Over the next couple of days, the National Union of Students’ National Conference will decide whether or not to allocate funds for a full time paid officer to work on trans issues. Jess Bradley talks about her experiences as a trans student and her involvement in the NUS, making the argument for the NUS to support trans students by voting yes to a full-time trans officer.
Content notes for: sex work, transphobia, sexual assault, outing, TERFs, vague reference to suicide
When I was 18 I started having sex with men for money. I started because, despite my having a part time job at the time, I found myself having to make the choice between eating and paying the bus fare to university. Like many trans students, I had a sometimes strained and sometimes non-existent relationship with my parents, and couldn’t ask them for help. At the time I was newly out as trans, and taking an engineering course at Bradford University. Nobody on my course would talk to me or want to work with me in group projects because I was trans. When they did, people asked me why I would do “a man’s subject like engineering if I wanted to be a woman”. Eventually, like too many trans students, I dropped out of my course.
This was a rough time for me. Fortunately for me, one of the sabbatical officers self-defined as trans and I came to them for support. We quickly became friends; if it wasn’t for them I’m not sure I would be alive today to be honest. I ended up switching over to a new course at Manchester University where I could get a bursary. I fast found a vibrant queer community there, but still struggled, almost failing and dropping out of this course after I was sexually assaulted on campus one too many times.
Still, I scraped through my undergrad and managed to get onto a masters course. In the first week of term, Julie Bindel was scheduled to turn up for an event on campus. I wrote a facebook status about it, which the university newspaper stole it as a quote; outing me as both trans and a sex worker to 80,000 students across Manchester at 3 different institutions without my consent. Now I am a PhD student at the same institution, and occasionally teach undergraduates. I wonder how many of them had read that newspaper article, and how many have connected their teacher with the sensationalist things that were written about me.
I consider myself pretty privileged; my experiences as a trans student are in no way unique nor are they uncommon, and many of my trans peers haven’t got into further or higher education because of the transphobia they face. During my time as a student I have been an active member of the NUS LGBT Campaign, because I want to use the privilege I have to open the doors for more trans people to get into education.
The NUS LGBT Campaign does some fantastic work for trans students, but I still feel like an outsider within the campaign sometimes. I’ve seen a lot of transphobia within the campaign in my time, and there a still a lot of barrier for trans people who want to get involved. Each year it feels like it’s a gamble as to whether the campaign will take trans issues seriously, or be able to understand our issues properly, as there is no guaranteed full time officer representing trans students.
I’m not suggesting that what happened to me would not have happened if there was a full time trans officer, simply that trans students on our campuses and in our communities need more support. And that support needs to come from someone who is trans, someone who understands our issues, and has the resources and support to focus on our issues all year round. So, if you are at the NUS National Conference this year, please act in solidarity with trans students and vote for a full time trans students officer. Thankyou.