Author: Anna-James Wipfler, Transweek at Yale and Yale LGBTQ Co-op Coordinator, 2006–2010
Trans/gender Awareness Week at Yale was founded in the spring of 2004 by a Yale undergraduate who was, at the time, serving as the events coordinator of the Women’s Center. One part of this position was to create a weeklong speaker series, and he decided he wanted the series to explore clashes within feminism. After consulting with a knowledgeable professor, he decided to narrowly focus on feminism and trans issues.
Originally dubbed Trans Issues Week (or Trans Week, for short) and working from a humble budget, it consisted of a few panels, a couple speakers, some performances, and a film screening. The student had meant this to be one-time event, but he soon discovered that people, frustrated with the campus’ lack of dialogue surrounding diverse issues of gender identity and expression, wanted more. Trans Week, he found, gave people a safe space to think about and discuss issues of gender, issues that – at the time – were not always welcome even within other queer spaces on campus. Slowly, what had began as a few isolated events began to expand into a behemoth of a program.
The program floated between the Women’s Center and the LGBT Co-op for a few years, before finally making its home within the Coop in the spring of 2007. In the 2007-2008 academic year, Trans Week relocated to the fall semester and is now considered the fall equivalent of Pride Month (also organized by the Yale LGBT Student Cooperative and held annually in April). Since November 2008, Trans Week organizers have been offering the student body not just a week’s worth of events, but a fortnight’s worth. In both temporal expansiveness and intellectual range, Trans Week is to gender what Pride Month is to sexuality.
Additionally, in the fall of 2007, Trans Week replaced “Issues” with “Awareness,” becoming Trans Awareness Week, a change symbolizing a shift from issue- and problem-related terminology to a focus on one of Trans Week’s goals: to make the campus more aware of topics such as gender identity and expression.
In 2010, Trans Week once more re-branded itself, this time to bridge the disconnect that had arisen between the title of the program and the events themselves. Trans Week has always included not only transgender related programming, but also events on the topic of intersex identities and experiences and events about other genderqueer and non-conforming people (such as butches and femmes, drag performers, and many who simply don’t identify). As the program continued to develop into a space to talk about both transgender issues and about gender issues of many other kinds, however, it became clear that a name change was in order.
It seemed wrong to continue lumping such a wide range of people and identities into the category “transgender,” however much of an umbrella category it may be. As such, in order to make the title of the program reflect a broader range of experiences and in order to avoid misrepresenting some of the people the program meant to be representing by foisting upon them an identity category with which they may not identify, Trans Awareness Week added “/gender” to its title, formally becoming Trans/gender Awareness Week.
This shift in name was meant to help call attention to all kinds of gender diversity and to help the program take a step toward better reflecting the belief from which each of the program’s events stems – that at the heart of trans-related issues lies gender. Trans/gender Awareness Week at Yale aims to explore these very issues of transgender identity and of gendered experience that the history of its programming and its title’s evolution themselves reflect.