Supporting LGBTQI Survivors Of Campus Sexual Violence & IPV, Pt. 2

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Jackson Wright Shultz is an activist, educator and the author of Trans/Portraits: Voices From Transgender Communities. He is a current doctoral student at New England College, an administrator in TRiO Student Support Services at Everett Community College and an adjunct professor at Granite State College. Jackson is also a regular contributor to Conditionally Accepted.

In a previous essay, I discussed sexual assault and relationship violence in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) campus communities — specifically, how faculty and staff members could support such students systemically. In this article, I will provide suggestions on how to interpersonally support LGBTQI students who disclose experiences of sexual or intimate partner violence to faculty and staff members.

Understand why LGBTQI students may not report. It is highly likely that LGBTQI students may avoid reporting relationship or domestic violence to the police, campus officials or medical professionals for fear of discrimination or mistreatment. A report from Lambda Legal found that 14 percent of LGBT respondents reported being verbally assaulted by police, and 2 percent reported being physically assaulted by them. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that, of those trans people who had interacted with the police, 22 percent reported harassment, 6 percent were physically assaulted and 2 percent were raped or sexually assaulted by police. Additionally, for trans people who do not have identification that accurately matches their name or appearance, filing a police report can be remarkably difficult.

On college campuses, LGBTQI communities are likely to be strongly interconnected, and survivors may not disclose relationship violence within community spaces for fear of being shunned or isolated from those communities. That can likewise be a problem within many other marginalized and activist communities. LGBTQI students of color, for example, who live at the intersection of multiple marginalized communities, can feel even more pressure to ignore violence within those communities.

Be willing to listen to and support LGBTQI survivors. LGBTQI students may have few people to whom they feel they can disclose relationship violence or sexual assault. For that reason, they may turn to a trusted staff or faculty member on campus for help. If you suspect a student is going to report sexual or relationship violence to you, inform the student whether your position is bound by Title IX or the Clery Act to report this information to your institution so that the student can make an informed decision about whether (or not) they wish to disclose to you.

Do not underestimate the positive advocacy or support role that you can play for students. While it may be outside of your comfort zone, you do not need to be a counselor in order to assist a student who discloses relationship or sexual violence to you. You can encourage a student to seek counseling or call for culturally-competent support if they are in crisis.

If a student does disclose sexual or relationship violence to you, I encourage you to follow these steps:

  • Listen.
  • Thank them for trusting you with the information.
  • Empower them to make their own decisions with regard to reporting, seeking medical attention and/or pursuing mental health care.
  • Be willing to refer the student to campus or community supports.

However, in order to refer students to campus or community services, you need to not only be aware of what support systems are available, but you must also have knowledge of the extent to which these supports are LGBTQI inclusive and competent. Support systems that are not inclusive of LGBTQI students — or worse, hostile toward LGBTQI students — can do more harm than good. Students should not be revictimized by the very services that are supposed to help them, yet many LGBTQI people face discriminatory responses and biased service.

Further, in situations of bias-motivated sexual assault (i.e., “corrective” sexual assault, or assault on the basis of one’s LGBTQI identity), emotional trauma is typically heightened. Referring a student to unsupportive or hostile campus supports can make the student feel they are under attack, further exacerbating this trauma.

You can help by educating yourself about the resources available on your campus and in the community. If you find that the existing resources are woefully inadequate for responding to the needs of LGBTQI survivors, suggest updates to policies or practices. For example, ask your student health center to implement the use of this gender-neutral anatomical diagram skin-surface assessment for their forensic sexual assault exams.

Follow up after disclosure. Trans and intersex students, in particular, will often avoid seeking legal, medical or mental health care due to the documented fear of revictimization. Trans students may also neglect to discuss past or current sexual or relationship violence with a therapist due to the fear (perceived or real) that this will delay the therapist writing a letter in support of their transition or that the therapist will question a causal relationship between their gender dysphoria and survivor status. Men students may have little or no access to sexual violence peer-support groups, and lesbian and bisexual women may feel unwelcomed in existing sexual violence peer-support spaces.

