The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Checking in with Grinnell’s TGNB community

The S&B’s Shabana Gupta checks in with TGNB students at home and on campus. Public Domain.

As the pandemic continues, so do its accompanying struggles; something especially true for the nonbinary and trans community. Economic instability, job discrimination and dysphoria are all hitting harder than normal for the Transgender and Gender Non-Binary (TGNB) students stuck at home with minimal contact with friends and other TGNB folk. A Columbia University study found that a high percentage of TGNB people were struggling during COVID-19, which begs the question: how are Grinnell’s TGNB students doing?

Grinnell has a lot of TGNB students who are living openly with their identities. Some students have relatively accepting families, even if their families are not perfect. In some cases, this lack of acceptance affected their decisions on where to live during lockdown.

Romeo Garcia ’23 is currently living on campus. There are a couple reasons why he chose to be in Grinnell instead of at home in Oklahoma. One of them is because of his gender expression and the constraints he feels when living with his parents.

Gender presentation is a big portion of the issues many TGNB students must face in their home environments. For students living by themselves or with friends, quarantine is a wonderful time to explore clothing and new interests. For those living at home, options may be more limited. Expectations from family may cause them to present in a way that isn’t always in line with the student’s needs.

Garcia said that his parents accept his gender identity, and that they took the transitioning relatively well. He said that their main problem is with his gender expression. “They don’t understand that a boy’s favorite color could be pink, or that a boy could like glitter or nail polish or eyeliner, god forbid,” Garcia said.

They don’t understand that a boy’s favorite color could be pink, or that a boy could like glitter or nail polish or eyeliner, god forbid – Romeo Garcia ’23

His parents, especially his stepdad, expect that Garcia fits traditionally masculine stereotypes. “You cannot complain, you cannot feel things. That’s my mom’s idea of masculinity,” Garcia said. “The second a trans person does stuff that’s not expected of their gender, they’re [his parents are] like, ‘So that changes you back now.’”

Garcia said these expectations became extremely stressful when he was home for the summer. “You’re expected to perform for them. Like, this is causing me distress and unhappiness.”

Garcia also made sure to present only as masculine when outside of his parents’ house. “I don’t want to be perceived as genderqueer or anything. I’d get beat up or something.”

There has been a rise in hate crimes against the TGNB community during 2020. The Human Rights Campaign reported 40 known murders of TGNB people during 2020, making it the most violent year since the HRC started recording TGNB violence in 2013.

Being in Grinnell for the school year is a lot more comfortable for Garcia, and he said that he can wear and act in whatever way pleases him without fear of repercussions. “It’s such a queer space that I can queer my expression more. Like yes, this is my ideal actually, this is what brings joy for me.”

Katie Hidlebaugh ’22 is currently living at home with their dad, stepmom and brothers. Photo contributed by Katie Hiddlebaugh ’22.

Katie Hidlebaugh ’22 is living at home with their dad, stepmom and brothers. Many of Hidlebaugh’s issues with living at home are a result of their gender presentation. Their dad made comments about what they were wearing before they were comfortable talking about identities and gender presentation with him. “Nothing major, it’s just a lot of microaggressions,” they said. Their dad has since stopped referring to them in gendered terms. Hidlebaugh said that their mom has been really good at helping with dysphoria. Their mom’s house was destroyed in the derecho, though, so Hidlebaugh is not able to live with her for now.

Hudson Clulow ’23 has also been living on campus this semester. They stayed over the summer for a variety of reasons, one of which was their hometown’s constrictive culture.

Clulow came out as trans in 9th grade, about a year after coming out as gay. Their family is supportive now, though it started out rocky. The small community they live in still tends to identify them with their dead name, the name they were assigned at birth, despite knowing their current name. “When everyone knows you personally there’s just a sense of ‘I can ask you whatever I like,’” Clulow said.

When they went to the grocery store or picked up their younger sister, people would come up to them and say, “Oh, I know you’re going by Hudson now, but I’ve always known you as [deadname].” According to Clulow, the conversation would often be followed by some hugging.

Facing the broader home community has also presented some issues for Hidlebaugh, who has run into difficulties at their workplace. They have their pronouns on their nametag, which means people tend to look at them strangely after noticing. They said that most of the time people are accepting, though there was an instance involving their manager. According to Hidlebaugh, their manager thought “it was a political statement.”

“He’s a baby boomer” they said.

COVID-19 has also gotten in the way of necessary procedures and activities for trans youth. Jax Seiler ’22 has a relatively accepting home life and is currently living with his dad and brother. Other than confusion surrounding pronouns, his home life has been fine. His mom takes initiative when it comes to learning about trans topics. Seiler isn’t living with his mom, but she does send him trans memes every so often.

After the initial lockdown this past Spring, Jax Seiler ’22 has not been able to make an appointment to get testosterone. Photo by Jax Seiler.

The main issue that Seiler has faced because of COVID-19 is that his appointment for testosterone was canceled. It was scheduled before everything went on lockdown, but his nurse was out sick. The next week no one was able to get an appointment. Seiler said that he can generally pass as a “dude.”

“The worst I have to deal with is getting misgendered until I get on T [testosterone],” he said.

Grinnell TGNB students seem to be working around the conditions of COVID-19. The four students I spoke with for this article said that they have relatively supportive families, and their workplaces have an overall positive environment. There are probably students that have not been voiced in this story, and their experiences might be closer to what Columbia University found in their survey.

There is a diversity within the TGNB students’ experience of COVID-19. Like Garcia found, quarantine can be a good time to explore and experiment with gender expression. “I can do funky gender things like wearing a skirt or a dress,” he said. “No one’s here perceiving me, it’s not going to change the way a lot of people think about me.

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