We are kicking off our very first episode of What IFF? with senior trans activist, Denver Tanner. Listen as Denver helps us understand the importance of Trans Visibility, and follow along while we begin to unpack what it means to be an activist.
MH: Hello and welcome to What IFF? at the college of Charleston. This is a podcast where together, we imagine intersectional feminist features by centering the work of local activists here in our very own college community.
MH: As a forewarning, today’s episode mentions briefly themes of transphobia and suicide. I’m your host Marissa Haynes of CofC’s Women’s and Gender Studies program, and I'm here today launching our very first episode with special guest and senior student activist Denver Tanner.
MH: Denver is a political science major, with minors in studio art and Women's and Gender Studies. They are the inaugural recipient of the Kentner Crunelle LGBTQ+ Endowed Scholarship, and are involved in many other scholarship programs on campus including the Humanities and Social Sciences LEAP program which provides mentorship and reallocates resources to minority students. They have been a tutor and student assistant through the Reach program at the college for nearly 4 years now, and today they're joining us to talk about their path to social justice activism, their experiences as a trans activist, and the future of LGBTQ+ activism.
MH: Hi Denver!
DT: Hi Marissa, it's great to be with you today.
MH: Thanks for being here. I want to give you an opportunity first to speak a bit about what's been on your social justice radar.
DT: So I've been keeping up with the news lately, and I've unfortunately been tracking how trans women in sports have had some serious debates recently, especially with the college athlete, and it's pretty sad but you know , we're gonna keep supporting that community as we can .
MH: Yeah, I mean there's a bill right now, not to take you off too much, but I’m sure you know about the “Save Women’s Sports Bill” that’s going through the there's a bill right now in the house in South Carolina that would make it so that trans students can’t participate in athletic sports teams that align with their gender identity, and that is a little bit of the work that you do, right? The work you do is for and in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
DT: Yes, it is. I work with 2 student College of Charleston organizations, PRISM and trans student alliance, and will actually be hosting an event for the Charleston LGBT community March the 30 first . It'll be at the College of Charleston in Stern Student Gardens, 4pm to 6:30pm, and anyone is welcome to come attend. We'll have some games cupcakes and prizes, so come on out, and we're gonna celebrate our queer community.
MH: And that's for Trans-Visibility Day, right?
DT: Yes, it is.
MH: Yeah. So tell me why is an event like this so important for Trans visibility day and for the overall cause?
DT: What a great question! Well, it's really important because the trans community, in particular, does not necessarily get all the love and support it deserves within the queer community, especially here in Charleston. Within the LGBT youth, we know that the trans demographic is the highest to be at risk for homelessness within this area, and there's not really any outreach programs directed towards that issue. So that's one major reason. Another is that we deserve to be celebrated, and we deserve to be happy. , so I just want to make that a public statement especially with the support of the college.
MH: That's amazing. So that's on Thursday, the 31st of March.
DT: Yes, 4 to 6:30, in the Stern student gardens at the College of Charleston.
MH: All right. Hopefully you have a great turnout for that. I have no doubt that you will.
DT: Thank you so much.
MH: So, what did your journey to feminist social justice activism look like? In the words of scholar Sarah Amed, she says, when did feminism find you? Was it something that just always made sense to you?
DT: No, it's not. Feminism used to be something I looked at as a kid and a young person that I don't know, had a kind of dirty lens to it, you know the angry feminist, the angry woman, the bra burning that kind of stuff. And as I came into my college career I realized that that's really not feminism at all, in fact, it's in our everyday lives and present. But my first journey into Women’s and Gender Studies was through tutoring with the Reach program. I taught a class there, and that's actually when I learned about intersectionality, and Kimberly Crenshaw. The following semester: I had the chance to go study abroad in Trujillo, Spain and I took a course comparing the lives of American and Spanish women, and that was really interesting learning how feminism can affect a culture in a whole country at large. As my journey through college came, I became more comfortable with my own identity as a non-binary lesbian, I found feminism playing a vital role in my everyday life, just through my identity and existing.
MH: Wow. Okay. So Spain, that's amazing. Did you go with the intention of exploring these kinds of identities, these kinds of feminist intersectional issues? Or did it just kind of happen upon you?
DT: Well, I did sign up for the course before I left, so I had some idea, but my main objective traveling was probably to enjoy the wine and cheese.
MH: But that's something that obviously we know to be very important: being able to explore the different demographics in a way that they may experience oppression. similarly or differently than we do. I'm wondering: how has your upbringing informed your approach to Women's and Gender Studies, to social justice activism?
