By Bri Oldham, Cleveland Foundation Equity Communications and Engagement Fellow
Transgender Awareness Week is the week leading up to Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual observance on Nov. 20 that honors the memory of transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. This is typically a time when transgender people and their allies share stories and experiences and advocate for the transgender community. For many, including myself, this week has personal significance.
My entire life it seems, I’ve been part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community. I knew from an early age that I identified as bisexual, but when I was younger, I didn’t call it that. I didn’t know what to call it. I’m sure I’m not alone in that experience because our culture hasn’t always done a great job of recognizing the broad spectrum of human identities and orientations. As time went on, I developed relationships with people that represented every part of the group – except trans. That is, until I met Drew. He and I met through a cousin at her birthday party. I thought we would only hang out with my cousin, but Drew and I forged our own friendship. It was during this time that I saw him live out loud and be unapologetically himself, which made me grateful our paths crossed.
Both Drew and I were born and raised in Cleveland and were excited to recently learn about a transgender literature course taught by Gabrielle Mary-Willow Bychowski, Ph.D., at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). As a recent graduate, a course like the one Dr. Bychowski teaches, “Transgender Literature: Gender Diversity and Reading Beyond Stereotypes,” would have garnered interest and made me want to sign up. While it’s estimated that nearly 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender – and many more know and love somebody who is transgender – it remains an identity that is still widely misunderstood in our society and popular culture. This makes the work of people like Dr. Bychowski, herself a queer trans woman, all the more important and urgent.
Only in its second year, Dr. Bychowski teaches two sections of the course, and maybe – confirmation in progress – the first college-level course by the name “transgender literature.” It examines a variety of stereotypes about transgender people and the current rhetoric being used by anti-transgender movements. The course also explores five literary archetypes in trans literature and film that respond to the false claims and stereotypes about the trans community: the Trans Monster, the Trans Warrior, the Trans Lover, the Trans Performer, and the Trans Artist.
In addition to her primary work as an educator, Dr. Bychowski is also a researcher and writer. For the past four years she has been the Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellow at CWRU and is the second Anisfield-Wolf scholar to be hired there. At CWRU, she teaches courses based on and inspired by the archive of Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards winners. This includes her seminar “Queer Christianity,” which uses The Gay Revolution by Lillian Faderman as its textbook as well as “Monsters and Disability,” which uses Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon and Gods of the Upper Air by Charles King as the primary texts for the class.
Blazing a trail with the course she teaches and the work she’s done in her career thus far, it comes as no surprise that Dr. Bychowski works to help plan events for Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance, including the annual events hosted by the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. To see the Center’s events and learn how you can get involved beyond this week, please visit http://lgbtcleveland.org/transinthecle/. Today and every day, we remember trans lives lost and pledge to be better allies in this fight for a more inclusive future.