Life as a trans person in Oxford can be complicated and messy, and will vary greatly depending on your environment and particularly on the people surrounding you. You’ll be independent enough to explore your gender identity and expression, and relatively few students will be openly bigoted about it. Trans issues are gaining more attention and people are starting to recognise transphobia in everyday life, so some people will be sympathetic, but not many will understand, and some will expect you to teach them everything about being trans (and if you don't want to, you shouldn't have to teach anyone! They should know how to google or should at least come to us, the Trans Reps, for that).
On the plus side, there is a weekly trans welfare event, which entails a bunch of trans people meeting up in a friendly environment for a few hours, eating free food, talking about things that we find interesting, and being comfortable in a safe space for trans people.
Even so, we would be lying if we said that it would be easy. Most likely, there will be times when it’s confusing and exhausting, but we’re here to help with that.
With regards to the bureaucratic side of transition, some colleges are more accommodating than others, but university policy makes it fairly easy for you to change your name on most (if not all) databases, and at least one college even has a fund that its students can access for urgent trans-related healthcare. Some university buildings (notably many faculty buildings and libraries) have no gender-neutral toilets, but hopefully more will be added soon. Also if you email the academic records office at firstname.lastname@example.org then they will be able to change your ‘preferred gender’ and title on your student record, and we are working on refining this process.
Starting university as an asexual person can be particularly challenging - making friends and getting your head around an entirely new academic system is difficult enough, but university can also be a very sexualised environment, and it's easy to feel alienated if you're not so interested. Asexual life in Oxford is fairly low key at the moment - the university LGBTQ society has only had an asexuality rep for a few years - but we're working hard to build up a community. I'll be holding weekly meet-ups throughout term, which will also be alcohol-free - though if pub trips are your thing, there's plenty of scope for those as well! I'm also working to make sure that college LGBTQ reps - a good first point of contact for any problems you have - are as aware of asexuality as they are of other orientations, and will be able to give you appropriate advice. Finally, Asexual Awareness Week is from the 19th to the 25th of October 2015, not long after term starts, so watch out for some special events then!
As your ace rep, I'm always available if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions. I'm responsible for the welfare of all students who identify under the asexual umbrella, whether you're asexual, grey-asexual, demisexual, somewhere in between or just curious. I'm also your point of contact for any questions about romantic orientations and/or aromanticism - if I can't help, I can probably direct you towards someone who can, so don't hesitate to get in touch!
LGBTQ+ life in Oxford is better than we could ever have imagined. Oxford in particular is able to boast its LGBTQ+ community as one of the most diverse and open-minded across the UK. This year, we have the opportunity to play a role within this community. In our first year, Oxford’s LGBTQ+ life was surrounded mostly around the weekly Tuesday night events. However, we are aiming to organise a wider range of welfare events this year as a way of improving the visibility of the welfare side of LGBTQ+ life.
Through our roles as Welfare Reps, we have the responsibility of maintaining the community’s diversity and open-mindedness by offering opportunities to talk about any issues or concerns an LGBTQ+ student may have. Welfare adds to the LGBTQ+ life in Oxford through the welfare events organised throughout the year. This includes Welfare Teas, where LGBTQ+ students have an appointed place to gather and meet other students across the university. It offers opportunities for LGBTQ+ students to meet others just like them.
Being at Oxford is really advantageous in this respect as its LGBTQ+ Society is one of the biggest across all universities in the UK. As well as this, LGBTQ+ life in Oxford can feel secure through the supportive LGBTQ+ community as the Welfare Reps offer the provision of condoms, lube, etc. as a way of promoting safe relations.
As fantastic a place as Oxford is, there are still challenges to be faced and so, as Welfare Reps, we’re also working towards raising awareness of mental health issues within the LGBTQ+ community. This involves ensuring that everybody feels safe and comfortable at our events, free from harassment – with their identity and at every event! We each face different challenges as part of the LGBTQ+ community and the Welfare Reps are here to help solve any problems you may have. In short, LGBTQ+ life in Oxford feels very welcoming and accepting with a lot of opportunity for becoming part of a community full of like-minded people, which is something that we intend to build on this year through our roles.
LGBTQIAP+ life at Oxford is a whirlwind! Just like every other aspect of Oxford it can be overwhelming. I found a great group of friends within the LGBTQIAP+ community but as a queer woman I did have to sift through "the gaytriarchy" (a loud crazy but lovely bunch of queer men) which in its self was slightly intimidating, especially as it can seem like the Oxford queer scene is dominated by them. However once you make the plunge you find a myriad of wonderful queer folk. As an identifying woman, I also had to often speak louder to have my voice heard, as Oxford, even its LGBTQIAP+ community is quite male-dominated, but, I tried to not let that phase me and now the time I spend within LGBTQIAP+ scene is my favourite bit of Oxford life!
Before coming to Oxford, I didn’t really know any LGBTQ+ people, so I was really looking forward to finding a community of people with similar experiences. My first exposure to the LGBTQ+ community at Oxford was a Freshers’ event held by the LGBTQ reps at my college. Meeting and talking to other queer people who were open and casually unapologetic about their sexualities and gender identities felt incredibly freeing and exciting. It set the tone for the rest of my first year at Oxford. It’s not a queer utopia, but LGBTQ+ people here are more vocal and visible than anywhere else I’ve been. Events like Queerfest made me feel that my identity as a queer woman was something to be celebrated, not hidden. Small gestures like asking about and respecting people’s pronouns, and not making heteronormative assumptions about people’s relationships contributes to an environment where LGBTQ+ are respected and included. And when we’re not, we’re confident enough to draw attention to the issue. For every problem within the LGBTQ+ community, and the university as a whole, there are people committed to solving it.
The first few weeks of Michaelmas (Autumn Term) can be overwhelming, and it took me awhile to work up the confidence to go to LGBTQ society events. When I did go to events, like Tuesday drinks or crew-dates, I found them a bit male-dominated and intimidating. Eventually I found smaller groups like the Queer Women’s Working Group, and OUSU’s LGBTQ campaign. I met like-minded people who shared my interest in feminism and activism, and I learned a lot from people with very different experiences to my own. It took me a bit longer than I expected to really find the corner of the LGBTQ scene that suited me, but once I did it quickly became one of the things I love most about studying here.
While my tutors and classmates have been supportive of my trans identity and unfazed by the change of name and pronouns, I've had some unpleasant experiences in other areas of university life. Several people were publicly aggressive towards me when I suggested that my college was not entirely the trans-friendly environment it purported to be, and I found that very distressing. Also, most faculty buildings and libraries do not have gender-neutral toilets, which has often prevented me from wanting to study outside of my room (not the best work environment). That said, academic and administrative staff have been very accommodating about my transition, and the LGBTQ Society events and weekly Trans Welfare have been a great lifeline.