The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Becoming a visible woman

On a quiet summer afternoon, a year after the 1994 6.8 Northridge earthquake, the walls of the College of Humanities began to shake.

But this time, it wasn’t another earthquake.

Cal State Northridge Philosophy Professor Jacob Hale recalls, laughingly, that the shaking came from an “out of control” tabloid reporter.

The reporter was banging on the walls, tearing papers off the bulletin board and storming in and out the college’s office, demanding to see “the letter.”

The reporter was referring to a letter Hale distributed among colleagues and staff in the department. In this letter Hale informed his colleagues that in fall 1995 his legal name and gender was going to be changed.

The letter stated, “This transition is both deadly serious and extraordinarily joyous for me. I have been struggling with gender pain for as long as I can remember. Never had I felt the profound sense of peace which I felt that morning when I awoke knowing that I was on the verge of transitioning into manhood. For the first time in my life, I am at peace with myself.”

He requested to be called Jacob or Jake and encouraged his colleagues to contact him if they had any questions.

After making his rounds screaming, the reporter, whom no one was able to identify, demanded to know who the dean of the college was.

A staff member told the reporter Professor Jorge Garcia was the dean.

The journalist refused to believe the staff member and kept asking for the dean. After he was convinced that the dean was Garcia, the reporter demanded to see the letter.

The reporter left without the letter as Garcia explained to him that he could not give him the letter because of state regulations on privacy.

Hale said he was in his office when the incident happened, but several staff members told him about the reporter’s actions.

“If he would have had a different approach, I would have talked to him,” Hale said.

While the reaction of the tabloid journalist was rather hysterical, the staff and colleagues of Professor Hale were more understanding.

Hale is one of many transgender professionals working nationwide. Officials have reported that treatment toward transgenders in the workplace have improved. According to a 2005 study by the Human Rights Campaign, 101 companies had perfect scores in their treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

Officials said, however, that there are no official numbers on how many transgender professors or other professionals are working nationwide.

Hale said he thinks it is a good thing that transgender statistics are not available.

“They don’t want to be singled out,” Hale said.

Even though employment discrimination laws prohibit gender discrimination, statistics show that it continues to happen.

A 1993 study revealed that 63 percent of sociology department chairs throughout the United States said hiring a known homosexual would pose serious difficulties, and 84 percent said they would hold serious reservations about hiring a gay or lesbian political activist, according to The American Sociological Association Task Force on Homosexuality. The report also concluded that 48 percent of the department chairs said they would have difficulty in promoting a professor who was lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender.

While Hale said that most of his colleagues were supportive, some were not.

“But sadly, some up to this day, 10 years after the letter of my transition went out, they don’t remember me ? (it’s) as if they had never met me in the past.”

Hale said he used to tell his students about his gender, but does not do it anymore unless it is relevant to the class discussion.

Overall Hale said he has enjoyed his experience at CSUN because the college campus environment allows room for individualism.

Hale explained that in the past 10 years there has been improvement in the understanding of transgenders. He also said that the Internet has allowed the transgender community to connect and learn more about each other.

However, Hale said, there are still problems associated with transgenders in the workplace.

Hale said he believes that the hiring of transgender professors has been improved, but more needs to be done. To have more transgender in the professional world, there needs to be more done to keep them in school, Hale said.

“Helping students to stay in school will eventually lead to more professional transgenders,” he said.

The problem is that for many transgender school is not an esay feat.

“For many years I tried to act girly and felt very stupid”, Allen said, whose name has been changed at his request and who is a Deaf Studies major. He is a female to male transgender. Allen said he always felt very uncomfortable with his body. Each time he looked in the mirror he felt disappointed of what he saw, and to relieve his disappointment he drank alcohol.

“I drank to the point that I was endangering my life,” Allen said, and at that point he decided to begin his transition. He states that it was his only chance at life and he is glad he made it.

But the road has not been easy for Allen at school.

Allen said that the reactions of his professors vary. Only three of his professors know that he is a transsexual. Allen said he has been embarrassed a number of times. One professor, Allen said “kept calling me ‘she’ and I kept correcting her by saying ‘he’.” Now the professor avoids pronouns all together. Another professor doesn’t use any pronouns at all with Allen. He is very respectful, Allen said, but he still feels like he’s being treated like a girl.

“Most students don’t know how to react to transgender people” Allen said.

He also said that he finds it very disrespectful when people ask him about the way his body looks when he is naked. “Since when did that become acceptable? I may be a transgender and they may be curious but the truth of the matter is that doesn’t make it any less rude or tacky.”

After graduating from CSUN, Allen wants to get an MA in social work and work for the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) community or in alcohol/ drug counseling.

Allen said that there is a need for anti-discrimination policies at CSUN to protect students explicitly and specifically on the basis of gender expression. He also suggested that teachers should be required to receive some mandatory training on discrimination and sensitivity which would include information on transgender people.

Vivianna Hernandez, legal department program manager of the Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles, is a certified paralegal and has been a male-to-female transgender for 36 years. Hernandez said the transgender community encounters the most problems in school and in finding employment.

She estimates that of those transgenders seeking legal advice, about 40 percent are employed, 10 percent are on public assistance, and the other 50 percent are unemployed.

The unemployed transgenders are the most affected group since most of them use prostitution as a means to survive. Some of them are beaten, raped, or even killed, Nicole Ashton, a mental health counselor at the Los Angeles Gay Center, said in an e-mail.

“(Transgenders) who work face discrimination every day,” she said.

Some of the unemployed transgenders do not have jobs because employers look at their appearance and discriminate against them, she said.

Working transgenders are in fields such as health care, law, education and law enforcement, Hernandez said.

The path to becoming a professional was rather difficult for Hernandez.

“My problem with prostitution and drugs kept me coming back to jail,” she said.

Hernandez was able to get back on track thanks to two deputies who started a learning program at a correctional facility where inmates could get their General Education Development (GED) and computer training.

“Education wa
s my savior,” she said.

Hernandez became more active in the transgender community and said she believes that educating transgenders is very important. She also said educating people in the workplace and at universities to see people beyond their gender is important.

Other groups, such as the Los Angeles Gay Center, the Lesbian and Gay Center and clubs at universities provide help to gays, lesbians, transgenders, and others through counseling, job training, legal and health services, among other things, are a means to help.

Having the ability to see people beyond gender is the key to understanding transgenders and other people who struggle with this internal issue, said Ria Garcia, a Modesto resident, whose domestic partner is a FTM transgender.

“It was so hard for Robin to get a job as a woman,” said Garcia

Garcia said that it has been very difficult for Smith to go from a supervising position to a telemarketing representative position because the pay is much lower than what their household is used to.

Smith explains that the money is important but the fact that a telemarketing company, accepted her for who she was more important than money.

“The main difficulty was the restroom,” said Margaret Dennis, operation manager at Tele Leaders. Dennis recalls an incident when an employee felt very uncomfortable with Smith using the women’s bathroom. She explains that as a manager she has to understand both sides of the conflict. The problem was solved by allowing Smith to use the executive bathroom.

“We live in a gender oriented society that fears the unknown,” said Garcia “The solution is to understand and educate people about the internal struggle transgenders experience everyday.”

Adriana Olivarez can be reached at adrianaunz@yahoo.com

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