I expect that by the time I’m on campus I’ll be experiencing this more kinda makes me want to fight more. So like I joined the student counsellors in my college’s SU, and I actually a couple of days ago, I was awarded best fresher I didn’t think they had many freshers to choose from who were this active.
Emily: [00:04:49.21] Yeah, well, congratulations on that.
Robert: [00:04:52.10] Thank you.
Emily: [00:04:53.92] And I guess that kind of brings around like a really important and interesting conversation at the moment of, I know you haven’t really been on campus, but do you find that there is a difference about the way you are perceived and your identity is perceived based on having been on campus and compared to when you are doing classes online?
Robert: [00:05:18.01] Yeah, so like when I’m on campus, people don’t see the full me, like I don’t hide my queerness whatsoever. Like I have several articles of clothing that are just straight up rainbows. I just like I wear them and you know, people are like you could obviously tell I’m queer, it’s channelling my gender which is the difficult part. I kinda love that, kinda the people who are like they’re queer but who are what are they? I kind of love that for me, but like, yeah, I’ve only interacted with a couple lecturers and with a couple classmates and classmates have been grand. But the lecture obviously, the lectures we had, when we’re doing our labs were mostly not the ones we were having for our online lectures. They are just ones who are running the labs. So I feel like my lectures who haven’t seen me are going to be in for a bit of a shock, especially for the ones that have never had mics on. I’ve only turned my mic on a couple times, probably less than five.
Emily: [00:06:28.90] I think that kind of brings that around the question of what kind of support do you think lecturers need to give to their trans students and what do you think that lecturers and tutors can do to support their students to make things easier for them in the classroom and for in terms of submitting assignments, all that kind of stuff?
Robert: [00:06:54.67] Yeah, I feel like I’m coming to this from a privileged perspective because I’ve never had to worry about my name. Like, nobody in my college really knows my dead name. That’s fine. That’s great. But I know for a lot of trans people that isn’t the case. I think lectures need to put a lot of effort into people’s names and pronouns like pronouns are an issue because I sound like this and it’s not exactly like my voice is higher than the Burj Khalifa, that kind of thing. So like, you know, try to make sure that you don’t put out assumption of the students like that, assumption of gender on the students, and making sure that you put a conscious effort into making sure you’re addressing your students correctly. And when it comes to being trans, you’re open to a lot of hate. I’d recommend that lecturers listen to trans people, they might have a difficult time and to explain that difficult time and possibly have the empathy to give extensions, because I know that, like, I’ll experience more hate incidents once I’m on campus because before this pandemic I’d be out in town often and I’d be harassed often. When I get back on campus I’m going to be in town often and I have a feeling that that trend is going to continue with harassment and that could be a bit overwhelming at times. I will be requesting assignments extensions at some point because I’ll be dealing with all of that. So I just hope they’re empathetic that it’s not just someone shouting something at you on the street. It kind of it like hurts deeper than that.
Emily: [00:08:46.60] What sort of supports, if any, have been available to you from the college to help you with issues like this or to help, you know, maybe students who are coming in who aren’t sure about their identity yet?
Robert: [00:08:58.09] So our college offers free counselling service and I’ll avail of that. It has been absolutely brilliant. The counsellors are just so nice. It’s all it’s always a joy to go on to call with them and speak to me. Even when you’re going through some pretty serious stuff, I’m always looking forward to it, which is like really, really nice. I know that the SU is there to help anybody and the Welfare and Equalities Officer. They’re always there to help anybody who has any issues. And I feel like there is strong supports in my college. It’s just making sure that the lecturers understand because the lecturers are on the ones that you interact with every day or every couple of days, every week, you know, so making sure that they understand the gravity of the situation.
Emily: [00:09:52.96] And so what extra supports do you think colleges should be able to provide for their students in terms of maybe support both for the students and information to be given to lecturers in order for them to support the students?
Robert: [00:10:07.69] Students at colleges should do a mandatory trans one-on-one with their professors. I don’t know if my college does not or doesn’t, but it would be useful anyway. I think my SU are setting up a trans fund so that like trans people who are in financial difficulty can request money from the fund in order to support themselves, which is very good because it’s expensive to be trans. It is so expensive to be trans and even more expensive to be trans and a student, a broke college student. So I’m really glad that this is something that’s going to be happening because it just takes that financial burden of transition off of students. It’s mainly for social transition and for like garments and stuff like that, not for like medical transition. But even then, it still takes off a huge burden.
