CMU must facilitate identity discussion

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Janet Mock, an outspoken transgender woman who doesn’t like being labeled an activist or even an advocate, came to Carnegie Mellon’s campus last week.

Mock spoke about her childhood growing up as a lower-class, black trans woman, about being full of yourself, and about her intersecting identities. The room was completely filled, and people asked valid, interesting questions that she seemed to enjoy answering.

It is so important that we bring more people like Janet Mock here to the Carnegie Mellon campus. She addressed very valid fears and concerns, as well as goals and ambitions, that many here at Carnegie Mellon have, and the talk provided people with a safe space to talk about crucial issues of race, class, sexuality, and gender.

The atmosphere felt safe and the discourse was engaging. My question, though, is why we don’t have more events and places like this on campus. We have groups where people of a certain identity can go to feel safe or engage in relevant discussion, such as ALLIES, SPIRIT, or ASA, but no outlet for similar discourse about intersecting issues to take place, and nowhere for people to realize — for example — how different it is to be trans and black, rather than trans and white, and where specifically that difference lies.

Especially at a place like Carnegie Mellon, we can often get caught up in our own insulated Pittsburgh or campus bubble that we forget the outside world, as well as the way in which our intersecting identities can affect the way we view the outside world. Conversation concerning intersecting identities would help people interested in learning more about these issues to be able to hear directly from people who have experienced some of those intersecting identities. It would also help create a larger number of safe spaces on campus where people can talk about such issues freely.

Some will argue that we don’t need spaces like this specifically carved out. They will argue that such discussion will happen without having to force it or plan events like Mock’s talk to facilitate it. I will argue instead that visibility and publicity are important, maybe just as important as the existence of events like Mock’s talk.

If such events happen and no one is aware of them, what good does that do to either the campus community or the discussion itself? Visibility helps people realize that they are not alone in what they’re going through, if nothing else.

Public events also publicize that these issues exist, and that these issues matter, and that’s just at the tip of the iceberg when considering the possibilities of making such discussion accessible to the larger campus community.

Mock advocated being full of yourself in her talk. As one of the moderators put it, “No one else is going to be full of you.” That’s advice that we should embrace in a society that tries to put people down based on their self-identified gender or their skin color — be full of yourself — you and your intersecting identities — because no one else will be.