As we were planning the Gender Diversity Workshop this summer, I remember feeling a little bit of anxiety about attending. Mostly, I just did not know what to expect about the types of conversations we would have at this event. I was nervous I would sound ignorant, or worse, offensive in trying to discuss this important topic in identity politics. I like to think of myself as an open-minded person. I think most people do! But to be honest, this was a subject where I felt very in the dark, especially about language use and how to even approach the subject. How can I be a good ally and also not put my foot in my mouth?
All my fears were for naught as Jen Self from the Q center gave an amazing presentation that was both educational and also felt very safe. The group that came out for this event was ready to listen and offer ideas. We started with going around the room and asking everyone what they hoped to learn. I think one person’s comment summed it up best, “Gender is confounding!” Jen did a great job of giving us the basic break down of sex vs gender and the power dyanimcs of why such a paradigm exists. Then we started to think about what other options are out there. It really is incredible how quickly the binary breaks down upon just a little bit of scrutiny! Observing how, from such an early age, we are placed somewhere in this rather false binary of male v female really helps explain the awkwardness of trying to think about it in a different way. But what is even more amazing is how from just a relatively short amount of time, the hour and a half of this event, I was able to learn how to bring complexity and reality to this paradigm that has been ingrained in me since birth. I was introduced to an amazing breadth of identity that, honestly, had not even occured to me. As a straight, white, female that identifies with “she/her” pronouns I rarely have to be put in a situation where I feel like I am obscuring some aspect of my identity. Thinking about the daily conflicts that arise for someone who identifies outside of the binary really hit home for me during this event.
We also discussed the push on campus to help address issues of gender accessbility, especially with regards to gender neutral bathrooms. It was great to find out that the University is conducting a survey of these issues and that there is really great advocacy work on the part of the Q Center and folks like Jen to get these changes instituted. Additionally, we discussed the on going issue of healthcare coverage for transgender students that is currently a huge topic that the union, UAW, is taking on. I highly encourage anyone that is interested in these issues to get in touch with the leadership at the UAW to find out how to can get involved.
I am very appreciative to Jen and everyone that took the time to attend this workshop and share their ideas. It can be very unsure footing when you are trying to better understand something as complex and personal as identity politics. Having a room full of curious and open minds is a great way start to what needs to be an ongoing conversation.
This post was written by S. Vorpahl