WMST 370: Introduction to Trans Studies 

Bel Carden, Special Features Editor

Bucknell recently introduced a new women and gender studies course surrounding trangender studies; this is the first transgender studies course the University has ever offered.

Society is built on a set of rules, both spoken and unspoken. Some of these rules are established by the actions of other members of the community, and other rules are discussed and taught to the younger generations, ensuring that the pre-established culture lives on. One rule of society, a rule that has also contributed to building many foundational norms of our society, is binary genders. The power dynamic, as well as many cultural aspects, of our society have been built upon the idea of only two genders existing: male and female. Furthermore, many norms and expectations in society are based on these two genders. Each gender is expected to dress a certain way, play a different role in the family dynamic, and even work in certain career fields over others. However, in recent years, these rules have begun to change. Beginning with small adjustments, such as more women seen in STEM field professions or acting as the primary breadwinner in the family, and working towards bigger changes such as the growing support for the LGBTQ community and recognizing the nonbinary or gender nonconforming members of society. In order for society to embrace these new norms, all members must work to actively educate themselves thus debunking this old thought process of only two genders existing. 

As the meaning of the word gender changes within our society, the University has added a new Women’s and Gender Studies course to help educate students on the complexity of gender. Introduction to Trans Studies focuses on questioning the gender binary and also the relationship between the foundations of our society and gender. In the course description the field is described as, “an interdisciplinary field that explores understandings of sex and gender through the discussion of lived trans experiences and theoretical tools to analyze gender, desire, embodiment, and identity.” Intro to Trans Studies also hopes to generate discussions about gender, sexuality and power by focusing on three separate parts: gender/power, subverting the frame, and world/politics. Furthermore, the class will delve into the history of the trans identity, how this history and meaning interacts with other concepts, and how it is seen in the United States. Intro to Trans Studies is being taught by visiting Professor Benea Beamon. 

Professor Benea Beamon began her career at Bucknell in January 2020 following the completion of her doctrine at Boston University. Her academic career has been centered around religion, ethics and culture with a focus on “intersectional identity and how the seemingly mundane resist, unmakes and undoes oppressive systems.” She also has a passion for tap dancing and other performing arts. Benea attributes these passions to her Southern upbringing and describes her work as “informed by things that speak to Black, Southern culture, like importance of history, the value of natural resources that gives life, the importance of community and the refusal to let food, time, energy or life go to waste.” Ultimately these beliefs, paired with her focus in Black transgender women studies, led her to accept a position as a visiting professor and teach the Introduction to Transgender Studies course. 

Professor Beamon explained she hopes her students will be able to recognize how foundational gender is to their everyday lives and ultimately use this recognition to view society differently: “a better sense of undoing gender which will then undo the system of powers and oppression that gender is based upon through an intersectional approach.” Furthermore, she has the overarching goal that students will, “learn to situate and assess assumptions about gender and sexuality, categories of identity, and social location… will raise questions about the social, political, cultural, legal, and historical rhetoric surrounding gender diversity in the U.S. context.”

By implementing such a course the University is moving in the right direction; including educational opportunities beyond mainstream academics is important for the University’s growth. Furthermore, through offering courses such as Intro to Trans Studies, one may infer the University is trying to work towards creating a more accepting community culture overall. The Washington Post recently reported that hate crimes in the past year have risen to the highest level since 2009, a change that has even become apparent on our own campus. Following the two different incidents that occurred on campus in the past year, it was no question that the culture and what is deemed acceptable on campus must be changed. In response to a Fran’s House incident last spring, the University officially renamed Tower House Building to Fran’s House, making it “a safe place for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies at all times and as a sponsor of events to enrich the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals and allies on campus.” Fran’s House, the LGBTQ+ on-campus affinity house was attacked by a group of former members of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, who had lived in Tower House, last spring. The members attempted to enter the house forcefully despite the resident’s discomfort. Ultimately, the incursion threatened the residents’ safety and sense of security on campus. The second incident that occurred within the last year was only one day after the closure of the investigation of Fran’s House. A transgender student was allegedly assaulted by six men when walking home from a bar in downtown Lewisburg. This alleged assault left the student with a concussion, many bruises and the lingering questions of whether the attack was motivated by hate. 

When asked about the Fran’s House attack as well as the alleged assault that occurred over the summer, Professor Beamon explains how gender is playing into these actions as well : “preoccupation with gender and how central it is to our identity thus creates these gender expectations at all times which ultimately can create a sense of anxiety. That paired with the existing anxiety of the pandemic can really hurt a community.” She hopes that this course will help students begin to recognize how detrimental this expectation can become. Professor Beamon also discussed how all majors can benefit from taking courses such as Intro to Trans Studies and how some students forget the importance of being able to have hard conversations. She explained this skill as, “the importance of being culturally competent and possessing the ability to speak to diverse populations and engage in complicated intervention.” Such a skill is only developed through engaging in courses that push student’s understandings of social norms and committing oneself to daily self-reflection, “It’s about doing the daily self work to become more aware of our own actions and how gender plays into our everyday lives.” 

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