Transgender people at the University guidelines and FAQS

What is being transgender?

Being transgender (or “trans”) is the state of one’s gender identity not matching the one that was presumed at birth. A lot of transgender people refer to the sex that their doctors put on their birth certificates when they were born as their assigned sex at birth, or their designated sex at birth.

Cisgender people are people who feel like their gender has always matched their assigned sex at birth.

Being transgender can be described as being:

  • A person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles, but combines or moves between these.
  • A person who was assigned a sex, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feels that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves.
  • Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the sex (and assumed gender) one was assigned at birth.  

Why does this matter? Aren’t trans and gender diverse people really rare?

The big issue with trans people is we don’t really know how many of us there are. But we do know, for example, that intersex people are actually more common than redheaded people in New Zealand. The Youth ‘12 report indicates that around 4% of New Zealand youth may be transgender. Given the population of this university, that’s a substantial number! Even if it weren’t, transgender people are recognised as an equity group at our University.

Understanding equity groups, as explained in the University’s Equity Policy, is central to making this University as accessible and progressive as possible.

I think/know I am transgender and I am studying/working at the University of Auckland. What resources are there for me?

Great! Firstly, if you are new to questioning your gender, please don’t panic. Every trans person is different and has a different journey, and you are not coming to it later in life than everyone else or in a way nobody else ever has. Remember, there is an enormous amount of gender diversity and not every trans person fits neatly into the category of “man” or “woman”. Many of us feel like we are neither, or both, or that our gender changes! Not all of us pursue medical transition in the form of surgery or hormonal treatment, and not all of us are “out” in every facet of our lives. Regardless of which path you take, you deserve to be treated with dignity. We can help you with matters relating to your involvement with the University, as well as providing a community to support you on your journey.

This document and the work of Trans On Campus is all about trying to make the University a place where transgender people and other gender diverse people can safely pursue higher education. Trans On Campus is a support network, social group and advocacy group for gender diverse students and staff. Email us at: transoncampus@auckland.ac.nz.

Also see the below section, “What administrative processes can a trans student follow to be safer?”

There are a number of resources here at the University:

There is a resource list at the end of this document, and you may also want to read the “What administrative processes can a trans student follow to be safer?” section below.

What should I know about working with students I know to be trans or gender diverse?

Here is a quick and incomplete list of general tips! If you have specific questions relating to your area of expertise, or if you want to be sure your understanding is up to date, please contact Trans on Campus.

  1. Stick to the pronouns and name that the trans person has given you (and request them if they haven’t). Change your roll if that’s possible, or otherwise ensure the privacy of the trans person. (See the following sections for more information).
  2. Let them know that Trans on Campus exists, and if they’ve expressed specific concerns, the below section, “What administrative processes can a trans student follow to be safer?” may contain information that may assist them. 
  3. Stick to the name and pronoun requested if the trans person does not indicate that they prefer different names and pronouns in different situations, regardless how they are dressed. 
  4. Be aware that trans individuals, while included under the LGBTI umbrella, have slightly different needs from cisgender LGB people. 
  5. Help make others who will be in contact with the trans person aware of this document. 
  6. Don’t ask invasive questions about genitalia, surgical procedures or similar. 
  7. Be prepared to have “low-key conversations” with people who make unwelcome comments or who treat a trans person unfairly. This may stop the situation escalating when some quick education and guidance can achieve a positive outcome for all. 
  8. Do not single out the trans person or let other people know even by allusion that they are trans. 
  9. Most importantly: If in doubt, ask the trans person (in a sensitive way) how they would like to see a situation dealt with!  

What should I do to make my classes/workspace safer spaces for trans and gender diverse people?

General guidelines

It is always safest to assume that you are interacting with trans or gender diverse people.

Here are some pointers gathered from experiences with university staff:

  1. Never refer to trans people or any other equity group in a disparaging manner or make jokes involving (for example) sex changes. Never use transphobic or homophobic slurs or make jokes about (for example) effeminacy or other things which blur traditional gender norms.
  2. Do not react negatively to someone using a bathroom who does not appear to “belong” in that bathroom. Support any person who comes to you reporting transphobic abuse when using the bathroom they prefer.

Trans students: Guidelines for staff

Being a student can be stressful and busy even without the added complications of transitioning or questioning one's own self, which often takes a severe toll on mental and physical health. For many trans students, this is compounded by encountering everything from antipathy to outright violence from students and staff during their time at university. General ignorance and discomfort around transgender issues on campus exacerbates this problem. Our University iscommitted to being a safe and inclusive place to study and work. Read more information read the Equity Policy.

Especially in larger classes, the chances that there is at least one trans student are quite high; even if there aren’t, ensuring that your material is inclusive and non-discriminatory is central to educating a generation of graduates who will be the same.

  1. Wherever possible, do not use printed rolls (or worse, call names out loud). Often, trans students do not use the name that they had to register for university under, and may not have legally changed their names yet. One method used by many tutors which maintains the privacy of any transgender students or other students with complicated name situations is to pass around a blank piece of paper for students to write their preferred names and student ID numbers on, and to cross-check the latter against the roll later.
  2. In a similar manner, avoid using icebreakers, activities, or examples in your classes that may expose or otherwise make trans students uncomfortable. This could include getting students to introduce each other in tutorials (this often leads to misgendering and awkward situations), or asking all the men in your class to stand up for an example (which could create an unsafe space for both trans men and women).

