Thursday, April 12, 2012

stef shuster recalls the frustration experienced when filling out the Institutional Review Board (IRB) application to conduct graduate research.

“It was very formulaic, and so many of the questions were constructed in a binary way,” says the 29-year-old University of Iowa doctoral student in sociology who is conducting research on transgender communities and identities—and whose name is intentionally lowercase.

So when the form asked what percentage of the human subjects shuster interviewed were female or male, shuster was stumped.

“How do I fill that out when some of the people whom I interviewed identified as neither?” shuster says. “Life is full of nuance, ambiguity, and complexity.”

shuster understands there are more than two genders. While many people can only think in binary terms of boy or girl, black or white, shuster explains there are infinite ways for human beings to express gender that have nothing to do with one’s anatomical makeup.

And it’s not just IRB forms that pose a challenge.

“Every form I fill out forces me to identify as either male or female,” says shuster, who identifies as neither. “I’m trans-identified, which means that I don’t limit or define who I am by gender. So on the last U.S. Census form, I hand-scrawled in and marked my own little transgender box.”

To read more of this profile of Obermann Graduate Institute Fellow stef shuster, visit the Iowa Now web site. Visit stef's web site, Transcollaborations.

Thank you to Lois Gray for her writing!