Letter to Senior Tutors
This is the letter we are sending to Senior Tutors. We’re under the impression that they are the primary people to contact if we want to get legislation put through congregation. Warning: this may be a slow process.
Dear Senior Tutor,
I am writing to request the support of the college in a project LGBTQ Campaigns is running. It has come to our attention that there are many ways in which Oxford University, its colleges; faculties and facilities could be made a safer environment for trans* people to express their identities. Sexual and gender identity is, I am sure you will agree, a very complex issue, with which academics the world over struggle, seeking in vain for neat categorisations and definitions, when the fact is that there are as many identities as there are individuals who have considered it, and this is no less true for sex and gender as identity constituents. Therefore, I will refrain from explaining my personal understanding of gender, and instead simply refer to an ideal that virtually all of humanity shares; to treat people equally regardless of who they are, where they have come from or where they are going.
For some people under the trans* umbrella, every day is a gauntlet of jibes, insults and hurtful red tape. The simplest of things, like going to the toilet, forces them to misrepresent their gender to themselves and others, or go without. This campaign believes that Oxford University should be leading the way, as the oldest and one of the most well-respected centres of thought in the world, in the liberation of trans* people from the institutional elements of this daily trial.
Despite the University’s reputation for institutional inertia, Oxford has recently begun to show that it is a forward-thinking, broad-minded institution, and many things that would previously have caused trouble to trans* individuals, such as changing one’s name, have become relatively easy. However, there are any number of other issues that may not seem immediately obvious to most people, but we believe ought to be addressed by the university as a whole. We are attempting to introduce motions across JCRs to solicit their support in what they can do, but there are several issues which we believe only Congregation or a similar body can address.
These issues devolve into a couple of main areas. Firstly, there is the matter of dress, particularly sub-fusc. It seems a silly thing to get worked up about, but the uniform does very clearly define people by gender. We have asked JCRs to no longer specify genders when advertising dress codes for events: for example, rather than asking that men wear suits and women dresses, ask that suits or dresses be worn (with no relation to gender). Obviously breaking or seemingly breaking a specified dress code like the former would probably result in jibes and unfair treatment; sadly, in our current society, changing the codes to the latter form is unlikely to eradicate this completely, but at least it gives the wearer legitimacy, more confidence, and therefore, hopefully, will slowly acclimatise others to their difference. However, this is more complex with sub-fusc, where the risk in wearing what is perceived as the wrong clothing is more than snide comments but warnings or fines. No one I have talked to has seemed clear on the university’s current standing on this issue: I have told by a senior member of staff that I am obliged to wear a white bow tie, although I identify as feminine; a friend in a similar position has been told that they are registered with the university as female, and therefore not only allowed but obliged to wear a black ribbon. There are others who do not identify as either male or female and, within the confines of tradition, would like to be able to express that: by, for instance, wearing a skirt and a white bow tie. We believe that this would cause no real difference to the tradition of sub-fusc, and therefore would like to see a code where the materials of sub-fusc are specified, but the not tied to the gender of the wearer in any way.
Secondly, there is the matter of gender itself. While most people do identify as male or female (whether identified at birth as such or not), there are a large number of individuals who feel very strongly that they do not belong in either category. We believe that their gender identity should be respected, that their choice of pronoun or title should be respected, and that therefore they should be able to be entered on the university records in that form. (I believe that currently one can only be male or female, and has a very limited choice of titles.) This binary choice means that some people are unable to express the gender correctly, which damages the statistics, and far more so the person themselves. We therefore think that university documents should allow people, if they do not identify as male or female, to write in their gender as they perceive it. Even better, perhaps those documents which do not require a gender – which surely must be a great many – could not ask for it at all.
Thirdly, there is the issue of toilets. Something this simple can be a huge hang-up for any trans* person: sometimes they feel they cannot enter any without fear of comment. The obvious solution is to make all toilets gender-neutral; this is also obviously impractical and has problems in terms of safe spaces, especially for women, etc. But we would like to see more buildings with gender-neutral toilets. Possibly one solution would be for all buildings that have sufficient toilets in them to be able to easily designate one gender-neutral to do so; for trans* people to be allowed to use disabled toilets, where they exist; and for any new building work to consider how gender-neutral toilets could be included in their planning.
These are the three major ways in which we believe that the university can act to make trans* people’s lives comfortable, so that they are treated as equally as those who have never had need to question the gender society enforces on them. We truly think that these changes will have an important impact on the trans* people’s lives. We would be very grateful if you would lend your support to this campaign, however you may. If you would like to get in touch to discuss the issues in this letter any further, we would love to talk to you.
With thanks in advance for your kind support,
Oxford University Genderless Campaign
(Trans* is an inclusive term, the * standing as a wildcard to allow any modifier.)