DT: Yeah, so I had a very conservative upbringing. I grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which is a little town on the foothills of the mountains, almost in North Carolina, and, like I said, very conservative, not the most supportive of any kind of LGBT activism or identity, so growing up I really had to push my true identity down and it's only recently as i've become more safe within myself through therapy and healing my inner child that i've noticed how my my person is a part of feminism, a part of activism, and a part of the trans identity.
MH: Yes, I'm like 'preach' over here, because it’s so true. I mean healing your inner child, is if everyone if everyone took that time to really not just give recognition to but to really hold that inner child, especially queer people, especially those who are facing oppression in their everyday walk, it's amazing to be able to hold on to that little person and I think the growth that can happen within a society when we all do that is exponential.
DT: Absolutely, because, especially with the queer demographic we have, you know, some of the highest risks for mental illness, for suicide, and we need to be able to love ourselves and nurture each otherMH: Absolutely. I mean, I know I read in Forbes Magazine in 2020 that 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. That's basically a 100%!
DT: Yes, I know all of my friends who identify within that group which I mean is pretty much all of us, right, have really struggled with that recently.
MH: Yeah, and 52% of LGBTQ youth have seriously considered suicide, which is and should be treated as a national crisis. That’s serious.
DT: Yes, it sure is.
MH: And, if we break that down by race, you know we find that young queer people of color are at an even higher risk for suicide, and you know what it's our government doing about it? They're actively adding legislation that will only make things worse for this youth and queer youth is, you know, they're paying attention, you know we spoke a little bit about some of the bills that are under consideration, and the house right now there's House Bill 4047 that would make it a felony for medical professionals to provide transition related and just gender affirming care to transgender miners and being convicted of it, could result in a 20 year prison sentence like I feel like we're going back in time.
DT: Yes, that is absolutely insane. I personally could not imagine dealing with something like that. I mean I was an advocate for sports in high school and middle school. I played basketball and I wasn't out of the time, but only because I didn't feel safe to, and something like this would just completely expound that feeling. One of my childhood best friends, her sibling is queer and thankfully they are safe enough to come out within their middle school, but something like this would completely erase your ability to celebrate themselves and be physically active and be happy.
MH: Yeah. And I think that same bill would require teachers, like elementary school teachers, high school teachers, to inform parents of transgender kids in their classes if they felt that they weren't out to their parents or for some reason their parents didn't know they would be legally bound to out them.
DT: Yes, and that is terrifying. I mean that sounds like something out of an apocalypse movie or a children's book that's meant to scare you. I don't want to live in that reality
MH: Oh, my gosh, yeah. Well, this show, you know What IFF? It stands for intersectional feminist futures, right? Seeing that now, this idea of looking into the future, so that a younger generation can live something that maybe we can't. And, that's what activism has looked like for generations. Generations of oppressed people have imagined and worked for a future that they themselves might not be able to live. So let's imagine if a future where you we don't have to tell someone “hey, let’s make it visible that trans people deserve… I don't know, love and deserve appreciation. Right? What does a future look like where maybe your activism is no longer necessary. Doesn't?
DT: Yes, yes, I know exactly what you mean, because right now I think about how happy I am with my current partner, and I frequently think you know if I would have existed 50 years ago. My relationship wouldn't be what it is today like I wouldn't feel safe in myself to do it so just to acknowledge us absolutely the generations before us have worked so hard to get us to where we are today and i'm very thankful for that. But when I imagine a future I would like to see a place where we're no longer valuing masculinity in society more than the feminine values of caring for each other and nurturing one another, and you know productivity and capitalism aren't the main goals. I think a society like that is when we're going to actually flourish as queer people, and be able to help one another. Personally, I would love to have a small farm somewhere with a group of people where we just get to eat naturally all the time and make art.
MH: What a dream!
DT: Thank you.
MH: Now, you're a Women and Gender Studies minor, right?
DT: I am, yeah.
MH: How do you feel like the classes that you've taken, or the work that you've done has prepared you for the life that you dream of?
DT: I think it definitely has . The College has provided me so many great opportunities. I’m actually this year, joining the gardening club, so we're circling back to the learning how to grow your own food with that one. But academically, one of my favorite projects was my anarchy capstone with Dr. McGinnis for my political science end of the year project. I wrote a thesis paper called Be Gay, Do Crime: An Analysis of Queer Anarchy.
MH: Okay, wow, love that. Queer anarchy? Can you expand on that.
