by Leanna Keyes, ‘14
I have this internal struggle at least once a month where I question the course of my life. Specifically, I wonder about being at Stanford University. This is a world of incredible privilege, and I don’t just mean the backgrounds of the people. I don’t have to worry about buying healthy food, my co-op provides it for me. I receive high quality medical care at the drop of a hat. While my housing can be psychologically dangerous (i.e. verbal transphobia) I am by and large physically safe. We have a well-stocked and well-staffed LGBT Community Resources Center. I have easy and ready access to a wide variety of activist organizations. If I experience hostility, there are well-defined procedures in place for me to seek recourse. I have access to jobs with excellent working conditions that fit flexibly into my course schedule.
Presumably, I have earned the rights to these privileges. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I earned the grades and performed on the standardized tests and wrote what the admissions counselors were looking for, and now here I am. Although, now that I’ve been educated about the interlocking systems of oppression and privileging that I suffered and benefited from, I really wish we used other metrics to determine college admissions. That is a topic for another day.
I’m not saying that Stanford is without its problems. This may be the best institution in the world for me right now (as a trans person), but that doesn’t mean it is perfect. That doesn’t even mean it is good. Every time I am called the wrong name by staff, every time I get misgendered (deliberately or accidentally, both of which happen on a fairly regular basis), every time I get a paycheck addressed to the wrong name, every time I have to fight to get housing with adequate provisions for my situation, that is a struggle. That is aggression by a cisnormative, cissexist, priviliged institution that I fight to reform so that the next generation of trans students doesn’t have to.
But at least once a month, I think: Really? You’re worried about whether the staff at Vaden Health Center call you by the right name? Your people are DYING every day because they are denied access to health care at all. Your people are beaten. Your people are being killed. And not just killed; murdered. A plurality of anti-LGBT violence happens to trans women, and ESPECIALLY trans women of color. This doesn’t even touch on the classist approach to trans-specific health care that the medical community embraces (briefly: Trans people, in general, are wildly discriminated against in the workforce, and have very few financial resources. The medical community requires exorbant and costly therapy before ‘allowing’ us access to medically neccessary procedures, such as hormone replacement therapy, which is not cheap. Remember, all of this is done ‘for your own good,’ to ‘protect’ us.)
I am in an INCREDIBLY privileged position relative to the rest of my people. What gives ME the right to Stanford University? Why not another of my trans siblings? There are activists who devote their entire lives to helping homeless trans youth on the streets of San Francisco. What the hell gives me the right to study drama at Stanford? Why am I pursuing a degree in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity rather than working for an anti-racist non-profit? What makes ME so goddamn special?
Our ivory tower was built upon the backs of the oppressed, is maintained by the oppressed, ignores the oppressed. What gives me the right to live in a lap of luxury when my people are being murdered?
Leanna Keyes is a radical queer transgender activist who will most likely be double majoring in Drama and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.