By LIBBY CUDMORE • for www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Dr. Nancy Kleniewski choked back tears as she described Janet Mock, New York Times bestselling author, TV host and transgender rights activist, as a role model.
“With your social media presence, #GirlsLikeUs, you’ve done so much to help transwomen,” said the SUNY Oneonta president. “It’s very emotional. You may have had your legends, but you’re the legend now.”
Mock, author of this year’s Common Read, “Redefining Realness,” was on hand to deliver the annual Mills Distinguished Lecture in a question-and-answer format with Kleniewski. “I really appreciate you all dealing with having to read my book,” she said. “Thank you all for coming out.”
With many SUNY students studying to become teachers, Kleniewski asked her to speak about how school affected her. “Teachers are so vital in creating spaces in which young people can feel comfortable,” said Mock. “Alison Colby, the social worker at my school, went around to all my teachers to ensure that my chosen name was used on all the attendance sheets. It was so great not to have to have those conversations on my own.”
In addition to Colby, she also had a hula teacher who was a transwoman. “Celebrities like Caitlin Jenner are great, but seeing a transperson in a lived space is so important,” she said. “Transpeople have always been here, but seeing her teaching in a middle school showed me that being trans was OK.”
She also talked about the importance of safe spaces for LGBTQ youth. “It’s be interesting to see New York City change,” she said. “But gentrification is displaying queer folk who used to use that as a safe space. On Christopher Street, where the Stonewall Inn is, there’s a curfew! They’re prioritizing rich folk and displacing LGBTQ people. Everyone wants to move into that neighborhood because it’s cool – we made it cool!”
Her speech was well-received, with thunderous applause, a long line of autograph-seekers, and one student yelling “I love you!” when she took the stage.
“Our students are very engaged,” said Kleniewski.
And she spoke about her happiness in seeing the next generation redefine gender norms. “This generation no longer has to present the way folks say you should present,” she said. “We are our own gods and goddesses.”