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UNL LGBTQA advocate: Jenner case brings more trans students forward

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Pat Tetreault, director of the LGBTQA+ Resource Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says she’s getting a lot more questions from and on behalf of transgender and transsexual people in the months since Bruce Jenner began his public transformation into Caitlyn Jenner.    Caitlyn Jenner came out on the cover of Vanity Fair this week.

Though she doesn’t have statistics  – UNL does not track whether students identify as transgender –Tetreault  said requests for resources and referrals are now dominated by transgender issues. It’s a challenging, specialized area that people know little about.

The questions aren’t so much “Am I transgender?” as they are requests of practical information, such as where to obtain hormones, how to find a friendly doctor, where to find housing and how to change records. She also is getting more requests for information from faculty, staff and advisers who are working with students who have come out to them.

She dismisses the idea that youth might be “copycatting” a celebrity’s actions.

“Changing a gender is not like going and getting a new haircut.  A lot of people get counseling first. It’s not like they just make this decision, ‘I’m going to change my gender.’” she said. “This is a big deal; it takes effort and work and there’s a lot of misunderstanding, ignorance, prejudice and discrimination.  I don’t think people jump on the bandwagon.”

Tetreault said Jenner has been a strong role model for trans youth.

“I think Caitlyn Jenner, like most trans individuals, is a brave person. I also think that her taking a public stand will help with raising awareness and can help shift attitudes,” Tetreault said.

Although Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover might reinforce some stereotypes about feminine beauty, it dispels many others, she added.

“A lot of people think of transwomen as being men in drag,” Tetreault said.  ”She looks beautiful.  Yes, she is airbrushed and has make-up on, but so are most people who appear on magazine covers.  Clearly Caitlyn doesn’t look like Bruce Jenner in a dress. She doesn’t look scary. ”

Tytus Zink, a transgender student who volunteers at the resource center, said he is inspired by Jenner’s example.

“This is a person who was considered the pinnacle of masculinity, a heart throb,” Zink said. “The fact that somebody like that could be grappling with gender issues their entire lives, it sets an example for the people who feel like they’re not the gender they seem. If somebody like Caitlyn Jenner can come out, anybody could.”

Tetreault and Zink can be reached through the LGBTQA+ Resource Center, at (402) 472-1652.  Tetreault also can be contacted at her email address, ptetreault1@unl.edu.