Clinical research on supporting survivors of sexual violence suggests that establishing a reconnection with the broader community is vital for the recovery process. However, due to the relatively small size of LGBTQI campus communities, it may be difficult for students to reconnect, particularly if their assailant is also a member of that community. As students all over the country have demonstrated, continuing to see one’s attacker on the campus is incredibly distressing. Due to the fact that LGBTQI students are less likely to report, their attackers are less likely to face legal or disciplinary action — and therefore more likely to remain on the campus.

The increased risk of isolation for LGBTQI survivors can have detrimental effects on their mental and emotional well-being, which has marked ramifications for their academic pursuits. When possible and appropriate, I encourage faculty and staff members to check in with the student at regular intervals. Are they seeking ongoing counseling or mental health support? Have they connected with resources? Are they experiencing isolation or harassment as a result of reporting? Are they still in an abusive relationship? (If so, you should suggest that they develop a safety plan.) Is the quality of their schoolwork suffering?

Some people may not wish to continue engaging in discussions with you after initial disclosure, but if a student trusted you enough to disclose, they probably intend their relationship with you to be ongoing. As a campus practitioner, your role as an adviser or mentor to students is powerful. Checking in with students can let them know you care about their well-being, that you wish to see them persist with their education, and that you are willing to be a continual source of support to them.

In sum, as educators and practitioners, the relationships we forge with students can have a profound impact on their college experience, persistence and overall academic success. Understanding our role in supporting the holistic well-being of our students, and taking steps to support students who are struggling with relationship and sexual violence, can help make a tough road a little easier for LGBTQI survivors.

Supporting LGBTQI Survivors Of Campus Sexual Violence & IPV

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Jackson Wright Shultz is an activist, educator and the author of Trans/Portraits: Voices From Transgender Communities. He is a current doctoral student at New England College, an administrator in TRiO Student Support Services at Everett Community College and an adjunct professor at Granite State College. Jackson is also a regular contributor to Conditionally Accepted.

Supporting LGBTQI Survivors, Part I

For the past five years, a trans colleague and I have facilitated one of the only transmasculine-specific sexual assault support groups in the United States that meets regularly. Working extensively with trans survivors of sexual abuse and intimate partner violence has provided us insight into the distinct needs and challenges facing trans survivors. While this community work is mostly separate from my life as an academic, I have gleaned a number of lessons from facilitating this group that are applicable to the college campus.

Most of us working in a college setting know that college students are at greater risk of experiencing sexual violence than are their similarly aged noncollege peers. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex students face additional risks. While violence within these communities is likely underreported, we know that sexual minority individuals experience sexual violence at a significantly higher rate than their heterosexual peers and about one in two transgender individuals will experience sexual assault or abuse in their lifetimes. This data makes it abundantly clear that college campuses need to take measures to address issues of LGBTQI intimate partner and sexual violence.

While many well-intentioned faculty members and administrators seek ways to support survivors, few resources exist that specifically deal with relationship violence within LGBTQI college populations. Some of the bystander initiatives and consent campaigns that colleges have developed may address same-gender relationship violence, but they rarely tackle issues of particular concern to trans and intersex students.

In this first part of a two-part essay, I will describe how to provide general support for LGBTQI survivors on your campus, specifically ways that faculty and staff members can begin to lay the groundwork to support them. In part two, I will give recommendations on ways to provide one-on-one support to LGBTQI students who disclose issues of sexual or intimate partner violence to faculty or staff members.

Get educated. A crucial first step in supporting LGBTQI survivors is to understand that violence in LGBTQI relationships manifests differently than it does in heterosexual and cisgender ones. For that reason, many LGBTQI people do not recognize the signs of intimate partner violence in their relationships.

For example, tactics of power and control in LGBTQI relationships can include additional issues such as identity abuse, wherein abusers threaten public disclosure of the person’s LGBTQI identity or HIV status as a form of manipulation. Even physical and sexual abuse can go unrecognized, as LGBTQI people are not taught to identify relationship violence outside a heterosexual and cisgender paradigm.

