Just a few years back, many of us probably couldn’t name even one transgender figure in mainstream media. Though there are still few, the impact that trans people like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner have had over the past year is hard to ignore. Transgender issues are starting to become as visible as other movements such as women’s, gay, and lesbian rights—But despite this increased presence in discussion of social issues, instances of violence toward trans people (particularly women of color) are as prevalent as ever.
In a continued effort to give the transgender movement the recognition and visibility it deserves, the University of Arizona is in the process of creating the world’s first Transgender Studies program. Announced in 2013, the program is set to officially open next year. Undergraduates will be able to pursue a minor in Sexuality, Trans, and Queer Studies as part of the Gender and Women’s Studies Department, and the university is also working on creating a Masters’ program as well.
“For trans people at college, it's an opportunity to see themselves reflected back in the curriculum,” program founder and the university’s director of LGBT studies Susan Stryker said in an interview with The Huffington Post, when asked about the value of the program. “For people who want to work with trans populations or on trans issues, it's a chance to develop greater depth and breadth of knowledge, and to prepare meaningfully for a future job.”
Transgender issues are hardly new, but their entrance into the mainstream consciousness is very recent. Why now?
“I think the new level of visibility around transgender issues is due in part to nearly 25 years of constant activism and organizing and advocacy and protest and educational efforts by trans people, which has resulted in higher levels of awareness and sympathy in the general population,” Stryker said.
“I think it's due as well, as is the case with same-sex marriage, to changing generational attitudes—younger folks seem to regard trans as no big deal,” she added. “And then I think there lots of intangibles—like, more people spending more time online, and in RPGs, who get it that your persona and your body might not line up in meat-space.”
Though it’s true that the attitudes of millennials are much more open to discussion of transgender issues than their predecessors, the conversation is far from over. Stryker aims to include intersectionality as an integral part of the program.
“The important thing to keep in mind is that life is better only for some trans folk, and that the biggest challenges for trans lives remain poverty and racism,” she said. “It doesn't matter quite so much if you can change your name on your driver’s license if you don't have a car in the first place, or still get pulled over for driving while black.”
This is a huge step forward in recognizing the complexity and importance of transgender issues. We wonder how long it will take before this degree program is offered in universities across the country!