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Promoting Dialogue on the Transgender Experience in College Courses through Films and Literature

By Rowell, Elizabeth H. | Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Promoting Dialogue on the Transgender Experience in College Courses through Films and Literature


Rowell, Elizabeth H., Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


In the past thirty years, the U.S. transgender movement has gained in visibility and transgender issues have become a topic of serious inquiry in many different fields. However, many people today are unaware of gender variant individuals among them and discussions of rights and equality have usually excluded transgender people (A&E 1998, Brill 2008, Currah, 2006, Girshick 2008, Goldberg 2007, PFLAG-TNET 2007, Rosenberg 2007).

Recognition with its key components of value, dignity, and self expression is a critical component of the transgender movement. The importance of recognition can sometimes be better measured by the consequences of its absence as groups and people who are undervalued and pervasively stereotyped often become targets or scapegoats for the hatred of others (Juang 2006). Harassment, bullying, violence, and discrimination against transgender people persists in their daily life at home, in schools of all levels, at work, and in the community (Brill 2008, Grossman 2006 & 2007, Hall 2006, Holmes 2003). Although many trans people are leading happy lives and have succeeded in different professions, unfortunately others, due to this mistreatment and lack of recognition, are at higher risks for social isolation, depression, self hatred, school drop-out, unemployment, substance abuse, and suicide. Although over the past 35 years strides have been made on behalf of Gays and Lesbians, much work remains to be done to educate the public and improve the safety and well being of our transgender population (PLFAG TNET 2007).

Although some feel that the Transgender Revolution is now taking place, many including some ardent diversity supporters, are unaware of the need for better recognizing and acknowledging transgender people and their contributions. I confess that I was once one of those, as I generally gave lip service to the T component of LGBT. I have long been an outspoken LGBT ally, helped to obtain Gay and Lesbian campus speakers, written articles for our Out on Campus publication, joined protests against taunts and hate signs, backed gay marriage, and posted a support sticker on my door as well as a rainbow banner in my office. I also included sexual orientation in some way in all my classes, had several faculty research grants and a sabbatical dealing with "Gay Friendly" Picture Books For Young Children, and helped the college to amass a nearly complete collection of these materials published or made available in the United States.

Despite this committed involvement, it was not until I received the final edited copy from Young Children, the National Association of Education of Young Children's peer reviewed publication, of an article based on my study of these materials that I realized I had not really been on the Transgender support bandwagon. At first I was delighted with the editors' boldness in changing my original title to Missing! Picture Books Reflecting GLBT Families: Make the Curriculum Inclusive for All Children. However, after reflecting on GLBT, I acknowledged that I had never encountered a picture book for young children with a bisexual family member and there was only one picture book that dealt with a transgender parent (Boenke 2004). I also wondered how many people casually use GLBT when only referring to GL or Gay when including gay and lesbians! I recognized that what was needed was an additional article about young children in regard to the transgender experience and the editor agreed. Due to the BT gaps, GLBT would be a misleading misnomer in the title. The title of the May 2007 publication was appropriately changed to Missing! Picture Books Reflecting Gay and Lesbian Families: Make the Curriculum Inclusive for all Children (Rowell 2007).

Since that enlightening moment, I have been studying more about the transgender experience and was awarded a faculty research grant on this topic. Several crucial transgender books have been added to the children's picture book collection including: Jesse's Dream Skirt (Mack 1979), 10,000 Dresses (Ewet 2008) and Rough Tough Charley (Kay 2007).

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Promoting Dialogue on the Transgender Experience in College Courses through Films and Literature
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