Trans student Willemina IDK A GOOD HEADLINE

Shane Beneke

Struggling with finding a gender to identify with has become a more open discussion topic in recent. For students like Willemina Davidson, the battle to find a gender to associate with has been a lifelong journey.

Willemina Davidson has been on a path to self-discovery since her early childhood. Davidson is transgender female, a community that has recently seen a huge increase in visibility within the media. However, Davidson’s personal journey identity started as early as her childhood.

“I was raised in a gender-neutral environment where I was allowed to explore and have fun like a kid should be,” recalls Davidson.

Davidson says that she was lucky enough to avoid being scolded about not playing with the gender appropriate toys or liking activities associated with a different gender. Davidson also adds that while growing up, she was very effeminate. As for her gender identity, Willemina initially did some questioning.

“I came out as gay in seventh grade and I kind of stuck with that identity for a while. It wasn’t until high school until I became uncomfortable with it,” Davidson notes.

It wasn’t until Davidson’s senior year of high school where she started identifying as genderqueer, meaning a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of the gender. After graduation, Davidson came to Kent State University to continue her education. It was in the summer following her senior year that she was temporarily on female hormones. She eventually stopped taking hormones during her first semester due to the stress.

“I essentially was living as a gay man up until last fall, it was then where I came out as a trans-woman. I started taking hormones, transitioning, changing my name, using female pronouns and coming out to everyone, which has been relatively good,” said Davidson.

Now Davidson navigates through both the Kent State community and the university’s LGBTQ community. Davidson says that there are currently four on-campus organizations dedicated to serve LGBTQ students. Those organizations include: PRIDE! Kent, Trans*Fusion, Threads (which caters to LGBTQ students of color) and the LGBTQ Center.

“A lot of people will start at one of these groups and branch off, or a lot of people stay in them and become core members and often times become board members,” notes Davidson.

As for interacting with students that are not LGBTQ, Davidson says that she has been fortunate enough to not have many negative experiences with others about her identity.

“If I’m interacting with a person that I don’t know and they’re using the wrong pronouns, I have to pick my battles and decide who I want to make a point for them to correctly gender me,” Davidson adds.

Another layer of Willemina’s personal identity is her faith. Davidson is Jewish and regularly attends the on-campus Jewish student center, Hillel. Jewish  clothing, customs and norms have many elements that based on gender. Davidson said that she used to wear a kippah or yarmulke but she doesn’t anymore. However, Davidson is considering returning to the practice.

“You have to explore and find out what’s right for you. I’m trying to figure out where I fit in the community now,” Davidson laughs.

Rachel Rickman, a sophomore Early Childhood Education major, also attends Hillel and says despite the amount of gender in the religion, the faith is welcoming to everyone.

“Gender and Judaism are really intertwined, but I don’t discriminate. It doesn’t say anything about transgender people in the Bible,” Rickman says.

Rickman notes that Hillel has “micro-communities” within it, which are small groups of similarly minded people. One of which is an LGBTQ micro-community, where members can bond over their experiences within the faith.

“At Hillel, we really accept people for who they are,” Rickman said.

Jessica Cook, a junior majoring in Public Health, also attends Hillel and knew Davidson when she started her transition.

Much like Rickman, Cook notes how much gender is incorporated into Judaism, saying that Orthodox Jewish women have to wear long sleeves and long skirts all the time and married women have to wear a wig known as a sheitel. Despite these roles, Cook says that the Jewish community is welcoming of LGBTQ members.

“Overall, as a religion, we are accepting. We’re like, as long as you’re a good person, who are we to judge? Obviously, you do have your extremists, but every religion does,” Cook finished.

While on the topic of the trans community becoming more visible in the media, Davidson views the trend as good thing but lacking diversity. Davidson says celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner, who went public with gender transition this summer, serve as good bases of conversations.

“(Before celebrities Laverne Cox or Caitlyn Jenner), people really didn’t know a trans person. Even though they don’t actually know these people, when the topic of trans people come up, others can say ‘Oh I know this person in the spotlight,’” Davidson said. “Most trans people do not transition as easy as Caitlyn Jenner. A lot of transgender people face issues that Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t. Issues such as homelessness, discrimination, and one of the highest suicide rates of any minority,” said Davidson.

Davidson said if there’s one thing she would like the public to know is that trans people are just trying to live their life.

“We’re regular people. We’re not trying to become women or men or whatever. We are. Our journeys are a little different and that’s OK.”