For Giana Chao, the ability to live life as a publicly open transgendered individual meant the fulfilling of a lifelong dream – to be the woman she had always imagined herself when being raised as a boy.
“I’ve found that was a very hard and challenging road, and I know that it’s not over yet,” Chao said. “But through my own determination from finding supportive and positive people, I’ve been able to go on, and I’ve been able to overcome it, and I’ve been able to live happily as who I am – as Giana – as the princess that I’ve always wanted to be.”
Chao is one of five speakers who presented at the USF Pride Alliance’s transgender candlelight vigil Thursday night at the MLK Plaza. The vigil, held on Transgender Remembrance Day, intended to bring transgender awareness to the USF community and remember transgendered persons who have been the subject of hate crimes. The vigil also featured poems centered on gender, as well as acoustic guitar music.
Chao, who gave the final speech at the vigil, described her transition as an emotionally arduous, confusing process involving hospitalization, therapy and even the theft of her grandmother’s hormone replacement medicine as a teenager.
Unlike some in the transgendered community, Chao is fortunate to have a supportive family. She says her acceptance is rooted in compromise.
“Even though my 68-year-old grandmother from Italy doesn’t know how to use the right pronouns to call me anything but my male name, I’m not going to hold it against her because of her age, and because I love her, and because I’ve made a compromise and they’ve made a compromise, and I’m able to go and spend Christmas and the holidays with them now that I’ve been accepted,” she said.
According to Rhea Pendleton, a sophomore majoring in anthropology who chaired the vigil’s planning committee, many people do not understand the difference between gender and sex, fostering misunderstanding about what it means to live life as a transgendered person.
“Being transgender doesn’t necessarily mean your inner sex is different or that you’ve changed your sex,” Pendleton said.
Pendleton said that misinformation has resulted in violence directed toward members of the transgendered community.
“People don’t understand what it means to be transgender, or people attack them (transgendered persons) for their sexual orientation,” Pendleton said, “when in fact, most transgender individuals are not gay.”
Although Pendleton said she is not aware of any incidences of physical animosity toward transgendered persons at USF, she said they nevertheless incur more subtle, social forms of discrimination in the University community.
“I think if people come out publicly as transgender, they get a lot of questions or negativity from their peers who don’t understand what it is – who don’t except them because they’re difference – because they’re not the norm,” Pendleton said.
At the beginning of the vigil, the group candle lighting was followed with a moment of silence to specifically remember members of the transgendered community who have been victimized.
The Pride Alliance doled the candles out in three-leafed paper lanterns adorned with the transgender symbol, a symbol that is comprised of a circle from which the male Mars and female Venus symbols, as well as a combination of both, extend.
Kenny Renaud, a freshman majoring in communication sciences and disorders and an attendee at last week’s Pride Alliance meeting, said there’s even discrimination against transgendered persons within the gay community.
“As a member of the gay community, I realized that there is a lot of discrimination in our community toward transgender people,” Renaud said. “I didn’t know that much about them, so I came here to be informed and learn some things and possibly meet a few (transgendered persons) and benefit from this.”
Renaud said that his participation in the vigil increased his understanding of transgendered people, which he could pass onto others to increase tolerance.
“There’s just such a broad scope in what transgender might mean,” he said. “Before, I just had the negative stereotype of a transgender person as that transsexual person who’s just doing it for you know, some sort of sexual pleasure or satisfaction when there’s so much more than that. And from what I’ve learned (Thursday night), I feel like I can further educate the people around me, the people who have stereotypes themselves, my straight friends, so I’m really happy that I came.”