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Davis, California

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Being trans* in a binary world


Transphobia victim, LQBTQIA community intern, genderqueer student discuss cultural discrimination

It is known that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) community in the United States faces immense discrimination, stemming from influences such as religion and cultural beliefs. Although discrimination towards this community can seem intense in the U.S., prejudices are still no match compared to some other countries, where related topics such as gay marriage are unlawful and can be punishable by imprisonment or death.

“[Discrimination] also occurs on the socio-cultural level; in other words, it is embedded in social constructions of gender, pervasive devaluing of certain gender identities and expressions,” said Director of the UC Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center (LGBTQIARC) Elizabeth Coté, in an email interview. “All the attitudes and beliefs that are then used by dominant group members — in this case, cisgender people — in order to dehumanize, control and exploit target group members — [such as trans people].”

A recent incident in the UC Davis community with a transgender student who faced extreme backlash from their family after being forced to come out is just one example of how different cultures treat the LGBTQIA community.


Second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major Shivani Bhatt identifies as a transgender male. When his mother discovered he was trans,* he said she did not approve. Last summer, his mother told him they were going on their usual summer vacation in India, but that this time his grandmother was ill. This, however, was not truly the case.

“I think that after colonization [of India] and the laws that are still in place today as a result of colonization, it has created this air of extreme conservatism within many communities,” Bhatt said. “People like my parents have this different outlook on what a true Indian is supposed to be and there is a very strict binary regarding to sexuality and gender.”

In the middle of their trip, Bhatt’s mother revealed to him that he was not going back to the U.S., and left Bhatt helpless and without his documents — which his mother had taken into her possession illegally. Although at first he found himself contactless and without his documents, Bhatt was able to get into contact with his friend and began the legal process of getting out of India.

In India, his parents had enrolled him in a local college, and he was able to access the Internet there for one hour everyday. He initially contacted the National Center for Lesbian Rights in America and they put him into contact with Nazariya, a queer feminist resource group in India. The group then found a way to get Bhatt away from his parents and begin the legal battle to get him out of India.

Shivani won the court case and took back his documents, and was then able to return to Davis. Bhatt said that this win was a big for India, as it was a surprising verdict in favor of the trans* community.

“It was basically the first time the law has been applied to at least trans people while recognizing our full rights as human beings,” Bhatt said. “I know that a lot of people in the government, like the police force, [are] just so ingrained [in the culture] and so full of bigotry that people overlook the fact that we do have rights.”

The term “transgender” is often used to describe people who do not identify with the gender that was assigned to them at birth. While this is part of its meaning, it does not capture the entire meaning of the word.

“Trans* is an umbrella term and you could be anywhere from non-binary to gender non-conforming to a gender

under that trans* umbrella — so it’s not just trans men trans women,” said Tori Porter, third-year gender, sexuality and women’s studies major and LGBTQIARC community intern. “I’m genderqueer, so what that means for me is I prefer gender neutral pronouns. I don’t fit well into the gender binary [because] I don’t identify as either a woman or a man.”

The UC Davis LGBTQIARC Glossary defines many of the identities outside the gender binary. It is considered a form of discrimination to refer to individuals outside of their terms or gender pronouns that they identify with.

“The gender binary is an example of the sociocultural level of the larger system of oppression,” Coté said in the email. “It is a network of attitudes and beliefs that is used as a tool to reinforce a hierarchy where cisgender and gender-conforming people are considered superior to trans and gender-non-conforming individuals.”

Race and ethnicity also play a large role in discrimination towards the LGBTQIA community. Race or ethnicity can be doubly oppressive to a trans* person, as it sometimes brings along more discrimination based on the culture’s stance on these topics.

“We have to actively think about those identities when we walk out the door,” Porter said. “[Being black], I have to walk in a certain way so that people don’t find me threatening.”

In Bhatt’s case, his ethnicity hindered his identity development, as his parents’ cultural values disagreed with his identity.  

“A big concept to talk about when it comes to the intersection between being trans* and being of color, of being of low socio-economic background, is access,” said Matthew Reese, a second-year linguistics major who identifies as genderqueer. “If you’re trans and you’re white and you’re rich, you can buy any clothes you want to fit how you dress, you can get any surgeries that you want, you can get any hormone — you can access a lot of spaces that other people can’t.”

Not all trans* people are able to cope with the difficulties of their identity, due to  lack of resource access and support. Organizations like the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Nazariya try to help those without resources to the best of their ability.

Bhatt’s ordeal serves as an example of the fear and misunderstanding that those who are a part of the trans* community feel. However, there are ways to become an ally for those who wish to be. The LQBTQIARC is one way for those in the community who believes these issues are important to becomes involved.

“I am a person. We are all people,” Bhatt said. “I am honestly not that much different than the general community of people that are not trans* or are maybe heterosexual.”



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