LGBTQI people also face additional barriers when it comes to reporting sexual or intimate partner violence. The willingness to report same-gender violence is predicated on one’s comfort with being out as LGBTQI. Students who are not out, or who do not identify as LGBTQI but who are experiencing same-gender sexual violence, may be uncomfortable reporting relationship and sexual violence to campus authorities. Given the mistreatment that LGBTQI people often face in the prison and judicial system, many survivors are reluctant to report LGBTQI abusers to the police for fear of subjecting a community member to the violence inherent in the penal system. And, in fact, their abusers may capitalize on this hesitancy. What’s more, details of domestic disputes are often printed publicly in local newspapers and police blotters, which is cause for someone who has not publicly shared their LGBTQI identity to avoid reporting incidents to law enforcement.

These examples are just a few of many, but they underscore the need for increased education about relationship violence both within LGBTQI communities and for those who wish to support LGBTQI survivors. If campuses have already put in place bystander or consent initiatives, these programs should be vetted for LGBTQI inclusivity. If they are found only to address the realities of heterosexual and cisgender relationships, campuses should consider adopting an LGBTQI-inclusive bystander or consent campaign. They should also consider implementing additional education and training for both students and practitioners about relationship violence. Individuals who wish to be better advocates for survivors should take the initiative to learn about the resources available to LGBTQI students on their campus, particularly around issues of sexual assault and relationship violence prevention and support.

Some campuses will be more resistant than others to implementing LGBTQI-inclusive programs about relationship violence awareness. For campus constituents who feel comfortable agitating for these programs, leveraging your power to vocalize demand for such programs is an excellent way to show your support to LGBTQI students. For those who are in more precarious positions, such as contingent faculty and members of marginalized groups, pushing for changes at the campus level may be more difficult. However, do not underestimate the potential positive impact of offering your individual support to survivors.

Make your office a safe zone. The concept of the safe zone or safe space predates the long-standing debate about trigger warnings in the classroom. While the precise meaning and effectiveness of safe zone stickers on college campuses vary, safe zones usually apply to office spaces rather than classrooms and indicate that the office holder has undergone some form of ally or advocacy training, feels comfortable talking about LGBTQI identities and issues, and will not permit microaggressions or other forms of harassment of LGBTQI students within that space. My LGBTQI students frequently cite the importance of safe zones and campus signage that indicates supportive allyship. They feel more at ease to disclose issues — such as harassment or relationship violence — in areas they have identified as safe spaces.

I encourage you to seek out resources at your own institution or in your own community for safe zone training. If no such resources are available locally, consider an online version of the training. Having facilitated many dozens of safe zone trainings, I can state unequivocally that displaying a safe zone sticker or other safe space signage in your office is a simple way to indicate your allyship to LGBTQI students. However, this is an action that should not be taken lightly; calling your office a safe zone but failing to live up to all that the name indicates is an offense that students will not quickly forget. Recognize that your safe zone sticker is making a promise to students regarding that space and your role as an ally — and be willing to take responsibility for upholding that promise.

Believe in your impact. While this introduction is hardly exhaustive, taking these basic actions can go a long way toward supporting LGBTQI survivors on your campus. As faculty members and administrators — regardless of our area of focus or operations — we can play a profound role in making the campus climate one that is supportive of our LGBTQI students.

The actions above can lay the groundwork for students to recognize the ways in which relationship violence manifests in LGBTQI relationships, and they can provide safe spaces for students to consider disclosure of intimate partner and/or sexual violence.

Part two of this essay will offer suggestions on how to specifically support students who disclose LGBTQI intimate partner or sexual violence to faculty or staff members.

Jackson Wright Shultz On Truth and Subjectivity

This blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed column.

JacksonI write my truth.

In fact, my entire goal as a writer and author is to open a bit of my world to others. Many written works about my communities have been distorted or fictionalized, even by sources claiming to provide honest exposés. So when I write about trans communities, I write exclusively nonfiction.

