Panelists share experiences with transgender identity

A panel of two men and two women discussed personal journeys and issues faced associated with the transgender and transsexual community on Wednesday April 24. This panel was created as part of the service learning for the Real World Geneseo program.

President and founder of The Self Made Men Jason Robert Ballard and Vice President Rowan Collins represented their company. According to The Self Made Men official website, they “educate and promote awareness of our existence, needs and normalcy to individuals and groups in both the GLBT and Allied communities.”

Ballard started the discussion by sharing his personal experience.

“I was a pubescent girl developing female parts that I didn’t want,” he said. “I decided I never wanted to be associated with the terms transsexual or lesbian. Neither felt like me, neither fit.”

He spoke of his coming out to himself after many years of denial and then to his family.

“When I turned 18, my whole family gave me new pronouns for my birthday,” he said.

Collins then shared his story.

“I knew from a very early age that I didn’t like all of this girly stuff that was associated with little girls,” he said. “One of my first sentences was, ‘No more dresses.’”

“In my sophomore year in high school I met my first trans friend. He saw something in me I didn’t want to see and wasn’t ready to admit,” Collins said. “I started a different path I thought I was going to be on, but my entire life is revolving around helping others figure out their identities.”

Emily Henninger, a third member of the panel, spoke about her experience.

“I am here because I want to demystify the trans identity,” she said. “The more these discussions happen, the less interesting it gets.”

Henninger spoke about presenting herself as neither gender and spending much time alone.

“When I was in my early 20s, I just wasn’t happy anymore,” she said. “I was suppressing my true self. I decided to make some changes. I was fired from my job during transformation because I wasn’t conforming. I don’t really know how to end my story because it is still going.”

The final speaker Averen Gosha said she has been transgender for 12 years.

“I’ve always known there was something different about me since I was six,” she said. “My voice has always been high; I’ve always been told I did girly things. I was subjected to a lot of bullying.”

Gosha also spoke about her experiences growing up.

“I never knew what a transsexual or transgender person was in my teens,” she said. “When I was about 18, I came out to my mom and said ‘I think I’m gay but I’m not sure.’ She didn’t take it well and didn’t speak to me for a couple of weeks.”

“It was a rocky road applying to jobs because my license said male but I looked female,” Gosha said. “I am comfortable with myself now.”

Collins spoke about the issue of job security related to trans discrimination.

“There are pockets of protection in certain areas in New York state; however there isn’t anything statewide,” he said. “For example, Rochester has this legislation but the surrounding suburbs don’t.”

Henninger ended with advice to college students about the transgender community.

“Don’t pay specific attention to people who are trans,” she said. “Ignore it but don’t be ignorant to it. Be cool with it.”