Alex Pangborn began his "Trans 101" workshop last week by asking people to put on nametags that required more than the standard information.
My name is:
I identify as:
I prefer the following pronouns:
"Did everyone have fun with that?" he said. "I told some people if they wanted to put ‘unicorn' for their identity, that was fine. Your identity is your identity."
Pangborn's workshop was meant to highlight the diversity of the transgender population and help HCC student leaders, faculty and staff better appreciate the language associated with trans people and foster more respectful understanding and interaction on campus.
Pangborn graduated from HCC in 2012 with a nursing degree and now works as a registered nurse. He plans to specialize in health issues in the LGBTQ community and often speaks at colleges about his experiences as a transgender person, using his own story to help explain that gender, gender identification and sexual orientation are not always as clear cut as they may seem.
"Gender," he said, "is really subjective."
"How do you determine biological sex?" he asked.
"Reproductive organs" was one answer. "Chromosomes" was another.
"Anyone in this room ever had their chromosomes tested?" he asked. No one raised a hand.
"That's usually the answer I get," he said. "None."
Biological expression of gender does not necessarily reveal someone's true gender identity, he said. There are in fact myriads of gender identities. Native Americans have a term called "two-spirit." Others use the term "third gender," "transgender," "transsexual," "transqueer," and more.
"We have myriads and myriads that fall into that range," he said.
Pangborn self-identifies as a "genderqueer transman." He was born female, came out as lesbian as a teenager and now lives as a man, married to a woman.
He described himself as "pan sexual," a term that required explanation. "It's not about kitchenware," he joked. " It's saying I am attracted to people based on who they are and not what their gender identity is."
He likened gender identify and expression to a spectrum, as opposed to a choice between polar opposites.
"Bisexual suggests you have only two choices - men and women," he said. "That seems too restrictive to me."
People may not always be what they seem, he said. A flamboyant, cross-dressing man might not be gay, but a lesbian woman in a man's body.
Thinking about all the possibilities can be confusing, he acknowledged. He said he had a friend who was born female and transitioned in his 20s to a male and is now a gay man. As a female he appeared to be heterosexual, because he was attracted to men, but he had never felt he should be a woman.
Pangborn gave some advice to keep in mind when working with transgender students and staff:
• Avoid assuming a person's gender identify or sexual orientation.
• Avoid interrogating someone about their experience as transgender.
• Remember that not all transgender people identify as queer and that not all LGB people are accepting of or knowledgeable of transgendered people.
• Respect a person's pronouns and or name of choice.
• Avoid common but inappropriate questions, such as, What's your real name? Were you actually born the other way? Have you had the surgery?
• Never "out" someone or assume others know they are transgendered.
Pangborn has his own website where he discusses transgender issues in detail.
Photos: (Left) HCC alum Alex Pangborn, '12, leads a workshop called "Trans 101" for students and faculty. (Right) Student senator Paula Russell joins the discussion.