In a new series of profiles of students around campus, Amina Awartani speaks to Ruairi Ó’Gobhann about his experiences in UCD as a queer transgender student, who is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Gender, Sexuality and Culture.
“Please state your name for the record” I jokingly announce as his shoulders relax and his head bobs forward, the room is filled with the sound of laughter. This is Ruairí Ó’Gobhann, writer, UCD Masters student, and Dungeons and Dragons aficionado, who has kindly agreed to talk to the University Observer about his experiences going from an “ally” to becoming a loud and proud queer trans person.
Undergrad and self-discovery:
Ruairí first became part of the UCD community as an undergrad in 2016, where he studied English with Drama, choosing to focus on his love for the theatre “I've always just been involved with theatre since the young age…so I signed up to that and fell in love.” A love that only continued to grow for him as he continued his studies “as I came out and figured out myself more. I really wanted to focus more on the area of LGBT studies, because I have a passion for it.”
'As I came out and figured out myself more. I really wanted to focus more on the area of LGBT studies, because I have a passion for it.'
Such passion, however, is not found in a vacuum, it was also his participation in societies around UCD, namely the LGBTQ+ society - for which he later became a committee member - that helped him come to terms with who he is, and what he sees his identity as. He laughs as he recalls the irony, of firstly joining the LGBTQ+ soc as an ally “My friend was just like ‘Once you join, that’s how you become gay’”. He goes on to explain “[the LGBTQ+ society] allowed me the space to explore my identity, and just accept a part of myself that I didn’t think I could ever accept…it gave me a sense of home for the first time.” Upon graduating, Ruairí made the decision to continue his studies and pursue a Master’s degree in Gender, Sexuality and Culture. He’s passionate about trans studies and hopes that devotion translates into a career in teaching. “If you are a part of that community, and you feel that you are willing to teach, you'd be perfect to teach it, because…you'll be able to connect with your students on that level.” He dreams of one day providing a safe and accessible knowledge space for students to learn and grow in.
The creative outlet:
Passion for teaching is only one of the many loves in Ruairí’s life, coming together with his love for writing and spoken word. Since 2010, he has been a part of Inklinks, a writing club founded by Sarah Griffin, Colm Keegan, and Trevor Byrne. “It was a phenomenal time, and it got me into writing. I've been writing poetry and stuff like that ever since.” When speaking about his writing journey, he describes the process like a jigsaw puzzle, where the act of voicing out his words cements them in reality. “If I say it out loud…it becomes more real for me” he says. With a twinkle in his eyes, and a blushing face, he recites to me a line from a spoken word performance that he holds dear to his heart; “fast forward to my boy-girl self saying goodbye to the girl parts of myself.”
He continues explaining what it means to him; “It's saying goodbye to an old version of you like an old part of you…this is who I am now, and some parts of myself will be left behind but that’s just the way growth is.” I ask him if anyone has ever expressed how much his poetry has impacted them, and as a humble smile makes its way on his face, he recalls how some people would cry and thank him for how his work has resonated with them. “I never thought my poetry would be that heart evoking.” he says, expressing his delight and explaining how those jigsaw pieces he mentioned would become pieces in other people’s work as well.
Queer struggles in “progressive” spaces:
I recall a day in class, when a cis male student misgendered Ruairí by stating that he was the only man in the room. I ask Ruairí about that day. “I didn’t think such incidents happened here, and in supposedly progressive circles in class?” With a dismissive smile, he brushes it off. “They tend to happen a lot, especially in the introductory period” he says, expressing frustration that, most of the time, teachers don’t feel the need to ask for people’s pronouns in class, which leaves queer students in the awkward position of doing it for themselves, and what is supposed to be a natural part of personal introductions becomes a spotlight as to who you are.
“It's not necessarily outing myself, but it just puts me in the uncomfortable spot.” he says, with an exasperated sigh, as he continues explaining what the world looks like for him. “There's never gonna be a time where I'm not coming out, which is frustrating.” To Ruairí, you are always made to be the one fighting your corner, something he wants other cisgender people to help with. “We need allies” he says, explaining how the simple act of normalising pronouns with introductions can be beneficial. “It’s a very complicated issue but…it creates a space in which over time, trans people will feel comfortable to exist with the choice of giving their pronouns or coming out without a sense of pressure to do so.”
'We need allies…it’s a very complicated issue but…it creates a space in which over time, trans people will feel comfortable to exist with the choice of giving their pronouns or coming out without a sense of pressure to do so.'
He also recalls the moment he knew he had had enough of his job, and that it was time to finally leave, during a conversation with his manager, after having come out at work. His manager addressed “the bathroom issue”, in which he was asked to still use the female bathroom so as to not make the cis male bathroom users uncomfortable, an issue that was mentioned unnecessarily, as Ruairí recalls never bringing it up at work. He reminds me of the regularity of such occurrences, in which there is “the use of this predatory kind of language against trans people”. Worse even, was being made to sit through an embarrassing meeting in which this manager was made to apologise, and Ruairí was not allowed to leave that uncomfortable room until he forgave them.
The world ahead:
“Congratulations on being eight months on [Testosterone]!” I exclaimed; a cheerful smile took over his face. “Thank you!” he eagerly responds. Ruairí made the announcement via Instagram, where he has been regularly filming his journey with his medication. When asked about why he made this decision he responds “I do it for my own self. So, it's like a diary to myself. [So that] I’ll be able to look back and see the growth of that change on that journey.” To him, it is also a matter of observing the art in the process: “you kind of see the art that is the body in itself…in some of the pictures I can tell that my face has changed…so it’s kind of the art of transitioning.”
To him, [documenting his transition] is also a matter of observing the art in the process: ‘you kind of see the art that is the body in itself… in some of the pictures I can tell that my face has changed… so it’s kind of the art of transitioning’
“What do you want the world to know about you?” I ask, curious about his choices to chronicle his journey of transitioning. “Just allow us to share a space with you. Let us be able to exist in that space.” He responds matter of factly, adding that he is always being made to answer invasive and uncomfortable questions, “What was your deadname before? What is your medical journey like?” He ends his answer with a plea to everyone to take it upon themselves to be aware. The resources are readily available, and it would help in removing the pressure on trans people to always be ready to defend themselves and their identity.
In talking about what he is looking forward to right now, he eagerly responds “There’s a Queer Arts Festival,” and proceeds to explain his desire to go, enjoy, and support all manner of queer arts and business. The festival is based in Belfast, where Ruairí is based when not in UCD. He invites me to join, and lists the variety of art shows, spoken word events and businesses such as a “Queer Tattoo parlor you should definitely visit!” As an avid Dungeons and Dragons fan, Ruairí is also looking forward to the campaign he is creating. “It'll take place all over town, I’m so excited.”