As a freshman at FGCU, Kasey Fraize struggled to find resources that could help him learn more about his transgender identity.
“When I would ask for resources from different departments, I would be directed to CAPS,” Fraize says, referring to the Counseling and Psychological Services office on campus. “When someone’s asking you for resources, they’re not asking you for counseling. They’re asking you for social acceptance and help.”
Now a junior and almost two years into hormone therapy through Planned Parenthood, Fraize is a transgender advocate on campus who spreads awareness through educational panels, classroom talks and volunteer work in the community.
His first major program on campus was the Trans 101 Forum, held last March with both Prevention and Wellness and the Office of Multicultural Development and Leadership.
“That was the first real transgender-focused event that we’ve hosted at FGCU,” Fraize says. “I took the initiative to bring in a couple of students, in addition to myself, to sit on a panel and have an anonymous Q&A-type session for faculty and students and members of the community to just ask the questions they want to ask, but they’re too scared to ask face-to-face.”
Ysatiz Piñero, coordinator for multicultural development at the Office of Multicultural Development and Leadership, was the event moderator. Piñero estimates the program attracted more than 100 students, faculty and staff. Participants were given digital access to a chatroom-style program that allowed them to anonymously submit questions. Piñero read the questions to the panel, filtering out negative comments or questions that had already been asked.
Piñero, also a trainer in FGCU’s Safe Zones Program, which educates the university community on LGBTIQ awareness, says feedback from the event was positive. “The acceptance … was overwhelmingly emotional for us, who are fighting for these rights and for just awareness on campus and beyond that,” Piñero says.
Piñero says Fraize was the “driving force” behind the event. “He is definitely a social justice warrior for his community, and he’s so passionate about making sure that people are aware and educated on the topic,” she says.
Registered nurse Susan Young, an assistant professor in the FGCU School of Nursing, reached out to Fraize after she attended the forum to help continue that community education. Now Fraize is a guest speaker every semester in Young’s Community & Public Health Nursing course for upperclassmen.
“Usually it’s the most impactful day that we have all semester,” Young says. “It inspires them to give appropriate care, which they wanted to do but didn’t know how. I can talk about things all day, but to actually have someone who’s gone through that experience talk, it’s way more meaningful.”
Fraize covers topics such as how to interact with a transgender patient by using their preferred name, which is not necessarily the name on their medical chart.
“They’re really receptive to it because they’re intrigued, and I don’t think they think about transgender patients until they get one,” Fraize says. “This way, before they get a transgender patient they’ve at least had some exposure and won’t be just thrown into the dark.”
Young says she’s grateful that Fraize is willing to speak with her students. “They’re all just like sponges and they want more information,” she says. “He’s really an advocate, and hopefully more of my students will be in the future.”
As he continues to work to create more educational resources on campus, Fraize also spends much of his time volunteering with organizations in Southwest Florida, including Planned Parenthood and Visuality Florida in Fort Myers.
He says Planned Parenthood can help transgender individuals transition with hormone therapy, but it doesn’t have many resources for counseling, housing assistance or financial assistance.
“Visuality Fort Myers is a great resource for transgender individuals and anyone in the LGBT+ community,” Fraize says. “They do some group counseling and try to get people connected with each other by doing socials and stuff like that. They have resources for people struggling.”
Fraize was a 15-year-old named Cassandra when he realized that he had gender dysphoria – in his case, the stress of identifying as a man despite being born with female anatomy. He didn’t know that taking testosterone was an option until he was 17 and had read personal stories of transgender individuals online.
“The queer community is easy to find online,” Fraize says, “but it’s definitely not easy to find here in Florida.”
When Fraize began looking at universities, he looked for a school that put some distance between him and New Port Richey, where he grew up. “I had never felt like who I was in New Port Richey was actually who I was,” Fraize says.
FGCU gave him a chance for a fresh start.
“For once I can actually be Kasey, and no one would question it,” he says.
While Fraize appreciates the opportunity to be a transgender advocate, he calls the work “heavy.”
“It’s rewarding, but it’s also dangerous, and it’s not work that you get to go home from,” Fraize says. “It follows me everywhere, no matter how many times I say, ‘Just because I’m out in this setting, does not mean you can see me on campus and out me wherever you want.’ It happens anyways.”
On campus, Fraize gets a lot of questions about everything from taking testosterone and how he changed his name, to more invasive questions about his body and sexuality.
“A good rule of thumb that I try to preach to everyone is, ‘Don’t ask questions that you wouldn’t want someone else to ask you,’” he says. “I always tell people that if they’re afraid to ask a question, ask themselves first and see how it makes them feel.”
Despite the risks and the struggle for acceptance, Fraize is proud to be an advocate.
“It’s definitely empowering, especially being in public health,” he says. “This is something I aspire to do for a career, so that’s really cool, to have the opportunity in undergrad to pursue some of my dreams.”
Fraize plans to continue speaking with nursing classes in the future and wants to create more on-campus education and awareness through special events such as Pride Week, Transgender Day of Remembrance, Transgender Day of Visibility and more.
One partner in his work will be Piñero, who is working with Kasey to plan these programs.
“I would encourage our FGCU community to be open to learning about the [LGBTIQ] community even if you don’t agree with it or understand it,” Piñero says. “If we can create a really great support system on our campus from students all the way to administration, I think that’s the best thing we can do, to be that true Eagle family by educating ourselves.”
Fraize has advice for students who are going through struggles similar to what he went through his freshman year. “Be true to yourself,” he says. “At the end of the day, people are going to say nasty things about you no matter what. Keep the good people close.”
Tips on asking transgender questions
When people ask Kasey Fraize questions about being transgender, “all the really invasive questions seem to come out first,” he says. Here are Fraize’s tips for respectful inquiries.
- Before you ask a personal question, think about how your question will make that person feel. Fraize says some of the biological questions people ask him are “just weird.”
- Don’t ask questions that you wouldn’t want someone else to ask you.
- If you ask someone a question and they tell you, ‘I don’t feel comfortable answering that,’ leave it at that.
Photo by Brian Tietz