Promoting both queer and body positivity, a panel of LGBTQIA+ advocates, including two Chapman alumni, racked in a gathering of students and faculty alike at the Argyros Forum Student Union Stage Oct. 22. A continuation of the Cross-Cultural Center’s (CCC) ongoing LGBTQIA+ Heritage month, the event consisted of an expedited safe space training session before transitioning into a workshop that boasted an array of panelists as vibrantly diverse as their outfits; a bold statement, as panelist Stephenie Pashkowsky rocked a cupcake skirt and an extravagant burgundy updo teeming with roses.
The panelists consisted of Pashkowsky, Devan Rose and 2015 alum Addison Rose Vincent, with 2016 alum Amir Yassai moderating the discussion. The Chapman alumni talked in-depth about their experiences as activists and their self-discovery not only outside of the social climate of Chapman University, but inside as well.
“When I came out as trans and nonbinary, I had support,” said Vincent, founder of Nebula, a non-binary union in Los Angeles. “But it was really hard because I was, at that time, I think the only trans-feminine person on campus.”
Despite the distinct isolation described by Vincent, their visibility at Chapman paved the way for other students to find solace in being open with their own sexuality and gender. Vincent manifested that loneliness into activism, creating a student review club to acknowledge prejudice on campus, as well as beginning ongoing traditions such as Gender-Inclusive Restroom day, which will take place Oct. 29.
“Chapman as an institution didn’t teach me these things, but I had to learn them from going here,” Vincent said.
Despite rejection from sorority life due to bylaws that prohibited members not assigned female at birth, Vincent still managed to navigate “a binary Greek system as a non-binary person,” participating in and winning fraternity pageant Delta Queen and being recognized as the first openly trans person to compete at Chapman.
Coming from a Muslim upbringing nearby in Laguna, California, Yassai’s journey was similarly individualistic as he delved through the business master’s program at Chapman.
“I would never hear people talking about trans people or gay people,” Yassai said. “It was just me.”
Vincent and Yassai’s discussion of past experiences ultimately led to an introspective question: What can students do to change that previous campus dynamic? It’s all in the approach to combating heteronormativity — a compassionate one rather than a reactionary one, according to Vincent and Pashkowsky.
“I choose to believe everyone is doing their best,” Pashowsky said.
Vincent later added that their own trauma-informed background enables them to look at the situation with a new lens, often rephrasing the question, “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” in the face of blatant homophobia or transphobia.
In contrast, panelists talked about the work that can be done on an inner level to create a mental and emotional environment that is healthy and habitable. A consistent theme proved to be the idea of defying the standard of turning to social media for validation, but refuting gender stereotypes of subjective attractiveness.
“Even today I’m getting more into brighter colors. It just makes me feel a little bit better about myself,” Rose said, sporting a golden T-shirt on stage. “I don’t talk about those negative thoughts on social media. I feel like I’m going to be shamed for it.”
Rose further described their experience with hormone therapy discovering gender fluidity and the conjunctive role that drastic physical changes play on emotional state. Vincent agreed, relating back to their own emotional journey through transitioning, growing out their beard while also integrating more feminine features.
While this journey comes with changes both physical and mental, Vincent encourages students on campus still struggling with their sexuality or gender identity to “come out when you’re ready. There’s no rush.”