Note: This story features someone who prefers the gender-neutral pronouns "ze" and "hir." That preference is reflected in this piece.
Eight floors above the University of Illinois-Chicago campus, Hyacinth Piel's day begins in front of a singing make-up case. Hyacinth puts the finishing touches on hir shock-red lipstick, re-arranges hir floral scarf, and turns the music off. It's time to head upstairs to a meeting with LGBT historian and professor, John D'Emilio.
Hyacinth might have the life of many doctoral candidates/ teaching assistants at UIC except that Hyacinth is vocally and visibly gender-variant. Ze is shaking things up at UIC by introducing hir students to complicated philosophy concepts and even more complicated gender concepts.
"It makes me really vulnerable," Piel admitted.
But ze appears undaunted in the classroom, and hir students follow along as Hyacinth teaches them to apply difficult philosophical ideas to a debate on immigration in the U.S. It might help that ze doesn't get caught up in the formalities of being called "professor." Ze sits cross-legged on the front table to teach and reads student papers and discussion topics off hir iPhone.