Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Gender Fluidity: sex, gender, & orientation

This morning I did my 2nd talk plus Q&A for 2 sections of Social Work 300 taught by Mirta Paola León, who is also the photographer of the exhibit Paya Lliklla, Las Tejedoras de Chari, Peru: Reweaving Tradition in the 21st Century. I was really nervous before the 1st one - preparation anxiety led me to do some research to answer student questions before the classes, combined with "coming out" anxiety. Both sections went well - I used the students' questions to prep, emphasized the suspension of judgment, lifelong learning, love. At the beginning of the 2nd section, the prof showed a 7-minute video from the MSU LGBT Resource Center on Sexuality and Gender 101. Really informative. (I thought, "but don't we have one from GVSU like that?" I found the GVSU LGBT RC YouTube channel, but most of the relevant videos are long, over an hour.)

I drew definitions from Gender Spectrum and Catalyst. I drew from my own life experiences, and referred to friends who have undergone sex reassignment. The prof talked about labelling transgender as "gender dysphoria" in the DSM V and we both talked about health needs, issues with choosing an intersex baby's sex/gender, lack of insurance coverage. I used some photos to give some visual understanding of fluidity and transition, historical norms and current cultural fashions. I answered questions, acknowledged the perspectives shared by students, and was, although nervous, unashamedly myself. Sex-assigned-from-birth as female and preferring pronouns she, her, hers, although identifying as androgynous; lesbian; married to another woman - never having believed that this would happen in my lifetime. Sometimes wearing men's shirts, sometimes women's - the differing quality of cloth and colors along with button placement and the stupidity of women's pants being side-zippered on the left. The difficulty of coming out, the changes in GVSU culture, challenging what "conservative Christian" means. The importance of introducing oneself with preferred name and pronouns as an opening to provide safe space for sharing self-identification instead of making assumptions or labelling. And today, about the Michigan Secretary of State's decision on changing gender on driver's licenses as backward, not inclusive. Derogatory vs in-group language and labels. Drawing inward physically and emotionally in order to hide from others, paralyzing anxiety, rage, suicidal depression about being different. And the stupidity of labelled bathrooms - I asked if any of them had grown up in a house or apartment or whatever with labelled, separate bathrooms. None had. So why do we have them in institutions? And as a British friend observed, why hadn't U.S. engineers designed bathroom stalls which truly allowed privacy instead of big gaps between frame and door, between floor and bottom of the door? Wow.

Afterward, I attended a talk by Adrienne Keene about stereotyping, colonizing/assimilating, and appropriating Native American culture - so many of the issues are so very similar to gender issues.

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