When Dianne Piggott was born, doctors told her parents they had a son. In the end, that socially-constructed gender assignment didn’t work out.
After trying to live life as a man for several years, Piggott decided to transition and become the woman she knew she was internally, at least, everywhere except for work.
Her decision to fully transition in every portion of her life became apparent to her when she had to race home, change her appearance to that of a “man” and hurry back to work.
“I had to take off my hair, wash my face and really just change myself,” the junior psychology major said. “I looked in the mirror and started to cry and think, ‘Who is that? That’s not me.’”
After years of struggling with her identity, Piggott joined the Add the Words movement. However, despite recent efforts from the group, the bill was defeated again in committee on Jan. 29.
This left Piggott and countless others facing potential discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Many believe a contributing factor to this continued oppression is a distinct lack of understanding surrounding gender identity.
“It’s not necessarily people wanting to be willfully ignorant,” said Christopher Dale, sophomore French major who identifies as gender nonconforming or agender. “It’s more of people not having access to information.”
For graduate English student Thomas Meissner, this lack of information has created several uncomfortable situations, including slurs heard through the walls of their student-housing apartment.
Meissner identifies as genderqueer and their personal expression, through clothing and mannerisms, occasionally becomes a topic of disdain among peers.
“They just need to take me more seriously,” Meissner said. “Otherwise, I just wonder how I’m going to eventually interact with these people.”
According to Meissner, ignorance surrounding gender identity and its integral role within a person has created harsh attitudes. Because these mannerisms are so deeply embedded in mainstream culture, they exist in commonplace things, such as binary-focused male and female choices on Scantron sheets.
In some instances, these attitudes manifest in harmful ways.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported that 41 percent of transgender or gender-nonconforming individuals have attempted suicide. According to the Black Lives Matter’s website the life expectancy of black transgender woman is 35.
In every state except California, it is still legal to claim transgender-induced panic as a reasoning for violence toward these individuals.
“Everyone has a different gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation,” said Kate Steven, program coordinator at the Women’s Center. “They don’t all match up all the time.”
Steven stressed the utilization of preferred pronouns and non-gendered language in order to be more inclusive of all identities. Steven, who identifies as genderqueer, uses they/them/their pronouns and encouraged all people to focus on using pronouns as such until a person shares the pronouns they would like to be called.
Steven suggested sharing pronouns at the beginning of class each semester in order to create a more inviting space and avoid misgendering some students.
Landon Browning, one of two gender equity peer educators at the Women’s Center, invited all students to find communities to learn more about gender identity or explore their own identity. As the past president of the Pride Alliance, he explained that all students, whether they are cisgender, transgender or questioning, can find ways to enter this discussion or find support if needed.
“Boise in general is just not as diverse as other places,” Browning said. “We can all benefit from being exposed to diversity, changing our perspectives and helping evolve other perspectives.”
According to Dale, the best method of becoming informed is listening. They explained this can start by dropping initial assumptions.
“The way somebody presents themself is not necessarily how they identify,” Dale said. “You never know somebody’s gender identity until you ask.”
Dale explained these assumptions can also translate into uninformed labeling.
Instead of immediately labeling people as male or female, some sections of mainstream media have instead began labeling others as transgender or nonconforming, which, according to Dale, is just as much of a problem.
Bruce Jenner has headlined tabloids for weeks, and popular organizations have declared him transgender because of his “feminine” tendencies. These organizations have no insight from Jenner on the topic.
Dale explained the only expert source on an individual’s gender identity is that sole individual, something the media has failed to realize in
“They see his long hair and fingernails and assume, ‘Oh, he must be trans,’” Dale said. “It’s very interesting that non-trans people are claiming authority on someone’s who may or may not be trans’ identity.”
Piggott hopes that, through her work with Add the Words and other inclusive efforts within Boise society, Boise State and its surrounding areas can become a more welcoming place for those exploring their gender identity.
“We’re not scary and we’re not threatening,” Piggott said. “We’re just people.”