New Trans Women Student Alliance provides safe space and community at PSU

A new group catering to trans women is now meeting regularly in the Women’s Resource Center on campus. Conceived of as an “affinity group,” the Trans Women Student Alliance encourages trans students who identify as women to come together with their peers for conversation and mutual support.

Post baccalaureate student Rachel Johnson*, co-founder and main coordinator of the group and aspiring clinical psychologist, first had the idea last March when she noticed that the Queer Resource Center on the fourth floor of Smith Memorial Student Union lacked resources specifically catering to trans women.

“I discovered that there was no group for trans women on campus, so I just decided to start one myself,” Johnson explained. “Mostly just because it would be cool.”

According to Johnson, the QRC was very supportive, inviting interested students to host their first open house in the center. When Virginia Martin, assistant director for the WRC, heard about the new group from colleagues, she reached out to offer the center’s space to the TWSA.

The group began meeting in late October of this past fall term, and has hosted more than 10 gatherings to date. Johnson reported that about 15 different people have attended overall, with about eight attending regularly.

When asked whether the desire for a safe space was in response to any experiences with harassment at Portland State, Johnson said that she personally has not had any such encounters on campus.
“Portland State is usually pretty good…I have felt safer at Portland State than I have elsewhere in town.”

While she can’t speak to the experiences and motivations that have brought other trans women to the group, Johnson described her concept of a safe space as an environment in which trans women can simply be at ease and enjoy each other’s company.

“It’s a space where trans women can feel like they can be themselves and not be judged—an opportunity to be around people that they know they can trust to understand them. We also want to provide a space that is free of gender policing or criticism, such as critiques of how you are dressed or how you act,” she said. “We are coming together to foster a positive environment, but we are also just seeking a space where we don’t feel like people are constantly staring at us.”

At this point, said Johnson, the meetings of the TWSA mostly consist of hanging out. The main emphasis is on fostering group discussions, and “making sure that we are all communicating with each other, rather than having side conversations,” she explained.

As for the future of the TWSA, Johnson sees a lot of potential. Her first goal is to establish a continual group that has enough membership to endure from year to year regardless of student turnover. Eventually she hopes to apply for funding and hold events.

The Trans Women Student Alliance meets Tuesdays from 7–8 p.m. in the WRC lounge. For more information, contact the TWSA at [email protected]

*Name has been changed to protect individual’s identity, Updated 07/12/15