Lecture uses legos, statistics, experience to explain gender


Molly Dotson

Ben Wilburn, a graduate assistant and coordinator in the LGBTQA+ resource center, discusses microaggressions, which are subtle but offensive comments or actions that are often unintentional, in the transgender community and advises students and community members to be aware of them during his “Talkin’ Trans” presentation Monday in Carnegie Public Library.

Kalyn Hayslett, Editor-in-Chief

The colorful and interchangeable toy Legos were compared to a person’s gender identity during a lecture held 6:30 p.m. in the Carneige Hall Library Monday.

Ben Wilburn, graduate assistant of the LBGTAQ+ center coordinator, said that members of the transgender community continuously evolve themselves like builders who consistently customize Legos.

“Gender is not a means to an end it goes on and on,” Wilburn said. “Gender is art.”

The root word of transgender is trans, which means across, so the gender identity transgender means across the genders.

The presentation focused on members who identify as a gender that is opposite of their assigned sex whereas members who are cisgender identify with their assigned sex.

If a person is cisgender they can still be an ally for people in the transgender community.

Wiburn said is it is crucial to ask for a person’s preferred pronouns because that puts the transgender person at ease and creates a level of respect.

“To be a good ally is to respect the name they give you,” Wilburn said. “It’s a hundred percent never ok to pull the birth name card or ask what their real name is.”

Pronouns are general words used to describe someone’s gender: he and him, she and her or they and them.

Wilburn said it is impossible for the participants to become experts however it is important to remain consistent and be mindful of the person’s request.

“Something to get into your mind is that pronouns are mandatory,” Wilburn said. “You must respect the pronouns someone gives you.”

Wilson went over a list of terms to avoid when describing people in the transgender community, specifically the term transgendered.

“Saying the term means that something tragic incident happened to them. You don’t say they are gayed,” Wilburn said.

Even when popular celebrities like Ru Paul use offensive language like tranny, he-she, or transvestite, it does not justify people using these transphobic words Wilburn said.

To describe micro-aggressions Wilburn shared a time when walking in County Market an older woman told Wilburn, “By golly Ben you really look like a man.”

Comments may seem to the person that is talking like a compliment but these phrases are one of the main causes of depression and anxiety Wilburn said.

Similar to mirco-aggressions, members that identify as transgender are more likely to experience homelessness or become homeless than cisgender members.

“It’s actually a real statistic. It’s not just something that thickens the plot or makes your heart wretch,” Wilburn said.

Homelessness is one epidemic that is a result of people who openly come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or asexual.

According to the presentation, about 40 percent of homeless citizens identify as LBTQA+ versus the 5 percent of people who identity as straight.

Wilburn said that one of the most important things an ally can do is to offer a friend or loved one a safe place to stay just in case they need it.

The main cause of homelessness is because of parents or loved ones not being accepting of the person’s gender which causes them to either runaway or get kicked out of their homes.

“A lot of people will run away if people think their parents will force them to go to corrective counseling that will try to ‘ungay’ them,” Wilburn said.

The lecture also discussed how all forms of abuse are mainly experienced by women of color and transwomen.

Unfortunately, the high rates of murder and physical violence of transwomen and transwomen of color are often swept under the rug and rarely talked about in the media, Wilburn said.

“We fail to see transwomen who don’t have access to homes, health care and don’t feel safe to walk down the street,” Wilburn said.

Jess Howell said she was saddened by the statistics but she was not surprised.

“Moving forward from this I will keep the numbers (statistics) in my thoughts and build on my care for others.” Howell said.


Kalyn Hayslett can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].