As a nonfiction writer, I attempt to balance the risk of being overly tedious in my writing with the rewards of painting accurate depictions of my communities. True, the rewards are subtle and often come in the form of quiet head nods from the communities that I try to represent. But in a world of sensationalized stories rooted in misconceptions of what it means to be transgender, even the slightest appreciation from other trans and nonbinary individuals is the highest praise.

I write the truths apparent to my communities.

And so do many other minoritized activists and scholars. Yet even when we write about our own lived experiences with discrimination, we are frequently told (even in academic spaces that imagine themselves as accepting) that we are wrong, mistaken, lying, attention seeking or otherwise overly subjective. Want proof? Read the comments section of just about any blog written by minoritized scholars or the types of email sent to women scholars who write about issues like gender and race. I guarantee you will find comments that attempt to correct our supposed misunderstandings of our own experiences, at best, and strip us of our very humanity, at worst.

This notion of subjectivity is the crux of the matter. By virtue of being LGBTQI activists, scholars of color, scholars with disabilities and so on, minority researchers embody a group that is viewed as inherently subjective. In theory, I have no problem with that: subjectivity is incredibly valuable. Acknowledging subjectivity allows researchers to recognize that no one is above bias, and rather than running from our prejudices and partialities, we can confront them head-on. Valuing subjectivity allows us to use methodologies like autoethnography that let us situate our experiences in a broader cultural context. Our subjectivity permits us to delve into a level of research within our communities and cultures that outsiders to our communities would find difficult or impossible to access.

But unfortunately, as a minoritized scholar, my presumed subjectivity has real-world consequences. It affects the types of research I am allowed to conduct. It affects whether my research will be considered empirical, useful and valid. It affects how hard I will have to fight to get approval to carry out my research by the Institutional Review Board. It means that to engage in qualitative methodologies, I have to risk the double jeopardy of conducting subjective research as a supposedly subjective scholar and dealing with the fallout should I attempt to publish research considered by many to be — as an adviser in my doctoral program put it –“wishy-washy.” It means that the work we do in our own communities may be appropriated by other scholars seen as more objective than ourselves.

Such issues are much more than minor inconveniences. Failing to value and respect the types of data that minoritized scholars are collecting — and the ways we are collecting them — is a form of silencing us. When we pioneer methodologies or bring to light cultural knowledge previously or currently rejected as subjective in academic spaces, we are adding our voices to the conversation in the most authentic ways we can. So when our courses are decried as racist toward white students, or when peer-review publications, IRBs and advisers scorn our efforts, or when we are told our writing style does not follow standard (read: white cis masculinist) convention, we are being silenced on a systemic level. Simultaneously, we are being stripped of our authenticity.

I write truths that outsiders to my communities do not see.

I do this in an effort to educate outsiders, yet my labors are often futile. Because outsiders have never witnessed our real-life experiences, they frequently believe that these realities simply cannot be factual. This is a trend I find frightening, as it is rooted in the devaluation of the other. It is rooted in a culture that does not believe survivors of rape and incest are telling the truth about being sexually assaulted. It is rooted in a culture that does not believe people of color when they say they experience violence at the hands of the police. It is rooted in a culture that does not believe trans people are who we say we are.

I write uncomfortable truths.

As academics, we encourage our students to think critically but have difficulty turning that lens upon ourselves. We do not want to consider that our systemic devaluation of subjective research may be rooted in something more than general preference. We don’t want to admit that we are comfortable judging the merit of p values but live in fear of what we cannot easily quantify. We have difficulty accepting that, however inadvertently, we have created an institutional culture that devalues the work of minoritized scholars when we dream ourselves and our colleges to be committed to diversity and pluralism.

If I am going to survive as a scholar activist, I have to believe that this culture is malleable. It’s a culture that we can change from both inside and outside academe. Within the academy, we have a responsibility to take a long and hard look at which bodies we value and which ones we don’t, and ask ourselves why that is. We have to ask ourselves what types of work are worthy of pay, of promotion and of tenure. We have to question what wonderful knowledge we are refusing to publish because it didn’t involve multiple linear regression. We have to ask if we are refusing to further knowledge simply because we don’t agree with how it was collected — even when that collection was ethical. If and when our responses do not align with the current structural realities of our institutions, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to change these patterns.

