UB alum Tiq Milan hosts lecture about issues in the transgender community
When Tiq Milan’s mother presented him with a Strawberry Shortcake bicycle with pink and yellow tassels as a child, he knew something wasn’t right.
Milan said although he didn’t have the language to describe his disconnect with his former female body as a little girl, he knew the black Huffy truck with gold letters and scuffing up his shoes to appear rough like the boys made him happy.
Milan, a UB alumnus and Buffalo native, was the keynote speaker for the third annual Sex, Gender, Health Symposium on Nov. 4 and 5, sponsored by the Gender Institute and co-sponsored by the offices of UB Campus Living, Intercultural Diversity Center, Student Engagement, Wellness Education Services, Gay & Lesbian Youth Services (GLYS) and Buffalo Women’s Services.
Milan is a writer and a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activist. He is currently the national spokesperson for GLAAD, a media monitoring organization founded by LGBT people in the media. Milan has been featured in Vanity Fair, and his work has been in Ebony Magazine, The New York Times and HuffPost Live.
This year’s symposium focused on transgender health and wellness. During the two-day series, Milan shared his experiences to UB students and faculty as a transgender African American male through an informative lecture and intimate conversation over lunch.
Mariana Rojas, a graduate student in the transnational studies department who identifies as queer, said this is her third semester here but the conversation with Milan, hosted at the Intercultural Diversity Center, was the first event that made her feel comfortable on campus.
“I have been trying to find a queer community on campus and I had to make an effort to step out of the isolation I was in to find places like this,” Rojas said.
Students at the lunch were able to voice their thoughts and grievances about the lack of inclusion and understanding from their peers and faculty regarding those who are gender non-conforming. One student said students should have the opportunity to change their name on their UB identification cards and there should be more gender-neutral bathrooms.
Afiya Grant, senior psychology and English major, is a LGBTQ Students of Color outreach assistant at the Wellness Center. She said said events with LGBTQ activists coming to campus are necessary.
“Even though Laverne Cox was great, this type of smaller conversation here makes more space for questions that maybe aren’t relevant to the larger community,” Grant said.
Milan discussed the traumatizing effect of misgendering trans people, or referring to them with a pronoun or form of address inconsistent from the gender with which they identify.
“Obviously it has a different effect on everyone but I haven’t met one trans person who when they are misgendered doesn’t cringe down to the pit of their soul,” said Milan.
Milan touched on the Black Lives Matter movement and the need for intersectionality, or the concept that social identities are connected through systems of oppression and should therefore overlap.
Through this lens, Milan was referring to the trans men and women of color who are often left out of the conversation.
“We have to be intersectional – Black Trans Lives Matter. Already this year there have been 22 murders of trans women and all of them have been of color except maybe one,” Milan said.
Milan’s lecture was held at the Butler Auditorium in Farber Hall on South Campus. Throughout the hour-long lecture, Milan shared his knowledge and experience about being transgender in the healthcare system.
There has been a legacy of distrust within the health care system with marginalized people, including black and female patients, Milan noted, especially with the transgender community.
Milan recalled a time before his chest reconstruction surgery when he was extremely sick and went to the emergency room and was humiliated.
When he took off his shirt at the medical personnel’s request and they saw he had breasts, the doctor ran out of the room and refused to see him. Milan said his mother, who is a nurse and has always been supportive, was able to speak to the right people and make sure he got the right treatment.
The medical treatment transgender men and women need is important to their lives and their health. But many transgender people lack the type of support Milan received.
“This isn’t about being cute,” Milan said. “It’s about your spirit being able to manifest within your body. It’s important that I’m in the body that I want so that I can feel whole.”
The discrimination and lack of understanding from the healthcare system forces transgender women – those who transition from male to female – to go to unsafe lengths to feminize their bodies, according to Milan.
He has watched friends pass away from making these dangerous decisions.
“One was from violence but the other two women died from just being sick,” Milan said. “They were visibly trans and sex workers. They weren’t getting the medical attention that they needed so they were getting dirty hormones off the black market.”
One common misconception about being transgender is equating the term to taking hormones – but not all choose that route. For those that do, Milan offered care networks and support groups including the Community Kinship (CK) Life, located in the Bronx, which he said was instrumental in helping him find the proper resources during his transition.
CK Life assists other transgender men and women in living fulfilled lives during after their transition. It serves as a network of opportunities by providing doctor recommendations, support groups, family planning and hormone replacement therapy. CK Life also has a scholarship fund that raises thousands of dollars to help transgender people start their hormone therapy or get an elected surgery, according to Milan.
“If it wasn’t for this community based organization, I would have had no starting place,” Milan said.
Editor's note: All pronouns in this article are deliberate and at the request of the speakers involved.
Jessica Bain is a features staff writer. Features desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.