Trans staff

Trans staff members may be at a different stage of their lives but coming out as trans may still be terrifying. The key thing is to allay any fears and allow them to be themselves. While the Trans on Campus group was founded primarily as a student initiative there are staff who are members and we are all facing the same challenges. A few relevant points to consider:

  1. If the person will be lecturing/teaching it is important to support them. If possible, consider how best to give them experience teaching smaller groups before putting them in front of a large stage 1 lecture.
  2. Make colleagues aware of the change but only with the consent and consideration of the trans person’s views. It is probably best for them to pass this on with your support rather than you taking preemptive action.  

What administrative processes can a trans or gender diverse student follow to be safer?

  • If a legal name change has been undertaken, the name in the university system can be changed using the Change of Name form (AS-66).
  • Preferred names can be updated in Student Services and in CECIL (in the “personal settings” section). Many university web applications can also be logged into using an ID number instead of a UPI. This can prevent students being outed by the discrepancy between the name people know them as and the initials used by the UPI system.
  • If they feel safe doing so, or if you wish to act on their behalf, they can contact their lecturers and tutors informing them of the University’s preferred name policy, and their preferred name and pronouns.
  • Report any mistreatment to the Equity Office.
  • If you need to access a safer space on the City Campus, visit Queerspace in the Quad.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is language important?

Many of the terms that have been used to refer to trans people were coined or claimed by groups who were hostile to trans people. Because of this, some of the terms you may know are loaded with a history of prejudice and abuse. Using the correct words shows that you are aware of, and sensitive to, trans issues.

What are the appropriate words?

“Trans” or “transgender”, both used as adjectives (that is: “a trans person” or “a transgender person” rather than “a transgender”), are generally the most acceptable terms. People may prefer certain specific words be used to describe them, in which case you should default to those. Other terms you might encounter include:

  • Fa’afafine, Fakaleiti, Akava’ine, Mahu, Vaka sa lewa lewa, Rae rae, Fafafine Pasifika terms describing someone born with a male body who does not have a male gender identity and often, but not always, lives as a woman. These terms are best understood within their cultural context. • Whakawahine Māori term describing someone born with a male body who has a female gender identity.
  • Tangata ira tane Māori term describing someone born with a female body who has a male gender identity.

Why are pronouns important?

Pronouns are important because they not only form a big part of a person’s identity but their misuse can severely compromise a person’s safety. Deliberately using the wrong pronouns is showing a lack of respect for a person’s identity, although it is accepted that when a person is changing mistakes will be made.

What are common pronouns?

The most commonly used pronouns are ones that are already in common use: “he/his/him”, “she/her/her”, and “they/their/them”. There are other less common sets. The set which is correct to use is the set which the trans person has advised you to use.

Trans man and trans woman: which is which?

A trans man will usually prefer to be referred to by “he/him” pronouns, will want to be referred to as a man, and will want to present himself in a way seen socially as male. Trans men are generally assigned female at birth, and move away from this assignment. The opposite is true for trans women.

Although statistics are not widely available, trans men and trans women are approximately equally as common.

Does everyone fit into the categories of trans man and trans woman?

No. There are a lot of people who do not feel comfortable fitting into either category. Some feel that they are somewhere in between, some associate with neither, some consider themselves something else entirely, and some feel that their gender changes.

What is “transitioning”?

Gender transition can be a lot of things, and only one thing is universal: everyone who transitions goes through a social change, which can involve some or all of a name change, change in pronouns, change in dress and other changes. Gender transition is not necessarily a surgical operation. Any and all medical aspects of transition are personal information, and are not a necessary part of transition.

Someone has told me that they’re transgender, but they look, dress and act the same as always. What’s going on?

Transition is a long, slow and difficult process. For personal, social and sometimes professional reasons a person may make changes in an unexpected order. For example, a trans person may come out to a number of individuals, but still not be open publicly about it, and as such may not be ready to use a new name or change the way they dress. Another person may change their name and come out publicly, but may not present in a way associated with their preferred gender for various reasons (including insecurity, concerns about safety, or disability). The appropriate way to deal with this is to quietly ask what that person prefers with regards to name and pronouns, and to accept that the way this person presents themselves may not conform to your expectations.

Someone has told me that they’re transgender. How can I support them?

The absolute best way to support someone is to ask them what they need. Referring them to a support network is often also a good idea. The University’s Trans On Campus is the major support network for people studying or working at the University of Auckland, and we are also more than happy to offer support to trans people who are not part of the University community. In addition, educating yourself about issues is important.
You don’t need to be an expert, but reading documents such as this one is a good start.

Is being transgender the same as cross-dressing?

Absolutely not. Cross-dressing is presenting yourself as a gender you are not, where as a trans person would be presenting as the gender that they are. Referring to a trans person as a crossdresser or a drag queen or king implies that they are not truly the gender they identify as, and is extremely hurtful.

For more information, support and advice, email: transoncampus@auckland.ac.nz

Other resources