Multigenerational panel discussion illuminates transgender perspectives on Geneseo campus

People of all shapes, sizes, interests and genders filled Newton Lecture Hall to discuss the lives of transgender individuals in the Geneseo community on Thursday Nov. 9. 

Posters from the Nov. 8 Unity Rally lined the stairs of Newton Hall at “Trans? Fine by Me” on Thursday Nov. 9 (pictured top). Panelists from all walks of life (pictured lower) spoke on their experiences with gender identity during the event. (Izzy Graziano/knights’ life editor)

Pride Alliance hosted “Trans? Fine by Me,” where a panel of transgender individuals answered questions about their experiences at Geneseo. 

The panel included biochemistry major senior Quinn Johanson, who uses xe/xir pronouns, psychology major senior Felix Laneri, who uses he/they pronouns, Geneseo alumna and CIT web developer Jane Bechdol, who uses she/her pronouns, Geneseo alum and Interim Chief Diversity Officer robbie routenberg, who uses they/them pronouns and political science major senior Olivia Clarke, who uses she/her pronouns.

In this discussion, transgender was defined as any individual who identifies with a sex different than that assigned at birth. The individual, however, did not necessarily have to be medically or physically transitioning.

 This is not the first event of this kind to be held at Geneseo. The Pride Alliance hosts a “LGBTQ? Fine by Me” event either every year or every other year. This semester, the organization wanted to hold the event due to recent transgender controversies surrounding adjunct professor of sociology David Sorbello. While the episode in Sorbello’s classroom was not the main focus of the event, the discussion did touch on issues surrounding the investigation. 

“I learned about the Sorbello incident from students and from Buzzfeed instead of through a timely and clear statement from the administration,” Johanson said. “I was upset because it was an unsafe situation for trans-people that I was not alerted to.” 

Overall, students on the panel did not seem pleased with how the school has dealt with Sorbello, and they are waiting to see what comes from the investigation. 

The panelists also addressed how life as a transgender individual is for them on-campus. Most student panelists, however, shared that they have been misgendered and this has negatively affected them in their classrooms. Laneri, on the other hand, spoke about a positive experience he had with a professor,

“I’m taking a class with my Chinese professor who’s very traditional Chinese. The first day of classes she goes over the rules. You can’t cross your legs, and you have to sit up straight, that’s how traditional she is,” Laneri said. “So, I was really scared to tell her I was changing my name. She was like ‘Oh, Felix, that is a very beautiful name, that’s great’.” 

The general consensus on being misgendered was that all of the speakers hope people will refrain from assuming their identities. The panelists would like people to ask first and try to use the pronouns with which they each identify. 

“I have been misgendered a lot, as I think every trans-person can say,” Clarke said. “The thing about being misgendered is it always hurts more when it’s someone close to you.”

Each panelist also explained when they came out to themselves and to others. When routenberg was a student at Geneseo, there were no specific terms to describe trans-people. 

“The only definition that I had of the trans-identity was, somebody who was female body identifying as a male, and somebody who was male body identifying as a woman,” routenberg said. 

It wasn’t until many years later, after talking with a group of people sharing their own identity classifications, that routenberg decided to identify as a pangender person. 

Society has come a long way in the acceptance of transgender individuals. People and incidents that go against the trans-community, however, push back that growth of acceptance. The Geneseo community and world at large still have a far way to go in the welcoming of people of all identities.