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Oak's picture

Last time I wrote, I spoke mainly about my experiences in high school as well as a little about my first semester of college. However, I would now like to update this story to the present and then look into the future. I am going to look at what I know about gender and sexuality, try to look at what I don’t know, and then propose what and how I would like to learn more about gender and sexuality.
A good deal of what I know comes from my own experience—what I’ve thought, how I’ve felt, how I have reacted to others, and how I have reacted. A little I’ve learned from attending Queer Support Group for over a year now, and hearing about the experiences of my fellow Mawrters in a closed and confidential space. It would be hard to write a list of everything I have learned like this, but there are a few things I will name. I will never “out” anyone. Whether I’m here at Bryn Mawr or in my tiny rural hometown or somewhere else entirely, it is not going to happen. It is far too easy to say a few words that should not have been said and hurt someone incredibly. I also know that, in addition to people putting others into boxes and categories, people try incredibly hard sometimes to put themselves into boxes, and are unhappy when they can’t.
Also, last year I made an attempt to Educate Myself by reading a book called Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. It’s a big title for a pretty big book. Reading it was an odd experience, though not unpleasant. I read it in fits and starts, whenever I had an extra bit of time, and the book also seemed to be organized not quite cohesively. I did, however, learn a few facts, hear stories, and get a general overview of gay history. I learned that one of the first gay rights movements was in Germany, before the Nazis smothered it. I heard stories about police raids and psychoanalysis. I learned that the movements for lesbians and gay men used to be separate things, and that the feminist movement originally had a problem with the lesbian movement. However, one of my favorite moments in the book was the story of a protest that happened in England over Clause 28:
“The second memorable moment came just after Clause 28 was passed by the Lords by a 202-122 vote. Suddenly, three women sailed down on ropes from the heights of the public gallery to [the] chamber floor amidst shouts of ‘Lesbians are angry!’ and ‘It’s our lives you’re dealing with!’ The women were quickly ushered out, amidst general horror. (When they were interrogated by the police, the women refused to give their real names, using the names of famous lesbian historical figures instead; they were held for several hours and released.)”
While entertaining at times, these stories were not exactly what I was looking for. They helped me get grounding in facts, but I wanted ideas, too. I wanted to know what the history meant, and particularly what it meant for the future. The compiler of this history wasn’t interested in that, obviously, for there was little analysis, and the book ends abruptly.
I found some ideas in a class about gender and sexuality in Renaissance literature that I took my first semester. In some ways they were very useful and reassuring: people had been messing around with gender, cross-dressing, and professing their love for people of the same sex for at least several centuries. Not only that, but we could talk about it. But it still did not take me into the future.
Now I’m here, in this class. We’ve explored science, social science, and humanities. We have looked into the future to an extent, played with idea of gender (or lack thereof) in the English language and differently gendered bathrooms. I particularly found interesting Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbows, a book by a transgendered woman biologist that deals mostly with animals that don’t conform to our ideas about sex and gender and with the relation of the biology of humans with their sexuality.
Though I know some people in our class found Roughgarden’s style defensive, and while it was defensive in spots, it has reason to be. Roughgarden is attempting to dispel stereotypes and assumptions that have not only lived for generations, but have been used as a tool against non-conforming people. How many of us have either been told we are unnatural or formed that idea in our own mind by watching animal programs on television? She is treating a problem that has persisted unquestioned, even by herself as she admits, for a long time. For me, the book was an eye-opener. It challenged my assumptions about the animal kingdom.
So, we’ve had glimpses of the past and the present. I’d like a look at the future in the future of the course. I want the tools for shaping it. I want tools for activism. Some of this will be through re-hashing the past, looking at what has been done so we know what not to try. This would include the women’s movements and gay rights movements, but also other movements: the civil rights movement and (because Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by Gandhi, and we should look at roots of roots) the Indian independence movement.
For this purpose we might want to look at the most recent portions of the book I mentioned earlier, Out of the Past, or another similar book like Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights, which focuses more on the stories of individuals. We could then discuss it in class and decide between ourselves what worked, what didn’t, what might work again, and what has to be changed.
I also want to study current organizations that fight for women’s and LGTBQ etc people’s rights. I want to know what is going on so we don’t unnecessarily re-hash things. For this, we could use the crazy source called the Internet, or our very own Civic Engagement Office. I would then suggest we do something to help an organization. I know not all of us would be interested in the same organizations (and that some wouldn’t want to do LGTB etc stuff) and that there’s a bat’s chance in hell that we’d all be able to go at the same time, but it would be cool if we could go in at least pairs. Rainbow Alliance should be organizing something after the break, if people would be interested in that.
We’ve looked some at What It Means To Be A Woman, and I’d like to also look at what it means to be gender-variant/gay/whatever. For this, a good tool would be Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw: Men, Women, and the Rest of Us.
As for what we get graded on, I suggest we do one or two more webpapers on whatever we end up reading and discussing and our ideas for the future, and a brief presentation in class on wherever we end up volunteering.
We’ve all complained about talking too much, so let’s go out and do it.
Image from here: