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What it’s like to be a transgender student in 2018

by Alena Blanes

“Growing up, I didn’t have anyone that looked like me that I could look up to. So I became that person.” 

Kris and I have been friends for almost three years. We meet back in first-year while bonding over typography jokes and alternative music.

To me, he has always been the definition of a great friend. He works hard, will do anything for those he cares about, and is so knowledgeable. In honour of Transgender Day of Remembrance, I chatted with him on his experience as a transgender Canadian in 2018.

This is his story.

Kristopher Phillips, a member of the LGBTQ community, poses in greenhouse

Kris grew up in Brampton, Ontario in a Christian-Jamaican household. These days, he has a strong group of friends and family support. But it wasn’t easy from the start. When he first came out to his family, he was given an ultimatum. “It was either be trans or live here,” he said. “There was a lot of ‘What would God say about this?’.”

Seeking refuge in his ethnic community was a challenge too. “In Brampton, there was a very small Caribbean population. And if there were any, they still held strong ideologies from Jamaica.” Although Jamaicans have freedom of expression rights, that doesn’t mean they don’t experience discrimination. “You can have your beliefs for sure, but you can still very well get shot,” he said.

Student Kris Phillips poses with Karate trophies

As he graduated high school and began studying at the University of Guelph-Humber in 2016, things did not get easier. Misgendering is a common issue in the LGBTQ+ community. Professors can often come off as intimidating or embarrassing to trans folk. In the first week of school, Kris emailed his professors letting them know his preferred name. Despite his best efforts, he was put on the spot in the middle of class. “It was the first week of university and everyone was looking at me confused. It made me feel so embarrassed,” he said.

As educators, there are better ways to approach naming situations that don’t put the student on the spot. Kris suggested to be discreet, and if a professor is confused to email the student outside of class. Bottom line, just don’t embarrass. “Just treat me like every other student.”

When it comes to the confusion surrounding the community, no question is a dumb question. It’s just how you phrase it.

“You would never go up to a cisgender person and ask them how they have sex. So, how does that make it okay to ask me?”

After a couple years of enduring identification ordeals, he began his legal name change.

The process requires two letters of recommendation from a general practitioner and a psychiatrist. The application was $137 and the new birth certificate was another $37. “If you are diligent it can take anywhere from five months to a year–and that’s a good case scenario,” he said.

And then there was OSAP.

While undergoing his name change, Kris had come to a roadblock. The name on his student card and his OSAP application did not match up. His funding was denied, and he was de-enrolled from classes.

“If someone isn’t as strong-willed, and is self-conscious, this could be the end of their university career.” His story is a strong indicator of where post-secondary administrations and OSAP could relay better communication.

Student Kris Phillips holds up his legal name change documents

Despite his best efforts, misgendering in the classroom wasn’t the only the only place he felt uncomfortable. Before starting testosterone in late 2017, his voice was a lot higher. “Work was horrible. I remember clients would say, ‘Oh yes that lady helped me,’ and my manager would look around confused.” After losing weight and four months on testosterone, he was denied entry to a local bar. Medical practitioners gave him the hardest time. “I think hospitals were the worst of them all,” he shared.

Misgendering can be fixed easily with education. All it takes is a polite question.

Outside the classroom, there is also an issue of representation on campus. “[Humber’s LGBTQ+] Resource Centre is definitely one of the more substantial ones I’ve seen, but I’d like to see some interaction, like a panel of community speakers that could educate students.” The more we normalize the community, the better.

Representation issues prevail within the community as well. For the trans-feminine community, it’s even more difficult. As a trans-masculine individual, there are aids that can assist with gender dysphoria. “Even with packers, I find it difficult to find one that matches my skin colour,” he says. “But I know the trans-feminine community has it ten times worse.”

Some inspiring LGBTQ+ activists he looks up to are Stef Sanjati, Aydian Dowling, and Chase Ross. Ironically, they are all white. “It’s a very one-sided narrative,” he commented. Without a doubt, we need more minorities and people of colour to step forward in the community.

But fear of persecution prevails.

The political climate for the LGBTQ+ community is dangerous. While the United States has more overt discourse surrounding racism and transphobia, Kris argues Canada is just as bad. “We’re just quiet about it–polite racism, I like to say.”

In Toronto, our tolerance doesn’t come without prejudice. “Microaggressions–like clutching your purse when I get in an elevator, crossing the street when I’m walking on the same side, or side eyes in hospital rooms–they’re obvious!”

The political climate is indeed dangerous. Groups are being victimized every day. But we should take it as a lesson.

“Trans folk have always been around. But never had a voice until now. Now that we’re using the voice, people see it as aggressive,” he shared.

But how exactly can we normalize discourse without proper education? In Canada, our sex education curriculum is poor. It lacks funding and effort. “People will Google aliens and everything under the sun but will never pick up a resource on the trans community,” he commented.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that trans individuals are not seen as such. They are not an “other”, they are not a separate entity, they are human beings. They are visible, and they matter.

Kristopher Phillips, a member of the LGBTQ community, poses in greenhouse

But there is hope.

Before his transition, he felt nobody would listen to him. He wasn’t taken seriously while presenting as female. From hospital rooms, to work settings, there is a definite privilege between males and female-presenting individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. Nowaways, he feels he has found his place in the Toronto creator community.

As a creative, Kris sees himself as a member of the vibrant emerging artistic community in the city, a safe space for many. “I’m a creative mind and I’d like to be seen as such.”

When asked the number one thing he has learned on his journey, Kris had to this to say:

“People are going to try you every day. Be strong, be patient, and be kind. Not just to others but be kind to yourself. Those are the most important lessons.”

On Transgender Remembrance Day, we commemorate those we lost in the fight for equality.


Enjoyed this article? Check out our last Student Spotlight, featuring Lakeshore student, Antonia Butler.

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