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Identity 101: How to Study Ourselves

Terrible2s's picture
     The study of gender and sexuality seems like a joke. How could it be a real study? It is comparable almost to saying that one is minoring in “race.” How could a part of one’s identity, whether they choose it or not (opinions may vary), be a field of study? The answer to this question is ignorance. Our gender and our sexuality are two vital parts of our identity. So vital, in fact, that they should not become an issue or be controversial in daily life. However, many simply do not have the knowledge or even the tools of knowledge to encounter these two parts of our lives with any authority. For this reason I think that education is in need of a reform. However, seeing as I cannot change the world right here and now I will make an effort at suggesting a plan for what I can change: my gensex class.
            Although I can call for a reform to fight ignorance, I in fact am part of the problem. I in no way claim that I have any more experience or knowledge than any of my classmates, but I do have a drive. I explain my upbringing and experience in gender and sexuality in my essay “Window to the World,” and it can be read by clicking on this link: /exchange/node/4801 . Generally speaking, I come from a place, in my home and religion, which shuns any break from the norm when it comes to gender and sexuality, and often can be homophobic and sexist. I am neither and hope that those two intolerances can disappear from our world, or at least be present at a small minimum.
            Despite my upbringing I have personally tried to battle my own ignorance and have taken some classes and action on these issues. Last semester I took an introductory course to gender and sexuality and have plans to be a Gender and Sexuality Studies concentrator. Outside of the academic realm, I have been relatively active in the LGBT community, and have involved myself in protests, marches, support groups, and many thought-provoking conversations. My biggest interest is people and their stories and lives, and I would love to bring some of that into the class.
            My ideas for a reform of the class are mostly based on my wish to dispel ignorance in any way possible. I began to consider how important studying gender and sexuality really is when I read Peggy McIntosh’s Interactive Phases of Curricular Revision. This reading really changed the way I think about our education system and about women’s role in world. I think that in a lot of ways most of the world is living in the earlier phases and might not even know it. I think that we at Bryn Mawr even are not as high on the phase scale as we could be, and need some action and activists to create change on our campus.
            I will now be one of those activists, and suggest how to change our own course. My general idea about the course is that it is essentially an introductory course, and is in fact a prerequisite for any official further study in gender and sexuality studies. Basically, many of us need this course for our minor or concentration, and will go on to further study. Because of this, I do not think that this class should go too far into depth about any one topic. In fact, I think that this class, for the rest of the semester at least, should cover a diverse breadth of topics. Other classes can be used to go into depth about different topics, but I believe that this one should be more of a general overview.
            We have 10 class periods to work with after our fall break, which amounts to five weeks. In these five weeks, I propose that we should have five different topics of study, one per week. The five topics are as follows: transgender identity/intersexuality, religion, homophobia, gensex in an international perspective, and activism. I am interested in learning about all fives of these topics and have carefully chosen them and when we should study them.
            I think that in the first week of the remainder of our semester we should study the transgender identity and/ or transexuality in more detail. I think for the purposes of this class we are pretty well briefed on the queer identity as well as on gender in society, and how both of those have shaped our lives in regards to gender roles, legislation, education, and our daily lives. However, I think that most of us do not know much about the transgender identity and/ or transexuality, in specific the nuts and bolts (so to speak) of different gender identities. I think the two classes in the first week could be used to study this; for the first class we would look at and study actual biological writings on gender and sex and different cases that have been seen throughout history, in the second class we would go on to personal narratives and readings of how people function in society with some sort of gender variance. Class time would be used for discussion and questions, and perhaps Anne could show us some visuals and/or bring a story to share in class to give us further perspective.
            In the second week I propose that we study religion in regards to gender and sexuality. This topic in particular is close to my heart, but I think it is really important to study and is vital to our understanding about how gender and sexuality affect our daily lives. I think that studying our studies would start on the first class of the second week with reading religious scriptures and or/ commentary on them. I suggest that we read excerpts of the Bible, Koran, and Torah, and examine the areas which have been a cause for commotion. I think the second day of the second week should be used for reading and studying how religion has then manifested itself in our daily lives, and how people have taken from the texts that we will have read and have used them to shape legislation and culture. As always, this topic should be studied with sensitivity and tolerance and class discussions should not be limited to one opinion or bias, but rather include many different perspectives.