I take risks to write these truths.

I know that writing in such public forums could adversely impact my career. I have learned that I have many privileges that afford me the option of being out as a trans academic. I have accepted that, simply by virtue of who I am, writing about my own communities will always be considered subjective. I recognize that until we have massively reformed our valuation of methodological practices, my status as a researcher and the research that I conduct will be considered suspect and subject to additional scrutiny. I know that, on such a systemic level, rethinking which types of research matter and are worthy of publication will be a long, slow process.

But still, I write my truth.


Bio: Jackson Wright Shultz (@WriteRadically) is an activist, educator, and the author of Trans/Portraits: Voices From Transgender Communities. As the education director for the Trans Education, Activism, Community & Health (TEACH) Alliance, he has spoken throughout the country on contemporary issues in transgender communities. When not working with the TEACH Alliance, Shultz teaches composition and creative writing courses at New England College. He is an alumnus of Washington State University and Dartmouth College, and a current doctoral student at New England College. He is a regular contribute to Conditionally Accepted.

Jackson Wright Shultz On “Speaking With, Not For”

This blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed column.

JacksonRecently, I gave a reading at a local independent bookstore for my new book, Trans/Portraits: Voices From Transgender Communities. The book uses an oral history framework to examine the daily lives of 34 transgender and nonbinary individuals. I fell in love with oral history in no small part because it is such an accessible genre. It allows interviewees to talk about their lives in their own words — a rarity for routinely silenced minority communities.

After the reading, I fielded questions as a short queue filed up to my little signing table. The audience that evening was primarily composed of nonacademics, so most of the questions were expected. Yet one inquiry gave me pause. An older gentleman asked me, “If you’re really an academic, why did you write for a general audience?”

In the brief time it took to sign his copy, I could not thoroughly explain my rationale for the tone of the book and correct his assumption that all things academic need be labyrinthine. I simply posed a question of my own: “If my research never gets out of the ivory tower, then who is it helping?”

He replied with the most noncommittal of grunts. Guess you can’t convince everyone.

I have always understood research to be about gathering new information and furthering human knowledge. I wonder, then, why my academic colleagues’ eyebrows shoot up into their hairlines when I say I try to write my research for a lay audience, or when I show dissent regarding academic paywalls. It is often assumed that because I buy in to higher education, I, too, am supposed to blindly buy in to academic elitism. “B-b-but,” they splutter, “You went to Dartmouth!” as if attending an institution of repute is a character flaw.

If anything, my Ivy Leaguery served to radicalize me against academic exclusivity by continually reminding me, as Robert L. Reece writes, of the sacrifices of education and social class transcendence. By no means do I think that academe should encourage or promote elitism, nor do I think that research must be so needlessly complicated that it becomes inaccessible to those without an advanced degree. And I am hardly alone in this belief.

While I believe that nearly all research should be made accessible to a nonacademic audience, this is even more crucial when writing about marginalized communities. Perpetuating barriers of information access by using highly specialized writing would further marginalize the very population on which my research focuses. Furthermore, research about a population should be directed by that population.

Research on trans communities, in particular, has frequently left trans voices out of the equation. Recently, even popular television shows and movies about trans people have failed to seek input from trans people. In undertaking this project, it was vital to me that I include voices and stories that, even within trans spaces, are frequently excluded from the dialogue. As the adage goes, “Nothing about us without us.”

My lay writing style is response to, and a small stand of resistance against, the historical lack of access that trans people have had to the means of production of the dominant culture. Whereas much of the literature about trans and nonbinary communities was written with little to no input from those communities — from medical and psychological texts to historical works by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) — I am a firm believer that new research should provide an opportunity for trans and nonbinary individuals to shape this scholarship in meaningful ways.

