Last Thursday evening, students trickled into Hayes Hall 109 to the tune of “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls — no ordinary prelude to a lecture. The music came courtesy of educator and activist Rebecca Kling of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), who visited Kenyon last week.
Along with the Center for Innovative Pedagogy, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Women’s and Gender Studies program, Kling hosted a series of events entitled “Transforming Digital Storytelling: How to Frame, Share, and Discuss Transgender Narratives.”
Kling’s lecture on trans narratives in digital spaces focused on the history of trans representation in media from the late 19th century to present day. She analyzed a variety of trans stories from social media platforms and well-known films like “Paris is Burning,” as well as more obscure examples from podcasts, indie video games and pornography. Kling shared her thoughts on the power of storytelling, the nature of digital media and the importance of trans visibility. “When you know someone’s story, you are less likely to be an a–hole,” Kling noted. Throughout the talk, she welcomed audience questions and participation, whether the topic of discussion was intersectionality or Game of Thrones.
Kling, who has a background in performance art, peppered her presentation with humor and baby animal GIFs. “Tell your professor Rebecca gave you extra credit,” she told one student. Kling also plugged her cats’ Instagram account, to the audience’s delight.
Toby McCabe ’21 thought that the lecture appealed successfully to the crowd and to people with any level of knowledge about transgender narratives. “I’ve been able to consume a lot of trans-specific media, and going into this, I wasn’t sure what to expect, [but] I learned so much that I had never known before,” he said.
McCabe expressed excitement at the size of the audience. “It was actually more people than I was expecting,” he said. “It tends to be the usual crowd of people that go to similar events. But this time, it was a lot of people I hadn’t seen attend these events before. And that was really nice, because I knew that people were curious to see what was going on and wanted new exposure.”
Kling also hosted a workshop on sharing trans narratives in digital spaces, and visited a senior seminar in Legal Studies, where she discussed her policy-making work with the NCTE in Washington, D.C. She interacted with students from the Gender Group, Unity House and the Crozier Center for Women over meals and coffee.
At an invite-only dinner with Kling at the Kenyon Inn on Friday, students discussed the importance of trans narratives and questioned who should tell trans stories. McCabe, who attended, was impressed with Kling’s knowledge and approachability, describing her as “put-together,” “super nice” and “really, really cool.” McCabe said he felt “reassured [that] you can be an adult and still be a queer person, and those two aren’t mutually exclusive.” He identified Kling as one of his role models.