If I May: Transphobia at Amherst College

This is not the column I had planned on writing this week. I had a couple hundred words written about awards shows and their place in American culture, inspired by the wacky Oscars broadcast this past Sunday. Then, early yesterday morning, we all received an email alerting us to the fact that transphobic vandalism had been written on the mirror of a gender-inclusive bathroom in Frost Library. Receiving this email dismayed and horrified me, as I’m sure it did for many fellow students. So, when I sat down to finish my silly awards show article, I realized that I could not. I could only think about how angry I am about this vandalism. I am privileged enough to have an outlet to discuss my feelings and opinions every week, so I thought it silly to not address this terrible incident. This may not be my most cohesive article, and it won’t be arguing a single point. These are just my thoughts and concerns on the subject. Hopefully, it will be as meaningful for some to read as it was for me to write.

I’d like to say that I was shocked when I received the news of the vandalism, but at this point, I am no longer surprised to hear about hateful actions such as these, even on our mostly liberal campus. As the election and support for Donald Trump and his cohorts has shown, a litany of phobias and “-isms” are alive and well in the United States, whether these feelings target people of color, women or members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Of course, these feelings were undoubtedly present prior to this year’s election, but as hateful people have risen to power, hateful messages have also risen to the forefront of American culture. Even at Amherst College, a progressive institution where a majority of the students’ political leanings are somewhere left of center, it is clear now that these awful beliefs not only exist, but the holders of these views also feel comfortable enough believing them that they’ll scrawl them on a widely-used bathroom mirror. This is what worries me most about Trump’s election — with it has come the normalization of these wretched, hateful views. For example, Milo Yiannopoulos, known for his intense transphobia, was tapped to be keynote speaker of CPAC this year. His invitation was only rescinded because a video surfaced of Yiannopoulos condoning pedophilia, even though prior to that, he has been on record multiple times making claims like “Made-up genders don’t make you special, they make you a retard.” Yiannopoulos was undoubtedly a hateful and beyond problematic person before these statements on pedophilia had come to light — yet CPAC booked him anyway.

Unfortunately, in light of this vandalism incident, it seems that this normalization is beginning to creep into our college even more than previously. But of course, this incident is an extreme manifestation of the problematic views that exist on this campus. More often, these views manifest in microaggressions, or misguided housing policies, or a lack of support from faculty and staff. I never thought that Amherst was a place free of prejudice and hate. But events in the past few months — Trump’s election, the recent ill-conceived housing policy and now this hateful incident — have made me realize that Amherst has to do even more work to eradicate these mindsets than I thought was necessary. I know I should’ve known this already, but alas, the white, male and cisgender privilege to be blind to these issues strikes again. And perhaps this is just more privileged talk, but I believe that Amherst will continue to improve. While our institution certainly possesses problematic beliefs, we also possess passionate, driven, brilliant and wonderful students and faculty who are committed to making positive change, both at Amherst and beyond.