Beyond the binary: Speaker talks about living as a transgender person in the U.S.

A large crowd of students gathered in the Quirk Sponberg Theatre for a frank discussion on gender as part of the event “Beyond the Binary” on Tuesday.

The event featured speaker Noelle Cook, who is transgender. 

Noelle provided insight on the role of gender in society highlighting the differences between cultures.

She explained genders that exist in certain non-Western cultures, such as the “hijra” of Pakistan and India who identify as neither male nor female.

Other cultures with third genders include the Samoans and native Hawaiians, the latter of which have the “mahu,” an esteemed group whom Noelle described as being primarily domestic but not female.

Noelle clarified the definitions of several commonly confused terms, particularly gender identity, which she described as one’s “personal experience with their own gender.”

“A person’s gender is only a very, very tiny part of them and it mostly depends on their own experience,” Noelle said.

Following the short, informative session, Noelle invited attendees to ask her about any aspect of transgender life they were curious about.

No topic was off-limits -- Noelle shared stories of discrimination and the hardships she faced since beginning her physical transition 13 months ago, such as having experienced difficulty receiving medical care and being refused service when the gender on her ID did not match the gender she presented.

According to Noelle, one in 12 transgender people will be murdered and 41 percent end up taking their own lives. Additionally, while the transgender population is only estimated to be .5 percent of the population, about 10 percent of crimes are directed toward them.

Despite these unpleasant aspects of transitioning, Noelle remains confident and content with her gender identity.

“I’d rather risk being that one in 12 or 41 percent to experience who I really am,” she said. “I am so much more at peace.”


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