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I went back to the Athletics Centre for my first time in September since COVID-19 hit Peterborough. As I gazed at the sign outside the Family/Accessible Changeroom I began to read, “This change room is designed to accommodate opposite genders.” What is an opposite gender? To provide context, this term can be harmful when used towards transgender and non-binary folks because it creates a display of being “othered” from society (implying if you aren’t cis-gendered, you belong in an segregated area). Furthermore, why are transgender and non-binary people put in the same area as family change rooms? I’m expressing concern about this because it feels genuinely like an afterthought to include anyone who is “othered” into one specific space. For many transgender and queer individuals, it’s more than having a place to change. It’s about acknowledging that cis heteronormative people get to have space. In everyday life, space is made and given to them, without asking.
If you think people are overreacting to needing single stalled spaces or more access to resources, I believe that you are misinformed on what it is to exist as a transgender or non-binary person. In a survey conducted by Egale, “90% of trans youth hear transphobic comments daily or weekly from other students and almost a quarter (23%) of trans students reported hearing teachers use transphobic language daily or weekly. When all identity-related grounds for feeling unsafe are taken into account, including ethnicity and religion, more than three quarters (78%) of trans students indicated feeling unsafe in some way at school. With 44% of trans students reported being likely to miss school because of feeling unsafe.” Another study by Trans Pulse Canada (2020) reports, that in the past five years, most transgender students had experienced verbal harassment related to being trans or non-binary and when presented with a list of 14 types of public spaces, 64% reported avoiding three or more of those spaces for fear of being harassed or outed. It is clear to say, that even with having the Canadian Human Rights Act updated in 2017 for protection of discrimination of gender identities, that there is an immense problem with how we view and interact with gender diverse people in Canada.
I reached out to the Trent Queer Collective for comments about this because I heard of some up-and-coming events that they will be hosting in regard to Queer hikes and sports events. The Collective compiled an email to the Assistant Director of the Athletics Centre stating their concerns and acknowledging a very specific incident of violence that a transgender Trent student faced at the Athletics Centre.
Here is a snippet of the email:
“Further, there exists no accommodation that is “designed” to provide for trans/ gender neutral folks in the Athletics Centre. Last winter, someone reported an act of violence to Trent Security anonymously, where a ball was thrown at a trans individual by two men in the hallway. Nothing came of it- Security noted it down and said there would be “increased” surveillance. This is not enough. Trent Security will be more likely to “diffuse” the situation than address the oppression that trans/ queer individuals face. We are hoping you can encourage a designated student support role that is only open for trans individuals for each shift at the Athletics Centre. This way, a huge population that feels unsafe can address their queries. Also, the top blurb reads “promotes a healthy, inclusive and safe” environment, which is not necessarily true since there are no anti-oppressive approaches in place. To my knowledge, that is not something that the student staff has to participate in, and further, none of the language seems to be “healthy, inclusive and safe” for trans and queer individuals. We would be open to connecting you with Community Race Relations and offer some anti-oppressive resources for this to change, but we maintain the need for a trans representative, as well as a trans hired student/ staff position in the Athletics Centre.”
So, with all of this information, where do we move on now? What will happen to queer people that face daily discrimination, and nothing is done about it? Does the staff have any anti-oppression training? Will gender diverse people be hired in this space? And if so, will they keep their job if they are discriminated against?
I got in contact with the person who reported the incident stated in the TQC’s email above and will refer to them as anonymous for safety concerns. This person is an actively out queer and trans person within the Trent University community.
Aras: “ I was curious if you ever felt unsafe at the Athletics Centre before the reported incident?”
Anonymous: “I have a few times. There were over a dozen instances where I have been stared at… a few cases where groups of men would look over at me and laugh or sit right beside me watching me while I work out. Another time, while becoming introduced to the Athletics Centre, I went with my friend who identifies as a woman. I went in the women’s change room a few times after because I wasn’t yet familiar with the space. I didn’t even know there was an all gender space because it has the handicap symbol displayed. As I left the change room, I was met by 4 girls who looked at me, then turned around to exit the changeroom. Looking at the gender marker on the outside and coming back in to block me from exiting they say, “I thought this was a changeroom for women. I have no clue what “that” is while staring at me and laughing.”
Aras: “Wow! That’s absolutely horrible. Do you think you were targeted because of your gender identity?”
Anonymous: “Well, of course…I have no doubt about it. People see something different in a space they are never used to seeing and have a lot of internalized trans/queerphobia to begin with.” I was curious if this individual continued to go back after this particular incident and if there was anything done about reporting an incident.
Aras: “There’s often many concerns of no sense of representation or inclusivity. Do you think the staff had any anti-oppression training or was there any increased security?”
Anonymous: “I personally don’t know if they have any anti-oppression training. If they don’t, they should because they’re working with the student population. Most groups and jobs have some level of training…so why would this be any different? I unfortunately didn’t notice an increase in security or employees actively surveilling the Centre. It was disheartening because the first few times of going back I couldn’t go down the hallway and I was scared to be harassed more violently by the same people again.”
By now we know of the positives that working out has on our mental health and how it increases focus on our studies as students. If we aren’t allowing these spaces to be comfortable, how will 2SLGBTQ+ folks succeed the same as our cis-hetero counterparts. For transgender people in particular, these tasks can be extremely affirming, providing states of gender euphoria. Gender euphoria is a state and feeling of satisfaction that corresponds to the “rightness” between something that affirms the gender or traits that you truly feel inside. For an example, using someone’s name, wearing a specific dress that makes you feel feminine, or working out/binding your chest to have it appear flatter. Having spaces for 2SLGBTQ+ people can help lessen the impacts of trauma they’ve had to deal with in the past and literally save lives.
Through all of this collected information and with my own questions, I was curious if anything happened with the Trent Queer Collective’s email.
After the Trent Queer Collective’s email was sent out some action has taken place with an event called J.O.C.Q.S (Join Our Community of Queer Sports) taking place at the Athletics Centre. Leslie, the Assistant Director stated that they would try their best to hire trans and non-binary students in the future and that this JOCQS event is very important to them. I attended the first orientation on Wednesday, October 14th feeling positive that I met other queer students and that it made them more comfortable to come and check the Centre out for themselves. This left me feeling bittersweet because it really puts into perspective how marginalized people have to put more energy into something to get what they want. I would like to say that all is well, but this is truly only the beginning to having more inclusive and “safer” spaces for queer students who want to participate in sports and wellness at Trent. I urge fellow students to decolonize their way of thinking and “queer” the Athletics Centre and other sectors of the institution. We need representation and we need it now.