Being trans can be a challenge anywhere, but it’s especially tough in Montana, as there are no statewide nondiscrimination protections for gender identity, including at Montana State University. A coalition of student organizations is working to change this, including TransMSU (TMSU) a support group for transgender MSU students.
Founded by graduate student Cassidy Medicine Horse, the group came into being after Medicine Horse was invited to talk about barriers to the community to the MSU student senate.
Despite Bozeman’s reputation for being a fairly liberal college town, Cassidy explains that prejudices exist when it comes to bathrooms, showers, dorms, and health care providers. Even though the school is receptive to hormone therapy coverage, it’s common for insurance carriers to exclude it from their prescription formulary. Cassidy adds that, to her knowledge, there are only three therapists and as many doctors in the Bozeman area who treat trans individuals.
Navigating these barriers while also going through a major life and identity transition was extremely difficult for Medicine Horse, and she started TransMSU to ensure other transitioning would have a built-in support network.
“Transitioning can be, at the very least, a lonely time,” she says. “Sometimes it can be filled with self-recrimination, self-loathing, anger, and great loss of family and friends.”
Beyond support, Medicine Horse hopes the group will provide a place for trans advocacy and increased visibility of the community, as they have with the efforts to add gender identity and expression to the Montana University System bylaws.
“What I am truly hoping for is that trans as a paradigm of the ‘other’ will cease to exist,” she says. “Sometimes I joke, half-heartedly, that I don’t want people just to come out of the closet. I want them to burn the closet down. The fact that a person is transgendered or transsexual should be about as interesting as whether you had mustard on your last sandwich. To be transgendered is not about sex. It is not about being homosexual or straight. It is about identity.”
Until then, she and TransMSU are partnering with the Montana Human Rights Network, a longtime Pride Foundation grantee, to work for equal protections for all Bozeman residents.
“Cassidy’s work to establish TMSU is essential to helping fill a gap as LGBTQ policy work moves forward in Bozeman,” said Jamee Greer, LGBT organizer for the Montana Human Rights Network. “It shows trans Bozemanites that they belong here, and also helps educate cisgender* folks around why trans inclusion matters.”
“Bozeman is a great little town with great folks,” adds Medicine Horse. “It’s time that we stand next to Missoula and Helena and give an additional voice to the concept of equality.”
When asked how people can be better allies to trans people, she shared:
- Learn the correct use of pronouns. If you don’t know, ask respectfully about pronoun preference.
- Don’t out us, and don’t use “bio” or “real” when referring to trans folks. If you need to designate, use “cis” or, better yet, how about referring to us just as a “person.”
- Do not ask me what my “real” name is or whether I have had had the surgery. It is, frankly, no one else’s business.
- Don’t automatically identify trans people as homosexual. Again, it’s not your concern and has nothing to do with being transgendered. Recognize that not all people fit into a nice little binary world of gender identification.
- Speak out when you hear pejorative remarks about trans people.
Currently, TMSU has 23 members, and the group welcomes trans, MtF, FtM, intersex, questioning, students, faculty, local residents, spouses, and supporters. The group meets weekly on Monday nights on the MSU campus from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.
*A cisgender person is someone who identifies as the gender/sex they were assigned at birth. The colloquial use of cisgender suggests that it is the opposite of transgender.
Caitlin Copple is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Montana. Email Caitlin.