In writing an oral history of transgender experiences, I relied upon a number of other trans and nonbinary people (both in and outside of academe) to help guide my work, and I can’t help but wonder why this is not a standard protocol for all. Some of my colleagues regarded this as unnecessary at best and as a potential compromise of research at worst. Certainly, it would compromise results in clinical trials to allow patients to review and edit their files, adding unnecessary bias to a supposedly objective process.

But in fields where constructivism and subjectivity reign supreme, our work often stands to gain from engaging in a process of subject review before submitting for peer review. After all, as a queer, first-generation trans student from a working-class, blended family, this process was a form of peer review, albeit less scholarly.

As a researcher, I didn’t want to speak for a population, I wanted to speak with them. In order to do this, it was necessary to check my privileges and biases at every step of the research process, to receive feedback from a variety of editors who could help ensure I was doing justice in my representations, and to carefully change identifying details to ensure confidentiality while preserving authenticity. While there were parallels between my own experiences as a trans person and my research findings, I deeply recognized that I was not speaking for myself, but instead lending my platform as an academic to a broader conversation — and allowing this dialogue to be governed by an all-too-often silenced demographic.

I do not know whether the man from the bookstore was an academic himself, but I do know that his surprise that an academic would intentionally write for a lay audience speaks volumes about the ongoing inaccessibility of research. I wonder, then, why I don’t see a larger push to increase research access — not just by protesting academic paywalls– but also by truly examining the language and methods we use for conducting and conveying our work. Who are we serving by making our research inaccessible? Is it less valuable if an eighth grader can understand it? Could crowdsourcing feedback from lay audiences improve the quality and accessibility of it?

I cannot definitively answer those questions, but I can wager a guess that the inevitable rebuttal to them will be steeped in a fear that publishing for a general audience will lead to oversimplified research and the demise of intellectual rigor in academe. I disagree. For those of us who embody the intersection of academia and activism, we must acknowledge that intelligence comes in a variety of forms, not all of which are suited to GRE vocabulary, and we must likewise write our research with accessibility in mind. The complexity, rigor and nuance of our work need not to be sacrificed; we merely need to create accessible outlets for conveying complicated information. Just as grammar snobbery has no place in activism, neither does research elitism.


Bio: Jackson Wright Shultz is an activist, educator and the author of Trans/Portraits: Voices From Transgender Communities. As the education director for the Trans Education, Activism, Community & Health (TEACH) Alliance, he has spoken throughout the country on contemporary issues in transgender communities. When not working with the TEACH Alliance, Shultz teaches composition and creative writing courses at New England College. He is an alumnus of Washington State University and Dartmouth College, and is a current doctoral student at New England College.  He is a regular contributor for Conditionally Accepted.

Jackson Wright Shultz Reflects On Conditional Gender Privilege

shultzJackson Wright Shultz (@WriteRadically) is an adjunct professor of writing at New England College (see his full biography at the end).  In this guest blog post, Jackson reflects on his “conditional” male and cisgender privileges — contingent on others’ assumptions about his sex and gender identity — and how they benefit him in the classroom. 

Be sure to check out Jackson’s first guest post, too!


On Conditional Gender Privilege

At the end of my first term as an adjunct, I nervously awaited the receipt of my student evaluations. From the moment that I submitted the final grades for my classes, I lived in a state of anxiety. I kept replaying the events of the semester over and over in my mind. Did I explain the course expectations thoroughly? Did I make myself available to students often enough? Was I approachable? Did my students actually learn anything? Perhaps my anxiety stemmed from being new to teaching, or perhaps it was rooted in the knowledge that as an adjunct my future employment depends in no small part on the evaluations my students give me, Several weeks after the term ended, my evaluations finally arrived. My hand over my eyes, I peered apprehensively through my fingers, reading each student comment with a combination of dread and excitement. The first evaluation was positive. As was the second. And the third! I continued reading with growing enthusiasm and relief. All of my students provided glowing reviews of my teaching.

For a full two minutes I was elated. My world was an idyllic sphere of thoughtful students who cared deeply about learning and who respected my pedagogical methods. Yet, as I re-read the evaluations, my blissful smile slowly sank into a frown. The words that had comforted me moments ago were suddenly glaring red flags: confident, awesome, interesting, organized, and even one gnarly. I knew that there was little hope, but I still desperately wanted to believe that these were objective, unbiased reviews. So, I called a colleague to ask how she fared in her evaluations.