DT: Yes, definitely. So, queer anarchy is, in essence, studying how your identity as a gay person or a trans person, is an act of rebellion against the state. So, for example, in my research for this paper, I learned that the City of Charleston, back in the seventeenth century, used to outlaw dressing of an opposite sex, which obviously is transphobic inherently but even racist as it dates back to origins and not allowing people of a different socioeconomic class to dress as if they were wealthier.
MH: Wow! I love that, too, because what you're talking about is that this innate just being and walking in life is activism, right? Like, walking and existing as a queer person. That in and of itself is activism. I wanted to ask you: What does it mean to be an activist? What does it take to be an activist?
DT: What a great question! Because if you asked me that a couple weeks ago I would have said, “oh, I don't know. I'm not an activist.” But now that I sit here and have this dialogue with you and think about my college experiences and what motivates me every day. I realize: to be an activist, you really just have to care about something. You have to have an identity with something and a passion. And I think activism is much simpler than we perceive it to be, and it really can be a part of your everyday life, just like Women’s and Gender Studies.
MH: I completely agree, I think the way that you admit to that imposter syndrome of: “I'm not an activist. You know, those people are activists but I'm not an activist.” And then maybe it takes someone else telling you the impact that you've had on others to be seen as activism. While we're on the topic of imposter syndrome, I have personally fallen into the black hole of imposter syndrome. I think that you and I have talked about this: it's something that, you know, no one's immune to it right but to me, it's not productive. What good does it do for you? What good does it do for the cause that you are trying to fight for? There's no progression.
DT: I think that a lot of queer people do struggle with imposter syndrome, because, you know, I know Rupaul might be canceled these days, but i'll always think about the Drag Race quote that your inner sabatoire is your worst enemy, because this negative voice in your head where you aren't good enough, especially as a trans person feeling that you're not valid just to exist in society, that you should stay in your house all day because you don't pass. You know the really negative feelings that I think a lot of people can relate to. They do nothing but hold us back. That's not to invalidate experiencing them, it's to say that we have to overcome it by loving ourselves and each other.
MH: I love that. Absolutely. Well, you know, before our show comes to an end, I want to talk about, maybe what's next for you after graduation.
DT: Yes, I'll be graduating May 6th!
MH: Yes, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. You can just barely see it. So, you know, what's next for you? How will, and will activism stay at the center of your work?
DT: Absolutely. Activism is going to be even more at the center of my work now, because I'm transitioning from working with students that I love and care for to my community that i'm gonna be a part of and I'm hoping to either work with the College of Charleston or with the Mayor Corps. Either role will be kind of non-profit based and outreach based. I'm also going to be working towards my masters in public administration at the College of Charleston.
MH: Awesome. Good luck. Amazing. Good luck, Denver.
DT: Thank you.
MH: Yeah. Before we close I want to do a little exercise for you. In the spirit of researcher, professor and author Brené Brown, we're gonna do a little lightning round. A little Q&A. Don't think about it, just tell me the first thing that comes to your head. Coffee or tea?
DT: Coffee, strong black coffee.
MH: Okay. Imagine your bedside table. Tell me one thing on it.
DT: Extra toasted Cheez-Its. They are so good, highly addicted.
MH: Okay, one song on repeat for the rest of your life. What is it?
DT: Running Up That Hill from Meg Meyers.
MH: Alright. What is something that people get wrong about you?
DT: Usually my pronouns. I get she/her’d frequently, and I prefer they/them pronouns
MH: Last, but certainly not least, what is the best part of being you?
DT: Waking up every day, and deciding to be myself, and getting to be happy in my own body, which is a goal that, I think, is a lot harder to accomplish than people give themselves credit for.
MH: Amazing. Thank you, Denver, for sharing your knowledge and your love, and in this space for us I appreciate it so much.
DT: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.
MH: Please join Denver in celebrating our CofC trans community at Trans-Visibility day on Thursday, March 31 in Stern Center Garden from 4-630 pm. For more information about how to block South Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, you can visit southcarolinaunited.org or call your local representative.
This has been WGS What IFF? at CofC. Thank you for spending time with us today and for supporting the Women’s and Gender Studies program at the College of Charleston. For future episodes, visit The College’s official news site, The College Today, at today.cofc.edu or keep up with us on WGS Connect at blogs.cofc.edu/wgsconnect/ and our Instagram @cofcwgs. Tune in next time to hear about what social justice activism can look like post-graduation with one of our very own Women’s and Gender Studies alumni, Reagan Williams, class of 2020. Stay feminist y’all!