By Melissa Reed
Students sat eagerly waiting for transgender writer, speaker and media personality Tyler Ford to grace the Library Auditorium stage on Thursday, April 7. Ford’s visit to the College was part of PRISM’s annual Trans Awareness Week, which is designed to educate the College’s student body on trans identities and issues.
“We saw the opportunity to bring Tyler and jumped on it,” sophomore chemistry major and Education Advocacy Chair for PRISM Max Nazario said. “Tyler is a major figure in today’s social-media-centered world and they’re working hard to further the conversation on gender to include talk of nonbinary and gender-nonconforming identities. We saw bringing them to campus as a great way to bring that conversation to the student body at TCNJ.”
Ford, who is best known for starring on “The Glee Project” and collaborating with Miley Cyrus on a clothing line, identifies as an agender person and prefers to be identified using the pronouns they, their and they’re, rather than be restricted by traditional gender pronouns.
“It has been incredibly important for me in contextualizing myself and my life,” Ford said. “As a kid, I knew that gender and my experience as gender was out of my grasp. I couldn’t define it. I couldn’t talk about it and no one else was talking about it.”
Ford identifies as a queer, non-binary, trans and asexual person. As a child, they grew up questioning their identity and had a hard time trying to figure out who they were.
“I spent a lot of my childhood really, really confused,” Ford said. “No one was talking about gender, but everyone seemed to be able to get by and defined it for themselves.”
At the age of 12, Ford opened up to their mom about their sexual identity and their desire to wear girls’ clothes. Astonished by their mom’s approval, they began shopping at places like Abercrombie & Fitch and Sephora.
“I started making up my face and wearing really short miny skirts and hot pink bras,” Ford said. “I tried to make myself into something that I thought would make me feel like a women. If I can do X,Y and Z, which are characteristics of a women, then I would feel like a woman and be a woman.”
Although they experienced a transition throughout middle school that made them feel comfortable, they experienced an extreme amount of discomfort in high school. No longer able to identify with womanhood, Ford looked for other terms to identify with and questioned both their gender and sexuality.
“I decided that I had to live the questions in order to answer them,” Ford said. “There was no other way to find answers. This wasn’t one of the things I could Google because there were no results that came up when I searched for anything about this.”
It wasn’t until Ford came across the term agender on Tumblr that they decided that this was the word they had been searching for. Since then, Ford has come to take pride in their identity as an agender, asexual and non-binary person.
“(I’ve) been out as agender for two years now,” Ford said. “Being non-binary in this world is difficult. I’m always trying to find space for myself or make space for myself, and space that does not exist. I am constantly having to explain my rights to anything.”
The event opened the floor for a conversation on campus surrounding contemporary gender roles and issues. Ford encouraged audience members to leave the lecture with an open mind and to be respectful toward any and everyone in the LGBTQ+ community.
“(It) takes a lot of unlearning,” Ford said. “The key is just to be really conscious of how you are referring to people and how you are perceiving people. For instance, I use gender neutral pronouns to refer to people because I would want someone to do the same for me.”
According to Nazario, Trans Awareness Week on the College’s campus is an important mechanism for informing students about the different identities within and outside of the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
“We are trying to build understanding and we are trying to make people aware that trans people do exist,” Nazario said. “We are trying to get people to understand who trans people are, what they’re feelings really mean, what makes them trans as opposed to just putting this label on them that does not necessarily have a meaning for people and we’re trying to contextualize the word.”