            In my plan the third week and topic would be the study of homophobia. I carefully chose this topic to come after the study of religion because I think that we need a base understanding to study how homophobia has become rampant. However, I have separated them into two topics because I think that although religion is often a reason behind homophobia, there are many reasons for it. However, by being sensitized to religion and maybe even being tolerant of some intolerance will make this unit easier to study. The first day would be used for theorizing why homophobia exists and how/if it can be changed. Students would be asked to write on the forum before Tuesday’s class a short paragraph on how homophobia has affected their lives and why they think it exists. The second day of the third week would be used to read accounts and reports of how homophobia has shaped our daily lives. This would include reading the play “The Laramie Project” by Moisés Kaufman, for it gives a good picture of how homophobia can manifest itself, and, being a play, it provides a powerful and different medium for us to study.
            In the fourth week we would study international perspectives on gender and sexuality. I think that this is one of the most important parts of this plan. I think that in this country and even school we often ignore the international world, and focus more on our own country and policies. This is understandable but we should not solely study ourselves. In fact, if we have any desire to change the way we do function, it is very important to study other countries to see what works and what does not. I think that because our world is so big and diverse, there is no real way that we could learn about it in one week. I propose that on the first day each student come into class with a short report of a country or culture and how gender and sexuality has affected it. Each person would share and we could then very easily all become briefed on many cultures. Countries/cultures would be assigned as well as particular aspects to research and report on. The second day would be solely discussion-based with no reading due, and we would discuss how these cultures function, what is good and what is not, and how perhaps change can be made.
            The fifth and final week would be used to study activism. This week is by far the most important week of my plan because it would take what we learned and make use of it. I said earlier that the study of gender and sexuality almost seems ridiculous, and is, sadly, often treated as if it is. However, because it is such a new and controversial field of study, it is important to make good use of it. We are, essentially, doing groundbreaking work in studying gender and sexuality. It is not a normally recognized field, and by taking this class we are further legitimizing as a study. On top of that, however, we have the potential to create even more change. We are learning about a topic which is often perceived as taboo. It is an ever changing study because we are dealing with a matter which is quite controversial and is changed by and changes our world. I therefore think that rather than simply studying activism in the fifth week, we should be active. What is the use of this controversial class if we are not going to do anything with the knowledge that we gain? I think that our readings for this week should include examples of activism and how effective it has been in the past when it comes to gender and sexuality. During this week I think we could break the mold a little, and use different mediums for study. I suggest that we read some of Andrea Gibson’s poetry. She is a writer/speaker/poet who works to deconstruct societal norms which she opposes. She is an activist who took her natural talent and put it to a good cause. Many artists make works which move people and motivate change. The picture that I use at the beginning of the paper is one such piece of art. It shows a head being split apart off of a body of someone crossing their arms, perhaps thinking so hard that their head explodes. The way I interpret it for this class is that we are studying all of this and at some point we need to break out of our minds and bring what we learn into the world. I think we should therefore use these ideas and make some sort of a project to bring outside of our class. I am not sure what the best project could be, and I would ask that we put the question to the class. Class time would be used to brainstorm ideas of how to take the information we have learned and use it to create change. However, I do think that any project that we would have would be most useful or effective if we limited to a local arena. Other than that, I think the project could have any time limit and could encompass any set of ideas; we would set our own limits. I do not think that a final project is necessary other than this because we would be working hard to create whatever final product we do decide on.
            I think that the course so far has been very helpful and has worked very well. I think that readings have been helpful, the conversations interesting, and the workload has been manageable. I think that because my plan has us studying many things in a short period of time, there will not be much room for personal expression. I therefore think that the assignments for the course should be as follows: each student must write a one page position paper on the given topic for each week due by the Tuesday following that week and topic. Doing this would ensure that we each have taken time to decide how we feel about these issues, a very important part of looking at identity as a study and studying ones own identity. This course in general is a great resource academically but more importantly personally. Gender and sexuality are part of our identity as humans, and we need to know how to deal with our own exploration of them and how to deal with how they affect our world. Hopefully through this class we can both learn and create change so that studying something so important will no longer be trivialized.