Keean Bush is a freshman at Newman. He is an English and theater double-major, sings in Chorale and he identifies as transgender.
Many college freshmen have fears about going to college for the first time, but Bush said that being a transgender student at a Catholic college has made everything just a bit more scary.
Bush said he has found that his experience has been made harder by many people’s preconceived notions about his gender identity. Here at Newman, he’s struggled with people using the wrong pronouns when addressing him.
“It’s more students than professors because I think some of the professors are afraid to lose their job for discrimination,” he said. “It’s mostly students that give me the problems of constantly misgendering, or calling me a girl, or talking about me behind my back in a manner that I wouldn’t like.”
Bush said most of his teachers seem to understand the idea of using masculine pronouns to address him, but a few have still struggled.
Like many freshmen, Bush lives in Carrocci Hall this year. Being transgender while living in the dorms has presented many challenges, Bush said.
“In the housing situation, it has not been as bad as I’ve expected it to be. I wasn’t allowed to have a dorm mate, because [Residence Life] wanted me to be able to find my own, which has been kind of hard,” he said. “In socializing with a lot of the cis guys on this floor, I haven’t made any friends because when I walk in and start walking toward the first floor, they get confused.”
The transition into college was also challenging for Bush because of the paperwork he had to fill out.
“At first, it was a pain…because on all my legal documents I have a female gender marker. I haven’t had the chance nor the funds to have my gender marker changed or my name legally changed,” he said. “So, all of the administration people knew me as my dead name instead of my chosen name.”
Bush said though there have been obstacles, certain professors, like Director of the Music Department Deanne Zogleman, have made his transition into college pleasant.
“In the [music] department, I really appreciated that I wasn’t ever expected to fill a female role, even though I sing soprano,” he said. “Deanne has been very accommodating. Whenever I felt upset because I am a soprano she was was very understanding.”
Bush believes that some of the problems he faces come from the fact that he’s living in a conservative area of the country.
“As a whole, I don’t think that most people understand the concept of being trans, especially in this area of the country, because it is the Bible Belt. There is a stigma against trans people because other people aren’t accepting,” he said. “People seem to immediately assume someone’s gender based on their looks or what they wear or how they speak.”
Bush grew up in the small town of Elkhart, where he was raised in a sheltered, religious household, he said. All of the information that he had about gender identity came from what he gathered off the internet. Bush had no idea what being transgender was until he was a sophomore in high school. It was that same year that he realized that he was not cisgender. A year later, when he was a junior, he came out as transgender.
For Bush, coming out was not his own choice. His art teacher told his mother without his permission after she heard him talking about his gender identity with a classmate. At first, his immediate family was not accepting at all, but throughout the years they have become more understanding of who Bush really is, he said.
Bush said that there are a few ways that students around campus could make him and other trans people feel more accepted.
“If somebody tells you that they don’t like being called a certain word…like a girl, don’t ask them why. Just understand,” he said. “If somebody tells you their pronouns, then you need to go by those pronouns whether they are [around] or not. Respect and open-mindedness is key.”
This story first appeared in the November 30, 2017 issue of The Vantage.