“Don’t even ask,” she sighed, “One student wrote, ‘I’m not sure what was going on with her hair, but it was very distracting.’ It only goes downhill from there.”

I hung up, disheartened. I had wanted to believe that my teaching was as outstanding and gnarly as my students suggested, but as many women in academia have noted and countless studies prove, student evaluations are all too often biased along gender lines. I didn’t work harder than any of the other adjuncts in my department, and I had significantly less teaching experience than the majority of women with whom I worked. My excellent evaluations were the product of male privilege, and nothing more.

Recognizing And Using My Privilege

As a transmasculine individual and a feminist, it is critical that I recognize and push back on my gender privilege. My students see me as a white, able-bodied man and evaluate me as such. Not only is my male privilege abundantly clear in my evaluations from, and interactions with, students, other faculty, and administrators, my cisgender privilege is, as well. In my case, having cisgender privilege, sometimes heinously referred to as “passing” privilege, means that I am consistently perceived as a man and assumed to be male. It doesn’t matter that I am not cisgender: I still benefit from cisgender privilege. In part, this means that I have the option of whether or not I disclose to others that I am transgender – a luxury and a safety that many trans people can only fathom.

Yet both my male and cisgender privileges are entirely conditional. They are predicated on other people remaining ignorant of the fact that I am trans. They are privileges that can be revoked by coworkers “outing” me to my supervisors or students, by glancing at the extensive list of transgender-related publications on my CV, or by merely Googling my name. In some ways, these gender-based privileges are single use: once my status as a trans person is discovered, the scene roughly equates to the villagers descending upon Frankenstein’s monster with torches and pitchforks. Minimally, once my trans status is “discovered,” my cisgender privilege vanishes, my male privilege dissipates, and my acceptance as an instructor and scholar is retracted. In practical terms, being “outed” could easily result in me receiving negative student evaluations, experiencing harassment in the workplace, or even being fired.

Thus far, I have been extremely fortunate in my academic career to have an open-minded supervisor who hired me in spite of my lavender vita, as well as coworkers whom I can trust. I’m not naïve enough to believe that I’ll continue for much longer in my career without others in my department or on campus realizing that I’m trans. Alas, the internet exists. While many trans individuals in generations past transitioned and disappeared into the woodwork, the anonymity that they were able to achieve is difficult, if not impossible, for a generation raised on the Internet. My online presence is hardly stealth, and comes with calculated risks. By blogging and publishing without the use of a pseudonym, I hazard that my coworkers, supervisors, or students may soon put two and two together, and the consequences for me could be dire if they do–particularly as an adjunct (a topic for future discussion).

For the time being, however, my open presence online allows me to frame the conversation about myself as a trans scholar. Likewise, in the office, my cisgender and male privileges, though conditional, afford me the agency to advocate for transgender colleagues and students who are not in safe positions to self-advocate, as well as to call out sexism and misogyny in the workplace without risking the scorn, scrutiny, and career-hampering that women often face for the same actions. I am fully cognizant that I was once in their positions and could be again, and I act with an awareness that dismantling the institutions that uphold and enforce sexism benefits everyone. My hope is that if and when my conditional privileges are stripped away and I am no longer in a position to self-advocate or frame the conversation about myself, maybe I will have affected enough micro-level changes that my students and colleagues will be able to engage in constructive dialogues around gender and leave the pitchforks at home.



Jackson Wright Shultz is an adjunct professor of writing at New England College. He obtained his MALS degree from Dartmouth College (2014), and will begin his Doctorate of Education in the fall. He recently gave a TEDx Talk on transgender liberation and gender equity. His personal research interests include technology law, social media studies, women and gender studies, critical race studies, queer theory, composition pedagogy, higher education administration, and oral history. His first book, Trans/Portraits, will be released in October 2015 from the University Press of New England.