Photo illustration: Igor Nesterenko

Defying the binary at Ryerson

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By Sidney Drmay

Non-binary and genderqueer Ryerson students are expressing their concerns over people not respecting their identity, especially when it comes to using gender neutral pronouns.

“I don’t think I will ever be experienced by the world as who I am, which is very isolating,” said Chrys Saget-Richard, a second-year social work student who works at the Racialised Students’ Collective.

Saget-Richard is a non-binary transgender person and uses they, them and their pronouns. They do not fit into the gender of female and male that are consistently shown as the only options in modern society. Even though there are no official numbers, Ryerson has many non-binary or genderqueer students.

Saget-Richard believes that when it comes to gender identification, “there’s nothing more spectrum-like than the non-binary kids who are outside of the spectrum.” It’s not something you can tell from how someone talks or how they look. Non-binary students all share very similar experiences when it comes to interacting with other people on campus.

“The only time I feel like myself is when I’m with other trans people who get where I’m coming from,” said Phoenix Rigler, a first-year social work student who also uses they, them and their pronouns.

“When professors use he and she [pronouns] instead of using they [pronouns] it feels like erasure, like I don’t exist to this prof or in this classroom. When we talk about gender in the classroom only the gender binary is brought up or if non-binary genders are mentioned it’s like ‘well that’s a thing that exists but not in this space,’ ” Rigler said.

There are many other gender neutral pronouns such as xir, ze, ve, shey to name a few. However some people often have trouble incorporating this consistently into their language.

“The pedagogical tools are oppressive in themselves, and then our professors are not aware of how to operate the classroom in a trauma informed way. Also, [it’s about] being a decent human being because a person can just be like ‘Hey this is my name, these are my pronouns, can you just respect that?’ ” Saget-Richard said.

This has caused negative experiences to occur on campus such as harassment.

Evan Roy, a fourth-year photography student who also works at the Ryerson Trans Collective, is genderqueer and uses they, them and their pronouns. They have experienced harassment on Ryerson campus and now feels like they can’t express themselves freely.

“I feel like I have to tone down what I’m wearing because if I wear heels, a skirt and a crop top I will get harassed [again]. Recently, it was to the point where I stopped feeling comfortable wearing what I like,” Roy said.

Seventy-four per cent of trans students have been verbally harassed about their gender expression. This is according to a 2011 survey, conducted by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, an organization promoting human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Bathrooms on campus are a place where gender binary is especially an issue. It forces the decision of which washroom to enter an anxious experience every time. Egale notes that 43 per cent of trans students found school bathrooms to be unsafe.

“We need more washrooms that are accessible, there’s buildings that you have to leave [to find a washroom] which is unacceptable,” Roy said.

“Cis-sexism and transphobia and anti-blackness [are] everywhere. I experience that everywhere in the classroom, in the pedagogy, in my job, and then I can’t even take a piss,” Saget-Richard said.

“Right now I need to pee, why do I have to wait an entire semester to be able to pee without thinking I’ll get punched in the face? Bathrooms are [supposed to be] a place where I can breathe, where I don’t have to interact with people and you can shut out a little bit of the world. I can’t do that,” they said.

Markus Harwood-Jones, a coordinator at the Ryerson Trans Collective, notes that the bathroom campaign is a large part of what the collective does.

“A lot of our conversations around [the bathroom campaign] are about how genderqueer and non-binary students especially need this. Anybody who is read as non-cis or breaking binaries could feel the need for all-gender bathrooms but especially genderqueer and non-binary students who don’t identify at all and that’s a core part of our bathroom campaign,” Harwood-Jones said.

There are some spaces where non-binary and genderqueer students find safety, primarily the Trans Collective.

“It’s the only place generally I feel completely safe. They at least know of my identities, and they respect my pronouns and my name. If I didn’t have the Trans Collective I might’ve dropped out by now because I need a space where people know where I’m coming from, and know what it’s like to be trans in a cis environment,” said Phoenix.

The non-binary and genderqueer students on campus often have issues with “having your identity be so central to you, and trying to make people realize who you are, and where you’re coming from,” said Evan. But this doesn’t stop them from being confident in who they are.

“I know what I am, and that’s great, I know how I feel and how I identify and these words suit me.”
Disclaimer: At the time of publication Sidney Drmay was a coordinator at RyeACCESS.

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