When university lecturer Dr Kate Lister loaned one of her students a book she had no idea what a life changing – but also life saving moment – it would be.
A lecturer in history and literature at Leeds Trinity university, a student approached Lister last year asking for some book recommendations.
Named only as ‘A’, Lister revealed their story in a Twitter thread which has since gone viral. In the thread she revealed he comes from a very conservative religious background.
‘I recommended a number of books, including ‘Fanny and Stella’ by Neil McKenna – a biography of two trans women in the 19th century that also looks at gay subculture,’ wrote Lister on Twitter.
‘I was slightly surprised, but A decided this was the topic for him and away he went.’
A life saving book
What happened next a year later shocked Lister and left her with ‘goosebumps’.
The student turned up ‘out of the blue’ to explain to her the impact Fanny and Stella had on him. He revealed he had felt confused about his sexuality and had always had a strong desire to ‘cross dress’. But A’s conservative Islamic and cultural background left him with a lot of shame around it.
But reading the book and his discussions with Lister inspired him to start dressing as a woman, known as Sara, and even went out as Sara.
‘He was inspired by their (Fanny and Stella) courage,’ Lister told Gay Star News.
‘There aren’t many trans or drag performers from a Muslim backgrounds and wanted to be trailblazer like them.’
Lister said it was the most profound thing that had happened to her as a lecturer. She described A as much more relaxed and happier after he started exploring his sexual and gender identity.
‘It’s not often I am lost for words,’ she said.
‘He was glowing right in front of me.’
The lecturer decided to share what happened to help get a positive story out to the world. She noted the recent transphobic open letter 30 British academics sent to the Sunday Times. They complained they could not teach LGBT charity Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme.
‘With all the hostility around Stonewall, I wanted to put something out there that was not hostile but nice,’ Lister said.
A long journey
Lister admitted that students often confide in her and they ‘do tell you things’.
Her experience with A – who admitted he had a ‘long journey ahead’ on his path to self-realization – reminded Lister of the ‘power dynamic at work’ between students and their teachers.
‘It shows how important it is for academics to understand LGBT people, university needs to be a safe place,’ she said.