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Transgender talk set at Pacific

Biologist focuses on discrimination during evening presentation


As a child, Julia Serano knew something deep inside her was wrong. But it wasn't until years later that she heard a strange new word that described her problem: transgender.

She has since realized that her "problem" is just one of the many ways human nature expresses itself.

“It comes down to the fact that all people are fundamentally diverse,” Serano said. “And that applies to gender as well.”

Transgender is an umbrella term for people who defy society’s gender norms. It doesn’t necessarily describe sexual orientation, but rather gender identity and includes people who, in one way or another, identify with a different sex than the one assigned at birth.

One in 10 children are gender-nonconforming in a significant enough way that they experience discrimination, says Jenn Burleton, executive director of Portland-based TransActive Education & Advocacy.

Burleton gets her statistics from a 2012 Harvard School of Public Health study, which also found that one in every 300 people is transgender to the point that they change their gender.

Burleton's organization is currently serving about 150 gender-nonconforming children in the Portland metro area, including some in Forest Grove.

“There is still discussion about how much being transgender is about sexuality,” said Pacific University professor Martha Rampton. “It really has more to do with identity than sexuality.”

Rampton directs Pacific's Center for Gender Equity, where students researched Serano and requested that the center bring her to campus.

Serano, herself transgender, is a San Francisco-based biologist with a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Columbia University. She is also on the forefront of the transgender-rights movement and travels across the country sharing her story. Her next stop will be Thursday in Forest Grove.

Serano won acclaim for her first book, "Whipping Girl," and has a second — an essay collection — set to be released in the fall. Its working title, "Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive," hints at Serano's philosophy.

“The trans movement is not just to help transgender people,” Serano said, “Everyone on the planet has at some point felt they were doing their gender wrong. It’s a problem that all people face and we want people to be more free to be themselves.”

The feeling of doing one’s gender wrong is one Serano knows well. “As a kid I knew something wasn’t right with the way I was,” she said. “I went through a period from childhood to early adulthood when I was trying to make sense of my gender, but I didn’t begin living as a woman until (I was 32). That was in 2001."

By that time, there were more books on transgender people and awareness of the issues they dealt with. "That helped me make sense of my own experiences,” Serano said.

"Whipping Girl" shares some of those experiences and sheds light on the difficult situations transgender women face when moving through the world.

Transgender Americans were left behind by the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Serano said, when minorities, women, gays and lesbians and other groups were learning to speak out.

“In the '60s and '70s trans people were a part of the gay-rights movement" — until gay and lesbian groups kicked them out, she said. As a result, the trans movement didn’t really start until the 1990s, Serano said, so now, “trans rights are where gay rights were 20 years ago.”




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