Emily: [00:11:05.38] It’s really interesting, actually, to hear you talking about the trans fund, because in the last episode of this podcast, I spoke to Jayson Pope from UCD, he also spoke about how he’s been working with the SU in UCD so that they can make a trans fund as well.
Robert: [00:11:21.19] Yeah, I also know that DCU are doing a trans fund and I think it’s absolutely great that SU’s across the country are like going in and saying that we need to support our trans people, not just superficially, we need to support them financially. And I think that is absolutely amazing.
Emily: [00:11:42.07] Yeah, it really is. It’s really great to see so many student unions coming forward and putting so much support into their trans students, valuing them as much cis students and making sure that everyone can be living a comfortable college life and be able to be themselves without fear of how they are trying to portray themselves, without having to put any kind of financial burden that other students wouldn’t have to face.
Robert: [00:12:10.69] It could be small increments of financial burdens, but adding up it, it just it like piles on top of you. Like, I owned a couple binders, some of them are second-hand, some of them I bought myself for like forty quid each. Like, that’s expensive and I’ve got about five of them. That’s like I should, I should be able to do maths. This is the part of my degree. But like it, I think it’s nearly two hundred euros worth of binders that break down in about six months. You know, I’ll have to constantly be replacing them. And it’s, it’s so much money.
Emily: [00:12:46.24] It’s a lot for students to be trying to put out there when, you know, trying to pay for your degree and your living expenses. And I think to have that extra bit of support from the SU so that that’s one last thing you’re worrying about, but something that’s equally as important as paying for your degree or your living expenses.
Robert: [00:13:07.90] Yeah. Like, your transition can cost more than your degree, and I think that’s wild, that’s mad, and like degrees in this country are so expensive already. So I’m like, oh my God, I’m really glad that SU’s are taking the initiative to support their trans students. So it’s going to make a huge difference.
Emily: [00:13:31.09] It’s really, really great to see. And I hope that in the next while we’ll see more SU’s following in the same thing. I think then kind of after hearing a lot about your experiences through college, I’d kind of like to ask then if you could give any bit of advice to trans students who are maybe now starting their degree or those who are already in their degree and just now coming out as trans. What would that piece of advice be?
Robert: [00:13:59.20] Join your college’s LGBT society. If your college has one, contact your, your student union’s equalities officer. If you if they have one, contact your counselling service if you have one and just be authentically you, because, you know, it just makes it more difficult when you’re not being authentically yourself. Everything is just so much more difficult when you have the burden of trying to hide yourself, if you can. I would recommend getting as much people on your side as possible because they are going to stick by you, especially your college’s LGBTQ society. Likelihood is they already have trans students in there who are also willing to help you through your transition through college, maybe contact people from other colleges like there’s TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland). There’s BeLonG To. There’s all these organizations who are out there to help you get to because many people on your side who are willing to advocate for you, that is very important because you don’t want to have to just advocate for yourself. I remember when I was in secondary school for a lot of time, I was advocating for myself and I was absolutely draining and I don’t wish that on anybody.
Emily: [00:15:23.54] Thank you for agreeing to come here and speak to me about all this. You know, as I was saying with Jay in the last one, I think doing these interviews and hearing this advice and the experiences and all the supports that are out there, I think it’s really going to help students who are just coming out now and their degrees or the students who are coming into college and they don’t know what to expect. And having this advice is going to be really, really helpful for them. And I think it’s equally going to be helpful for SU’s and LGBT societies. And as you said, lecturers that they have this advice and they can know how to help their students. Thank you to everyone for listening. I’m Emily Savage, and I’d like to thank Robert for joining me today. It’s been really, really great to get to speak to you and to hear about your experiences and hear your advice for our next episode. I’ll be joined by Rob Fitzpatrick, auditor of UCD Literary and Historic Society. I make sure to find out more about the work of STAND and check out STAND.ie.
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This podcast was supported and produced by: STAND Diversity + Inclusion Editor Conor + Programme Assistant Rachel