As part of Transgender Awareness Week, the Spectrum Center and TransForm, a student organization that focuses on transgender activism and support, held a panel discussion Thursday where speakers at the University of Michigan who identify as transgender women or transgender femme shared their experiences on campus.

At the discussion, attended by about 35 students, panelists told stories of when they struggled to realize their gender identities and determine how they wanted to represent them publicly. Panelists described how they struggled with realizing and expressing their gender identities, as well as anecdotes about receiving threats and being called names on campus because of them.

Panelist LaVelle Ridley, a Rackham graduate student, said it was important to discuss transgender women’s positive stories to contrast those of bullying and intimidation.

“Trans women, and especially trans women of color, fall into these stories of just being harassed or violated or experiencing violence or incarceration for whatever reason,” Ridley said.

While noting it is important to acknowledge the harsh realities of living as a transgender person, Ridley said it is equally important to remind others why transgender women risk so much to express their gender identity in the first place.

“I really just want to find and look for and dig for those stories, not that they haven’t experienced marginalization, but this ever present human story of overcoming these obstacles and being triumphant and finding love and finding joy with other people and with themselves,” Ridley said.

Panelist Mari Brighe, Spectrum Center graduate communications coordinator, agreed that more positive stories of transgender experience should be shared. Brighe, whose articles discussing life as a transgender woman have been featured in publications like Vice, Mic and Bustle, said she shares her stories publicly despite receiving daily threats because she feels obligated to readers who relate to her experiences.

“Honestly, every time I get an email or a tweet or a message from someone who tells me that my work is important to them, is important to them for being safe or being included or feeling welcomed or feeling like their ideas and experiences were validated, that means everything in the world to me and outweighs a million threats,” Brighe said.

Mark Chung Kwan Fan, assistant director of the Spectrum Center, echoed Ridley’s sentiments and said he hoped the panel discussion helped individuals in the University and transgender community hear more positive stories about overcoming marginalization to find happiness.

“It’s really to share their experiences of not just marginalization but also success,” Chung Kwan Fan said. “Because even though you identify within an oppressed community so to speak, you do have opportunities to be successful as well.”

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