Science, trans identity focus of debate during Trans Awareness Week

The use and misuse of science and data in regards to transgender and transexual individuals was the topic of choice during the “Taking Trans Identity Back from Science” discussion on Monday in the USU’s Grand Salon room.

This discussion was just one of the many events that will take place during CSUN’s celebration of Trans Awareness week from Thursday, Nov. 13 until Thursday, Nov. 20.

Dr. Rachel Levin, associate professor of biology and neuroscience at Pomona College, led the discussion in not giving science “a free pass”.

Levin believes that scientists often use data to try and make sense of the trans (denotation for the transgender and transexual community as a whole) community without taking into consideration the details about the individual that they are studying.

Most scientists have resorted to only looking for biological factors, such as the trans gene and how one can become trans based on certain neurological factors.

The individual’s sexual preference, race, ethnicity, etc. may or may not have been considered during the time that research is conducted, making the data a potential guessing game for those trying to make sense of it.

Levin shared with the audience how people can read the information and begin to ask themselves “If I have the trans gene, does that mean that I have to be trans?” or “If I do not have the trans gene, does that mean that I can’t be trans (or not trans enough)?”

In response, Levin suggests that science should not be given a pass to determine such things.

“We all learn critical thinking skills in college and science is usually presented to us as big, scary and authoritative,” Levin said. “Science does not have the power to legitimize your sexuality.”

During Levin’s discussion, she explained some data that she had gathered on her own through several questionnaires.

In comparing her data to the ones conducted by other scientists, Levin discovered that a small minority of individuals in the trans community have been studied in the past.

Orion Block, senior gender and women studies major recalled how finding data about the trans community can be difficult to filter because it is usually included in the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) studies.

This becomes an issue when conducting data because a transgender or transexual person is not always a lesbian, gay or bisexual person.

“We need to do more qualitative studies as opposed to quantitative studies,” Block said. “A lot of the research that I have done does not separate LGB data from trans data.”

Although Levin is not apart of the trans community, she feels that it is important for both trans and cis-gendered (non-trans) people to take the time to understand how scientists have been getting a free pass to present their data in a way that may or may not help describe the community.

She challenges scientists do a better job at conducting their research in a way that trans and non-trans individuals can thoroughly understand.