On Wednesday, Nov. 25, the LGBT Resource Center (LGBTRC) held a discussion and Q&A titled “Dismantling and Understanding Your Gender with Dr. Alexis Ungerer.” The event took place over Zoom at 5 p.m.
Assistant Director of the LGBTRC Toi Thibodeaux hosted the event. Dr. Ungerer is a gender and sexuality therapist that mainly deals with transgender patients. The event set out to answer students’ questions about their gender or transitions. The event aimed to teach students about the spectrum of feeling a gender variant energy (femme/butch, masculine/feminine) versus dysphoria in thier body. The general atmosphere was conversational, starting with the hosts’ introductions. Most of it was conducted through a Google Slides presentation that contained a breakdown of the questions and answers that Ungerer usually receives from the general gender assessment test that she performs during her sessions as a gender and sexuality therapist.
The event was great for students who do not have too much of an understanding about the complexities of gender presentation, gender and biological sex. However, for students who are already knowledgeable about the subject, the event may have felt a bit repetitive. She began the assessment by first emphasizing that behaviors do not equal gender identity. She used the example of herself and how she was more of a tomboy growing up, playing football and riding motorcycles, yet she is a cisgender woman. Ungerer discussed how she has had transgender patients come to her with concerns because they enjoyed doing things that were typical of their gender pre-transition. She explained that those transitioning are not transitioning their personality, so they should not feel ashamed of enjoying things that are stereotypical of their gender pre-transition.
Ungerer presented students with questions, asking them to answer internally or to share how they would answer it. Her purpose was to put students in the shoes of her patients, especially her transgender ones. In her assessment she asks three sets of questions. The first set was: What is your name? What do you prefer to be called? Did you ever entertain different names to masculinize or feminize your name? Another question she asked was how students felt about their body before and after puberty. Ungerer also asked students to imagine they had a magic wand and could change anything about their body, asking what they would change.
While it may seem easy at first to answer these questions, especially the first set, when students began to actively talk about their answers, they portrayed how complicated the relationship between gender and the self can be, even if they are cisgender. There was conversation (mostly between the hosts) about how their nicknames changed depending on how they felt about it and how others interpreted it, especially if it was from someone who was from a different culture than them. They’re both cisgender and had attempted to change their names to be either more masculine or feminine-leaning.
Before she got into her second and third set of questions, she defined and introduced the concept of dysphoria, specifically that there are three types: social, body and mental. She also explained how even biologically there is not just a binary of female and male, as people who are intersex exist. As the questions went on, Ungerer explained how someone who is transgender would answer the questions she presented in comparison to someone who is cisgender. When someone who is transgender answers the second and third questions, they usually describe it as “their body is betraying them” and that “trans men would describe their breasts as actually painful.” Most cisgendered people would answer the third question by stating that they would change their weight or height.
While the event was not as engaging as I was hoping it would be with participants only occasionally engaging in the conversation, it succeeded in informing students about the spectrum of feeling a gender variant energy versus dysphoria in one’s body.