- Trans* in College by Z Nicolazzo
In Trans* in College, we are provided an insightful, powerful, and deeply personal glimpse into the lives of trans* students in higher education. This book, from a qualitative study based in interviews, illustrates the complex and often painful experiences of trans* students as they navigate their lives in our communities. Through Nicolazzo's own experience and the 9 students that were interviewed, we begin to gain an understanding of the lives of trans* students. But, as is illustrated in the book, the lives of trans* collegians still lack significant research and if we are to support these individual students, we still have much to learn and understand.
While many of the research-based books on student populations work to provide concrete explanations and definitions, Z eschews that because "language and categories are insufficient to capture the fluid nature of the various permutations of gender identities, expressions, and embodiments" (p. 7). This is most true with Z's use of the term trans*, which is described as being used to "signal the expansiveness and constantly expanding communities of trans* people" (p. 169). This is almost a definition to explain that trans* individuals can not be defined and must be understood in an ongoing, individual basis. Simultaneously, Z provides a glossary that gathers important terms from throughout the book and helps to establish a common language for anyone new to this area of research, theory, and practice. This book serves as a foundation upon which we can build as we get to know each unique student and their life experiences, similar to how our student development textbooks and theories provided us with a broad, foundational lexicon and shared knowledge about students.
However, Z's work points out that we can't allow that foundation to define each and every trans* student we may come to know. We have to allow our knowledge and understanding of each individual to build upon that foundation uniquely and with care for them as individuals. The label or identification of a student as trans* is limiting just like every other label that is often applied in order to understand, categorize, and define an individual for our benefit, not theirs. This comes through very clearly in the students' stories and experiences. One of the greatest lessons of this book is that it is our duty and responsibility to seek understanding of all our students as evolving individuals and not static, finished people. In contrast, it is not trans* students' responsibility to "help other people confront and learn about difference" and to "enhance the education of hetero/cis folks" (p. 63).
The literature review that is presented [End Page 167] gives context to the rest of the book and provides a strong foundation for the research to follow. The extensive discussion on gender as a social construction or as a biological determination flows well into the examination of the role and importance of intersectionality in understanding our trans* students. This also includes an in depth examination of gender binary discourse and compulsory heterogenderism that are important aspects of each of our communities. As suggested by Z, our students exist with any number of subordinated identities that make up who they are and these are different in both number and degree for every individual.
The literature review also contextualizes and situates trans* students on our campuses. This section attempts to provide some census-type data as well as identifying the threats and challenges that can be faced by trans* students in our communities. These include harassment, homelessness, poverty, and violence to name a few. These examples from literature are given further depth and weight when the students Z interviewed shared their own personal experiences. This is the true power of this book, in the words and stories directly from students that can help us to consider the experiences of students on our own campuses.
One particular area of insight came from a set of comments by Silvia. We often feel that our role is to assist every student in finding community on...