As several of you know I get to go sit on the stage and wear a silly hat for other peoples graduations, and these are graduations I really quite like for various reasons. I was never much of a fan of my own graduations, because during the first one I was just all bleh for public appearances in general for reasons that made no sense to me at that time, during the second I knew I was trans and was just filled with dislike for inhabiting my body or my social role at that point, however when you’re on the stage its quite fun as you’re not the centre of attention so much its not about focusing on you, also I’m way more comfortable in myself than I used to be I think, at least in some ways.
Interestingly I quite like going to graduations because it helps remind me why I’m where I am, and why I do what I do. A lot of the time working for the Uni its easy to lose sight of the awesome good work we do, we educate students in all kinds of things, we do kick ass research, we improve the state of human knowledge at least in some ways – however in the day to day grind of projects and support its easy to get lost from this and instead just throw up your hands at all the politics that floods the place. So graduations are nice for in some ways fulfilling the promise of the establishment, a time we can come together across departments and do our act as formal academics (processing in is nice, because everyone does their best formal and proper thing, we present a professional front, also you never know who you’ll be lined up next to so a nice point for a chat with new people in the queue) and present a united front to celebrate the achievements of the students.
Also it’s a more personal thing, in that not only does it give an institutional/group celebration but I tend to mostly come and sit on the stage for students I know through various societies, so its also a personal thing of celebrating the achievements of friends and giving them a grand sending off as yup – you are now officially recognised as more awesome in some specific manner, its nice to sit on the stage and try not to grin too much to be improper while applauding them :)
The final point, which is kind of what spurred me on to post this (being as I’ve just come back from watching the Manchester Pride Parade at the weekend) is the visibility aspect of it. Whenever I go to graduations I make sure to flag with at least a small rainbow pin, if not a trans one as well, and also while I tend to blend into crowds in direct or focused interactions I get read as trans pretty easily – and this is one of those cases where I don’t mind. By being there, being in a group of academics and walking formally with them as a colleague and academic doctor and making myself obviously visible I aim to get some subtle exposure – to help say to people that hey it’s okay to be trans or queer, I’m here, looking respectable and not hiding. And hopefully I’m helping out closeted students, and I’m helping normalise various minorities as a thing that exists for visiting friends and family who are in the hall, and those who watch the remote streams or for times I’m caught in pictures (amusingly I was grabbed for pics out of the line with some students this year, I’m not sure what I was doing beyond featuring as an academic to pose with, I have no idea how they were even reading me, and I don’t really mind).
While it’s true this could be said to be in some ways being over obvious with my sinister dark agenda (okay I’m maybe being snarky), or “rubbing their faces in it” I like to think I’m striking a balance between being too obvious (on a day that’s about the students), and being too hidden. All I’m doing is wearing a small rainbow badge in my outfit and just existing and being there which is the part I think is important, physically being there and in front of people and being comfortable – and I can do this because the University is an accepting place, I know that 99% of the staff and students wouldn’t give me shit, so based on the work of others (standing on the shoulders of giants) I can help continue that work by being there, by normalising things, by being visible and wearing small subtle symbols to help make it okay for others to come out and be themselves.