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York College delivers Trans Awareness session to strengthen inclusive environment

York College & University Centre’s continued commitment to providing an inclusive, diverse and tolerant environment for its staff members was outlined by the staging of a Trans Awareness session during January’s Professional Services Conference on Campus.

Under the Equality Act 2010, sexual orientation is a protected characteristic and so is gender reassignment.

Led by a trans woman, the session provided an easy-to-understand introduction to sex and gender terminology, with the aim of increasing awareness on what can be a sensitive and emotional topic.

The training started with reassurance to the group that it would be open and honest, incorporating lessons from lived experience and where no question would be considered a foolish one.


The group began by understanding the differences between sex and gender. Sex was defined as the body you were born with and gender as a social construct.

The Latin word cis, which means “on this side”, was then discussed in terms of how it reflects a person whose gender aligns with the sex they were assigned with at birth and that they are comfortable with it.

The Greek word trans, which means “across, beyond, so as to change”, was also explained in terms of its capacity to reflect a vast spectrum of people. This could be someone whose gender does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. It could describe a binary person who is a trans man or trans woman or a non-binary person who does not align to either gender, too. It may also be that a person’s gender is in between the two.


The Office for National Statistics reports that 93.4% of the UK population aged 16 and over identifies as heterosexual/straight, meaning they are one gender and attracted to the opposite gender.

Other sexual orientations, in a non-exhaustive list, include:

Gay and lesbian, where someone is attracted to same gender

Bisexual, where someone is attracted to either gender

Demisexual, where someone is attracted to either gender but needs to have a deep and romantic attachment

Pansexual, where someone is blind of gender in their attraction to people, ie they don't mind which gender their partner is

Asexual, where someone identifies as having little or no attraction to others

The session leader added: “People of the LGBTQ+ community are a minority and in society this can sometimes be seen as a problem.”


Gender reassignment describes someone who has changed their presentation. No medical intervention is required in order for this to be a protected characteristic.

Someone wishing to undergo gender reassignment would normally go through gender therapy initially, which focuses on the social, mental, emotional and physical needs of those who are questioning gender.

The individual would then see a consultant to confirm gender dysphoria and that it is permanent.

“Gender reassignment does not need medicalisation,” the session leader added. “However, many trans people who are binary will choose to have hormone therapy and choose to have surgery, but you should never ask someone. They will tell you if they are comfortable."


What is the correct way to introduce someone who is transitioning to a colleague who they haven’t met before?

“By their name. You wouldn’t say, ‘Hello this is Fred, he is gay.'”

Is it standard for a person who is non-binary to be addressed as they/them?

“With non-binary people, it is a little bit more complicated. Some people use she/they, some of them use he/they, some use they/he etc.

“I went from he/him to they/them to she/her. This was just to prepare people to start thinking that there might be a change coming. The moment you want to change your pronouns, you’re somewhere on the trans spectrum.

“Most people don’t even think about it. If you see someone with their pronouns on their email, you’re looking at one of two people. You’re either looking at someone who is trans or a really good trans ally.

“The best way to find out what someone’s pronouns are is to say what yours are. If you say, mine are she/her, the other person is normally much happier to say, I’m they/her, for example.”

Can people be cross-dressers but not necessarily want to transition?

“Yes. If a man wears a frock it’s a disaster. If a woman wears trousers, it’s quite the opposite.

“Our social construct of masculinity is that a man should not wear a dress or a skirt, unless it’s a kilt. That’s the social norm.

“Drag is usually a man or woman over-emphasising the social construct of a woman. You’d expect massive hair, loads of make-up, very high heels.

“Then, there is cross-dressing. The person who occasionally dresses in women’s clothing. They may be heterosexual. It may be that they feel more comfortable in certain situations dressed as a man or a woman - about 4% of people do.

“The difference between cross dressing and a trans person is that they don’t want to wear the clothes because they like wearing them - they need to wear them.

“It can sometimes feel that as a trans person you are fighting the world. We’re told we’re horrible, that we shouldn’t exist. If you’re not in the trans community you tend to miss this, but we feel it.”

What support might somebody need when making the change?

“The same support anybody would need with any major life change. They are a human being and are going through something that is complex that affects every aspect of their life. That is really hard and therefore they need support.

“For example, the first weekend that I came out, I went shopping in Acomb and walked into Morrisons and someone said to me, ‘You’ve got a lovely dress on’. Then, two weekends ago, I walked through the door of a restaurant with some girlfriends. The server said, ‘Hello ladies, I’ll take you to your table’. Little things like that make an enormous difference.

“When someone calls me ‘he’, and not ‘she’, that hurts. However well I know that person, however long I have known them, the fact they do it, especially if they don’t apologise, it hurts.

“So, what you can do is think, ‘This person is presenting as female, I know their pronouns and their name’. Then, if you do make a mistake, this is fine, because we’re all human. You should apologise for it and that is all it takes.”

What can you do to make it easier for people to make the change?

“Nothing, apart from treat them like a human being. I’m well educated and it has been hard work to get everything sorted. Even things like sorting a bus pass. It required me to get a passport, then a driving licence, before I could prove who I was.

“The process in general takes a long time. I have been on the waiting list for Leeds Gender Identity Clinic since July 2020, and I will still probably wait another six to seven years to be seen. In Exeter, the wait is 22 years.

“There is an organisation called GenderGP who provide advocacy, support, advice, healthcare and access to a range of complementary services, which enable trans people to live their lives more easily. It is run by a British GP who saw the flaws in the system. This is not a free service and there is a fee for any appointments.

“48% of trans women have reported some form of violence in the past year. I’m very lucky, I’m not one of them yet but, when I was in a threatening situation recently, I was protected. I was in the right place at the right time. That person could have threatened to beat me up or worse.

“Being trans is not an easy option. It’s hard. It is also expensive. People don’t do it because it’s fun.

“It’s incredibly rare to find a trans person who at some point hasn’t considered suicide, so just be nice and treat trans people like human beings, then we will be happy.”

What positive language can be used with trans people so as not to offend?

“Try and use the pronouns and their name and, if you make a mistake, apologise for it. Don’t be afraid to be sorry and don’t keep making the same mistake. Because, to us, we consider at what point do we report this as a hate crime?

“If someone is consistently calling somebody by their old name and not apologising, you come to the view that that person is transphobic and is being unpleasant.

“Don’t ask questions about hormones as it’s medically intrusive. It’s not something you would ask anyone else in any other situation, so just look at it the same as that. You wouldn’t ask a cisgender woman if she was on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), for example.

“When you’re speaking to an individual, the best thing to do is to think of them as a person. Don’t say anything to them that you wouldn’t want said to you.

“You might think I’m ugly as sin. That is your choice, but don’t say it to me. You wouldn’t say it to anyone else. If it were a cis woman, you wouldn’t do it to them, so just treat me the same.

“We understand as trans people that it can be difficult for cis people to understand as they don’t live in a world where it’s a struggle to be who you are."

Samantha Mayfield, Senior Graphic Designer at York College & University Centre, was among the staff members who attended the Trans Awareness session and said: “I found the Trans Awareness course really insightful and interesting.

“It was really good to hear the perspective of an older and a younger transgender woman (who also helped deliver the session) and the issues they had each personally faced. I have recently started working directly with students and I think the knowledge I have gained will help me support them better should one of them be dealing with a similar situation.

“It would be great in the future to extend the course to cover the experiences of a transgender man and a non-binary person to get a more rounded view of all the issues the LGBTQ+ community have to deal with.”

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