University of Kansas women’s and gender studies graduate student Liam Oliver Lair, who is transmasculine and queer-idenitified, led a deeply nuanced educational forum about biology, self-perception and expression on Thursday, Nov. 21.
With a staggeringly basic yet penetrating dialogue and glitter-laden nails, Lair deconstructed for a full audience what it truly means to identify.
First up for dissection was biological sex. Lair debunked traditional myths about sex with a simple and factual assertion. There are many different chromosomal make-ups that translate into a similarly diverse range of genital parts in humans.
“Before we even move on to gender identity, the whole binary idea is blown out of the water,” Lair said.
For Lair, a legal and biological female with the outward “passing” appearance of a white man, binaries have never bounded his identity.
In fact, Lair explained that self-identification is a life-long process.
He paid tribute to this idea of ceaseless transformation with a personal anecdote: Having been born a woman, living comfortable in his female body for many years, he recently made the elaborate decision to veer off toward a new form of expression, one that would suit who he is — and what he believes — today.
He has had chest masculinization surgery, he’s taking testosterone hormones and he outwardly appears as a man. Lair’s transmasculine gender identity, however, means that he associates with certain masculine attributes while simultaneously acting in a way that might not make him read as a man in society’s eyes — his painted nails, for example, set him out in the crowd.
Yet, Lair proved that gender can be — and is — more fluid than most people expect.
“What if it’s a choice?” Lair said. “We all have gender identities. We make them up as we go. Hopefully y’all are different today from who you were five years ago.”
And what Lair did in illuminating this nuance was to break down the barriers for a more inclusive conversation. Lair proudly wears the identity he has fashioned for himself and encouraged others to do the same — gay, straight, queer or otherwise.
“We’re all a little bit queer,” Lair said. “(Being) queer gets at how ‘normal’ as a way of being in the world does not exist.”
With that in mind, he turned toward his audience of College students and future educators and asked them to consider how facilitating acceptance in the classroom can be possible. After the discussion, junior secondary education and English double major Megan Mihalik realized that she must “be more brave in the class” in order to rouse cooperation and validation in her students.
“Through (Lair’s) advice, I gained more confidence,” Mihalik said. “I want kids to feel safe in the classroom.”
Whether it’s within or without the education system, it’s everyday choices and the pursuit of self-discovery that make the possibilities as endless as Lair has proven.
His journey is surely one to set a standard for all to follow. That is, one where the learning never ends.