For the last couple of weeks, my English 111 class (with Professor Corey Dressel) has been studying about the conflict in South Sudan and all of its hundred thousands of victims. Many victims are young boys, who’ve become known as Lost Boys. Three of these Lost Boys wrote a book called They Poured Fire on us From the Sky, and reading it taught me a lot about the troubles and hardships these people went through and what they are still going through.
For those of you who don’t know, North and South Sudan have been in conflict since 1983—it’s a civil war of epic proportions. North Islamic leaders tried to convert all of Sudan to Islam. War broke out and many were killed. Those left behind were mostly young boys who had no one to take care of them and no where to go. Of course, since the conflict started when these boys were just children now many, like the three authors of the book, are in their 20s and 30s.
Our final project for the highly engaging reading was to come up with non-profit organizations. Now, these organizations are not real, but have all the necessary writing components to explain what that non-profit would do.
My non-profit would send new and used soccer balls to the Bredjing refugee camp. When I was little, I played on a soccer team in my hometown. I loved it and was actually really good at it, so when I learned that the boys in the refugee camps also liked soccer I knew I wanted to do something to support that shared passion. In They Poured Fire on us From the Sky, the boys at the refugee camps loved the game because it gave them a chance to escape the horrors they had witnessed. But they don’t have the kind of equipment that we do. Their soccer balls are just bound-up pieces of fabric.
Our class had to go through extensive research to find out all the information needed to get these non-profits off the ground. I had to do research on the effects of war on children and ways to help them cope. I found that children are at a higher risk for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than adults. The children in Sudan who somehow survived months of walking to find safety have seen much more death and traumatic events than most of our own troops.
These children have had their lives uprooted. Everything they had and everyone they knew was gone in a matter of seconds. They took with them only what they had on them and ran for their lives. Of course, a child with nothing would be ecstatic to have any semblance of normalcy—that includes playing like the kids they are, so I thought that real soccer balls would be a way to brighten their lives.
The assignment was to teach us how to write reports for a business and to bring awareness to a huge issue in our world. It accomplished this, but also made me and everyone else in the class see how much one person can do to help. The conflict and resulting social problems are still really bad and even with all the efforts made, people are still dying from diseases and illnesses. The people in these refugee camps deserve basic human rights we all take for granted.
A single person can make a difference, even if its just bringing awareness to others. You can learn more about the conflict in Sudan by watching this video that I saw in class:
The Trans* Day of Remembrance happens every year on November 20. It is a day to not only mourn and remember the loss of the hundreds of Trans* and gender non-conforming people who have been murdered or taken their own lives due to the hatred and violence they face every day, but to also celebrate them and their lives. This year, Full Spectrum: Winona State University’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance held a several events to honor this day including a viewing of Laverne Cox’s documentary “The T Word” about the lives of trans* youth, a cis-gender privilege/trans* education workshop and the traditional candlelight vigil. This was my second time participating in the vigil and each time is just as powerful. Thinking about innocent people who lost their lives simply because they wanted to live in a way that was 100% true to themselves brings both sadness and a fire inside that urges me to do something about it.
One way I was able to take action was running the workshop and introducing people to Preferred Gender Pronouns (PGPs) and the Trans* and gender non-conforming community through the use of the genderbread person. PGPs can include he/him/his and she/her/hers, which are the ones that most people know, but can also include they/them/them/theirs, ze/zir and many others. The genderbread provides us with information about the four aspects that help make up a person’s identity:
After this quick introduction to the trans* community, we launched into a discussion about cisgender privilege. For those of you are unfamiliar with the term “cisgender,” it refers people whose gender identity aligns with the gender and sex they were assigned at birth. For instance, I identify as cisgender male because I was born with male anatomy and have always thought of myself as male. The discussion about privilege covered of a lot of different points including using bathrooms and school locker rooms. It was crazy for many of us there to realize how simply going to the bathroom can be an experience that most of us experience privilege in every day of our lives. For trans* people going into the bathroom you were assigned at sex, or the one you identify with can result in harassment and for gender non-conforming people, they are simply not included in the discussion. The fact that our conversation consisted mostly of something as simple as having to use the restroom tells us the seriousness of the issue and how much work we have to do in order to create equal establishments and opportunities for trans* and gender non-conforming people.
As I said earlier, I identify myself as cisgender male, and I take this status very seriously. Why? Because I know the privileges I have and I want to remind myself and other people of those privileges. For example, I can:
This list could go on and on. That is why I don’t just identify as male, because I would be ignoring those privileges that I am granted. When talking to other people, I try not to assume anything and ask for preferred gender pronouns. This is extremely important because I know people who get seriously hurt and offended when someone mis-genders them, and they have a right to get offended. There is more to PGPs than simply a word – they carry weight and they matter because they define a person and the world we all live in. If someone gives you their PGPs, it is your job to respect that person and use the pronouns they ask you to.
The events that Full Spectrum held were extremely successful and we were able to reach about 30-40 different members of the Winona community and to educate them about the issue at hand – trans* and gender non-conforming people are losing their lives for no reason at all except that they are trying to be themselves in a world that tells them not to. That might seem like a low turn-out, but every person who attends these events gains knowledge and understanding about a community who is marginalized in most popular culture and mainstream media. And we believe that’s better than doing nothing.
The thing that I personally want people to know about the trans* and gender non-conforming community is that these individuals just want to do able to live as the rest of us do– without fear, without resentment and without violence. Nothing about them is in any way harming our cisgender existence or changing the way we live our cisgender lives–except to extend to them the same respect and safety we receive.
I was honored to be a part of the Full Spectrum team with these events and so thankful to all of those who helped us put it together. These things are important and we need to start bringing them into focus so that we can deal with them. Now is the time for active change.