The theme of University of Redlands’ 10th annual Women, Gender and Sexuality Conference was “Nonetheless They Persisted,’ which showcased students experiences and work in their struggles with oppression and social identities. This years conference took place last Friday, March 23 in Larsen Hall. The university hosted human rights activist, Loretta Ross to deliver the keynote address last Thursday evening in Orton. Loretta Ross is recognized for her extensive work in the intersectionality of social justice issues.
I attended the panel on “Mastectomies: Identity and Politics” moderated by Anthropology and Sociology Professor, Sharon Lang. The panel consisted of three University of Redlands students and one faculty member speaking on their different experiences with mastectomies (removal of breast tissue) in the context of breast cancer and transgender mastectomy surgery.
One breast cancer survivor on the panel spoke on the pressure from doctors that she received in getting a mastectomy and the shuffling around that exists in the process. It is common that you hear of a lot of women getting reconstruction surgery after a mastectomy to have breasts again. Panelist Amy Hudec spoke on how empowered she is by her scars and how breasts are often so tied in with “womanhood” and maintaining a “feminine silhouette.”This is blatant in many breast cancer awareness campaigns that promote slogans like “I love boobies.” The survivors spoke on how the intention with this is to show support, but these campaigns can sometimes end up being problematic in how it sexualizes breast cancer and perpetuates the idea that a woman’s identity revolves solely around her body.
Mastectomies are often talked about in the context of breast cancer but in the transgender community this surgery offers a whole different connotation. This procedure, sometimes referred to as “top surgery,” is something that typically transgender men undergo that remove unwanted breast tissue. The first trans man to receive a bilateral mastectomy was Michael Dillon in 1946. Two men on the panel talked about how difficult the process can be in getting the surgery. The panelists also spoke on how insurance companies make it extremely challenging by dragging the process out and establishing many gatekeepers that deny trans people a life changing surgery.
One of the panelists who is still in the process of receiving surgery spoke on the many requirements that insurance companies have. One common one being that in order to receive any type of medical transition, a lot of doctors require that one must meet often with a gender therapist, a practitioner who specializes in helping someone navigate their translation process. A lot of the time these therapists write down arbitrary things like how someone sits or dresses as criteria for them being “trans enough.” These kinds of barriers in the system make it increasingly difficult for trans people to ever get this operation, sometimes waiting many years to even come close.
This year’s 10th Annual Women and Gender conference included many brave voices sharing their experiences with oppression and hardships in their life. These speakers also highlighted the role that perseverance plays in our lives and just how effective that can be in creating meaningful and effective conversations.
Photos contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer, Caillie Roach.