S. Bear Bergman speaks about gender issues for the Gloria Kaufman Memorial Lecture
By CECELIA ROEDER
Ten years ago, when S. Bear Bergman came to South Bend, he was “met by protestors.”
“It was at this other university, and I can’t seem to remember the name either,” he said, to loud laugher from the crowd.
On Monday, Nov. 4, Bergman spoke to a filled room in room 225 of the Student Activities Center. People began to fill the room for the Gloria Kaufman Memorial Lecture a half-hour before the event began. Students eventually stood along the back of the room and sat along the sides to listen to the transgender activist and author give the lecture titled “5 Questions People Always Want to Ask The Transsexual (but shouldn’t) (but I’ll answer some of them anyways.)”
Chancellor Terry Allison, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies April Lidinsky, and Sociology Professor Betsy Lucal were among the presenters that introduced Bergman to the crowd.
Allison, a former professor and director of women’s studies at California State University, stated that the event “exemplifies the mission of IU South Bend.”
Lindinsky spoke on the origins of the Gloria Kaufman Memorial Lecture, noting that Kaufman’s formation of the B250 Women’s Studies course at IUSB was the first gender studies class ever taught in the IU System. She talked about how well-beloved Kaufman was and remains, commenting that she had a heard a “saucy story” or two about the first B250 class.
Bergman also took the time to recognize Kaufman’s daughter Miriam Kaufman Viktoria, who was in the crowd.
With just a small note card for notes, Bergman delivered an hour-long lecture dedicated to explaining common questions about transsexual (or “trans”) issues.
He expounded on five common questions trans people encounter: “Did you have ‘the surgery?’” “How did family react?” “When did you first discover that you were trans?” “Is it hard to find romantic relationships as a trans?” and “What is the most surprising thing you discover about living in a new gender?”
Bergman explained that the first question everyone wants to ask (“Have you had the surgery?) is really an inaccurate question. Gender transition is just that, he said, a transition. Trans persons in the process of transition have a wide variety of options, including hormones and surgery, according to Bergman.
“Transsexual transition is not a single opportunity situation,” Bergman said.
As trans issues have slowly come into focus, families often struggle with transition. Bergman acknowledged that if people don’t conform to usual gender norms, there is always a “social price to pay.”
However, he stressed that “kids who feel loved and valued” are more likely to have happy and successful lives than those who don’t receive positive support. He discussed his own life as a teenaged girl, struggling with his mother who wanted him to embrace a feminine side that he didn’t feel.
There is no set time for a person to realize he or she is transsexual, Bergman explained. He said that while many people think that a person must realize something as a child, that this not the case for many. In the 1970s, access to surgery and hormone therapy needed for transition required trans people to live up to certain standards doctors would set, like whether a person was “attractive enough to live as a woman,” and whether a person wanted to live a “hetero-normative lifestyle.”
“There is no official trans narrative,” Bergman said. He did explain, however, that 5, 15 and 50 were common ages for a person to become aware that they are trans.
Bergman also took the opportunity to dismiss the myth that trans people have a difficult time finding lovers. He stressed that not all trans persons were heterosexual, and that “gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things.”
“And, I know this is hard for you college students to understand… but there are a lot of things you can do with a partner that’s not heterosexual intercourse,” Bergman said, to the amusement of the crowd.
When it comes to Bergman’s life as a man, he described his greatest surprise in manhood the fact that “men’s bathrooms are disgusting.” He also touched on how different life is for a man as compared to a woman. He asserted that being a larger size was more acceptable for men than women, people listen to men better than women, and that women “are socialized from birth to get their way by making men think it was their idea” by jumping through verbal hoops.
At the end of his lecture, Bergman offered a bonus question he often receives to the crowd: Do you have any regrets?”
“No,” he said. “Thank you.”