We spoke to Students’ Union UCL’s Trans Officer during Trans Awareness Week

Do you think UCL is an inclusive environment for trans people? ‘Yeah, no.’

Trans Awareness Week 2021 was observed from 13 to 19 November before ending solemnly on 20 November with Trans Day of Remembrance.

Students’ Union UCL’s Trans Officer, Nestram (they/them/his), described the intention for the week as to “raise awareness of trans issues to make sure the atrocities which have gone on in the past don’t happen again,” “help trans people realise that there is a place [where they] can be safe,” and “make sure cisgender people know [their] struggles and understand how to become better allies.”

Because they said “transphobia still exists at UCL and the wider community today,” The London Tab reached out to Nestram and other trans London students to better understand trans experiences, both within and outside of uni.

Four-way crossing near UCL’s campus painted in trans flag for Trans Awareness Week 2021.

Struggles within uni

When asked whether they think UCL is an inclusive environment for trans students and staff, Nestram replied with a curt “Yeah, no.”

While they agreed progress has been made towards inclusivity, they think “the change seems almost entirely student-led.” They also pointed out that “UCL’s policymaking and ratification process is so slow” that trans students have given up on trying to get protections written into the unis regulations because they’ll graduate “before any change actually happens.”

This is particularly problematic because, according to them, UCL doesn’t have “a culture of supporting trans people.” Nestram specifically noted microaggressions and exclusions like being called by their deadname, left out from competitive sports teams that only recognise the binary genders, and misgendered. 

In response, a UCL spokesperson told The London Tab: “UCL has a policy and guidance for students transitioning gender which is accompanied by practical and emotional support through Student Support and Wellbeing. UCL’s Arena Centre continue to provide training through Gendered Intelligence for staff, and the LGBTQ+ Equality Steering Group is currently updating its allies training – both of these raise awareness and advise people not to refer to someone by their deadname.”

They also highlighted the “Trans Network for students and staff” and “an LGBTQ+ Equality Steering Group [working] to improve the experiences for LGBTQ+ people” as efforts towards enhancing the experiences of the uni’s trans students and staff.

About its slow progress towards legislative improvement, the uni acknowledges that “change can sometimes take longer than an academic year in such a large, complex and democratic organisation,” but it is “committed to improving the experiences of trans students and staff.”

“For example, in our recently published Athena SWAN (gender equality) action plan sets out our intention to undertake an impact assessment of UCL systems and processes to remove any unnecessary references/links to gender.”

Fighting misconceptions 

Regardless of whether they are in uni or not, one of the most common struggle for trans people is perhaps with being misgendered.

Nestram described the experience as being “uncomfortable and dysphoric.” It also creates confusion as they don’t know whether these mistakes come from transphobia, ignorance, or “a slip of the tongue.”

Because it is so discomforting, Nestram finds it additionally frustrating that trans people are often labelled as “overly-forceful and self-indulgent” when they correct these mistakes.

“It really annoys me, because a lot of trans people already aren’t entirely confident about their identity, and many are extremely timid and self-conscious when it comes to correcting people. It’s such a valid thing to do, and one trans people shouldn’t have to do anyways, so it’s a real pain hearing people criticising us for it and assuming that we are monoliths when it comes to corrections.

“We just want to be referred to correctly by our names and pronouns – to feel like we belong and are part of a community – and it’s not being rude or forceful to remind people of that.”

Being allies

“I believe a lot of [misconceptions and judgements towards trans people] comes from a lack of common experiences; most cis people haven’t felt the need to question their gender identity, and don’t have trouble with people assuming they’re a gender different from the one they are,” Nestram said.

But these ignorant misunderstandings are making uni experiences difficult, social services inadequate, and even pose life danger to trans people. So it is clear that cisgender allies need to do better.

A trans KCL student, Elliot (he/him) shared that the biggest thing allies can do is to “call out transphobia when you see it.”

“We’re currently living in a society where professors who don’t curtail academic papers are deciding that their vitriol against trans women is ‘academic freedom.

“We need to be able to call out people who seem to think it’s okay to misgender people because they don’t present the way that you want them to. We need to call out people who exclude trans people from conversations, who exclude them from media, and who exclude them from jobs they deserve to get – that they aren’t getting just because they have a certain identity.

“We need to stop making assumptions that make people uncomfortable and feel bad about how they present.”

KCLSU’s LGBTQ+ Network put out a video called Ten ways to be a Trans Ally! in addition to more interviews with trans KCL students.

KCLSU’s Instagram story during Trans Awareness Week

As Trans Awareness Week 2021 comes to an end, hopefully, our commitment to better understanding and supporting our trans peers is only beginning to strengthen.

Nestram stated: “we need more awareness of trans rights and how trans people feel – trans people shouldn’t have to be murdered for us to be recognised in popular culture and respected.

“I hope you will be an ally and support us, and join the Trans and LGBT+ Networks [at your uni] if you identify as transgender, gender non-conforming and/or are questioning your gender – we are here for you.”

If you need support beyond student networks, check out local trans charities like Mermaids, Gendered Intelligence, TransUnite, QueerCare, and Gender Identity Research & Education Society (GIRES). 

Related stories recommended by this writer:

LGBTQ+ Soc says University of Sussex ‘doesn’t care about trans students’

Here are some ways you can observe Trans Day of Remembrance as a London student

Young trans people on their experiences of transitioning