Reading Guide: January 2021 Meeting

Reading Questions for "Trans* in College: Transgender Students’ Strategies for Navigating Campus Life and Institutional Politics of Inclusion" by Z. Nicolazzo

Image of the book "Trans in College" by Z. NicolazzoQuestions by Silviana Amethyst and Stephanie Rytilahti

Chapter 1 – Situating the Study

  • Identify a new perspective on a word or concept in this chapter with which you were already familiar. Dissect how you arrived at your previous understanding, and how the new perspective differs from yours.
  • Nicolazzo describes how a gender binary exists on individual, institutional, and systemic levels for college students. What are some examples of these on your campus?  How does the gender binary change when mediated by other markers of identity?
  • Nicolazzo highlights a tension between the benefits of trans legibility and the cost of needing to become ‘culturally intelligible’ to others. How does this tension intersect with the resilience model ze uses to frame the book (as opposed to a deficit model commonly used by administrators)?
  • Contextualize this first chapter against the five years that have passed since its writing. What has changed in the literature, particularly the overlap between disability studies and queer and trans* studies?

Chapter 2 – A Review of Trans*-related Research

  • In this chapter and others throughout the book, Nicolazzo resists firm definitions (or prescriptive frameworks) as a way to explore both the capaciousness of trans identities and the instability of frameworks used to delimit them. How does this approach intersect with other conversations surrounding gender performativity and the social construction of gender?
  • The section “Communities of difference” emphasizes the variety of identities and concerns within the trans* community. How can other communities (particularly one you belong to) benefit from viewing them as communities of difference, rather than communities of similitude? How does Nicolazzo rework kinship to expand upon this idea?
  • Reflect on the statement “Although people make strong claims in support of both sides of the nature/nurture divide … such either/or thinking can be dangerous. Relate this to the concepts of homogeneity and heterogeneity. (p. 30)
  • How does covering manifest at your primary institution? (p. 35)
  • Nicolazzo importantly places hir study of trans identities in conversation with intersectionality—developing a framework of convergences and divergences throughout each subsequent chapter. How did this approach elucidate the varied situations trans* students navigate on a campus like CU (or what Nicolazzo describes as ‘thinking with theory’).

Chapter 3 – Gender Binary Discourse

  • This chapter describes CU and the students in the study. In what ways do the institution and people resemble your own institutional community?
  • How does Nicolazzo underscore how gender binaries/compulsory heterogenderism are built into physical spaces, the habits of the student body, extracurricular activities, and functions of daily living such as dining and housing? (“a constellation of words, phrases, actions, rules, (written and unwritten) and social realities that regulated ‘appropriate’ gender identities, expressions, and embodiments on campus”), 63.
  • CU has organizations and spaces for LGBTQ people. What does your institution have?  How have you interacted with the spaces, and the people they serve? How can these spaces exist simultaneously as places of inclusion and exclusion?
  • The descriptions of the participants include their relationships to CU and other individuals. Compose a description of yourself in the relational style modeled by Nicolazzo.
  • Describe the gender discourse at your own institution, in your own unit. How do you think these nine students would interact with it, shape it, or be made im/possible by it?

Chapter 4 – Compulsory Heterogenderism

  • Define compulsory heterogenderism (p. 76)
  • How have you been affected by compulsory heterogenderism at your institution? How have you propagated it?  How is your school different from CU?
  • 85 describes Silvia’s experience at CU. “… Silvia was caught in an endless loop in which she was expected to be heterosexual and comfortable talking about her presumed heterosexuality and to be involved in organizations for black women, which she had been encouraged to join specifically because others perceived her as being an excellent Black woman…”  How does this impossible situation reflect the complicated effects of compulsory heterogenderism and its complex overlap with intersectionality?
  • How can we better serve our students and community members, to allow more self-identification?

Chapter 5 – Resilience as a Verb

  • Nicolazzo describes resilience not as something people automatically possess or perfect but something they practice over time. In this framework, resilience shifts depending on context.  How does this understanding of the term highlight how students can sometimes bypass or overcome different forms of trans* oppression?
  • Name three ways you are resilient. Describe how you practice this, rather than be this.
  • What’s your key to instilling resilience in our students, selves, and communities?
  • How does your institution enable resilience? What can you change, to enhance this?
  • How do some academic departments at CU reinforce gender binaries while others offer spaces which are more inclusive for queer and trans* students?
  • Does your institution have residential living for LGBTQ persons? What other groups have specific residences?
  • How does Nicolazzo’s framing of resilience offer possibilities for resisting and undermining other compulsory forms of oppressions?

Chapter 6 – The (Tiring) Labor of Practicing Trans* Genders

  • Reflect on the statement (p. 108) “… [T]he commodification of diverse genders and sexualities as something to be discussed, dissected, distributed, and understood suggests that one’s very identity is imbued with the potential to be traded, sold, or purchased like any good.” Specify to your institution.
  • On pages 111-112, Nicolazzo describes how trans* students both comply with and resist gender binaries and compulsory heterogenderism (even using an example from a moment when ze contributed to notions of gender binarism). These actions reflect resilience and moments of survival and self-care. Did you agree with this assessment?  Is there another framework to more accurately capture these negotiations?
  • Much of this chapter focused on exhaustion and the demand placed on trans* students to educate cisgendered students and serve as spokespersons for a normative trans identity that does not exist. Nicolazzo also complicates visibility, the politics of representation, and the overlap of these dynamics with white privilege (116-117). How are these scenarios in conversation with Sara Ahmed’s conclusions about diversity work?
  • On page 114, Nicolazzo writes “Raegan’s comment also reveals something that is perhaps more frustrating. Raegan mentioned not wanting to correct people because of potentially being perceived as “nitpicky”, “repetitive”, or “particular”, all of which were conveyed as being pejorative.”  Describe an instance when you felt like a nuisance for standing up for yourself.  What can we do as leaders, to help reduce this?

Chapter 7 – A Constellation of Kinship Networks

  • Describe your kinship network.
  • How have kinship networks changed due to the pandemic? What comes after the pandemic is over?
  • Have you relied on virtual kinship networks? Relate to representation.
  • The students in this study have a wide variety of experiences in academic departments, regarding kinship. What do you know about how your unit is seen?  How would you know?

Chapter 8 — Implications

  • In “Moving Beyond Best Practices” (p. 140), Nicolazzo writes “when taking a critical trans politics approach to gender equity, the notion of best practices is increasingly reaching for a singular point of arrival, which, on further investigation, is a utopian myth.” What does the author mean?  How has your institution relied on best practices, and in turn covered up practices? Again, how does Ahmed’s work contribute to this idea?
  • Nicolazzo offers a series of guidelines (not prescriptions) in this chapter for normalizing trans* inclusivity as part of structural diversity and institutional policies. Is this happening on your campus? What are the barriers and successes?
  • How does Nicolazzo challenge retention as the primary metric for assessing the resilience of trans* collegians?
  • Nicolazzo suggests a trickle-up approach to creating equity, by focusing first on the most marginalized. Who are the people to focus on at your institution?  What’s next?  What’s stopping you?
  • How would “an epistemology of love” transform your work, your unit, your institution? (p. 152)