A long road ahead, but in the right direction

Anonymous (TheLorian)

In this week’s installment of the series on gender and sexuality, I introduce you to a Loras College student who openly identifies as transgender. You may know her on campus as Alyse Nienke Tuttle but she prefers to be referred to as, Embers (based on her fascination with the Phoenix, the mythological bird that rose from the ashes).

To say that Embers is a non-traditional Loras student would be an understatement. At 30-years-old, she’s about a decade older than most students. Embers also served as an Army cargo specialist in the war in Afghanistan. And, Embers openly identifies as transgender. Not your typical Duhawk.

“How I usually describe transgenderism is, there’s a voice in your head … for me, I’ve had that voice in my head since I was about six or seven years old so I thought there was something wrong with me,” Embers said. “I constantly had this voice in my head that said, ‘Hey, you should be female, you should be female.’ And this continued even after I joined the military.”

Embers said that she didn’t think about it as much when she was a soldier in Afghanistan because, in wartime, her mind was focused on simply staying alive. But, shortly after she returned home, the voice began, once again, nagging in her brain.

“I didn’t know that transgender was even a thing,” Embers said. “The only thing I ever heard was transvestite (a man who dresses in women’s clothing).” She said she was talking with a lesbian friend who made her aware of transgenderism.

Once she heard the word, she knew that she was transgender, but she did not announce this to many people. She was in the middle of studying to become a Mormon bishop when she decided to live her life openly. She came out to the branch president at her church who said that, while he respected and supported her decision, this would be the end of her pursuit to become a Mormon bishop. Embers said that she still has fond memories of the church but decided to leave it.

In general, Embers said, coming out is a life-changing experience. When talking about coming out, she often cites a famous Gandhi quote: “Whatever you do in life will be insignificant but it is very important that you do it because you can’t know.”

Coming out, she said, feels like a weight lifted. For her, she feels that anxiety is the weight that is lifted and emotion is what lifts that weight. She warns that you will lose friends and family when you come out but you will also find those who will wholeheartedly accept the real you.

“And for those who can’t accept that, give them time and they might change their mind,” Embers said.

After coming out, she moved back home but was having trouble with her family over her transgenderism. She decided to leave home and go to school. She was looking for a college in the Dubuque area with a writing program and found Loras to be the only one.

“I expected to get a lot of crap for being trans,” Embers said. “I expected teachers to be a little bit more scornful towards me … because it’s a Catholic college. Instead, I found some welcoming people.”

Embers, a creative writing major, said her English department advisor, Dr. Susan Stone, has been especially welcoming. But that’s not to say that everything and everyone at Loras has been accepting. One student, she said, made a concerted effort to track her down to discuss transgenderism. She said they ended up having a four-hour discussion in the café one day.

Embers said, after that first encounter, they continued having conversations about gender, eventually moving on to politics and religion. She thought the student had come to an understanding – where he believed being trans was different but not wrong. That is, until last spring.

“I got an email from him with a YouTube link,” Embers said. “The link was to a video that essentially said, if I was Christian, Jesus would kill me over my transgenderism.” Embers reported this and has not been very happy with the lackluster response.

Embers took a deep breath and sighed. “This is when it actually began to click with me that … Loras says it’s diverse and inclusionary,” she said. “However, I feel as if some of its decisions do not exactly align with what it says.”

Loras, she said, is good with recognition and acceptance of its LGBTQ+ students but is not going the extra step and providing educational opportunities when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues. She believes that Loras, like the United States in general, has certainly made progress.

“[Loras] has a way to go before it’s going to be diverse – the same with America,” Embers said. “It has a long way to go – but we’re working towards the right direction.”

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