A GSA Coup d’État

The GSA at my school is really terrible, and they rarely have meetings and the activities they do plan are often pretty [lackluster] and straight-people focused. I really want to join and see if I can bring any change to it, but I’m halfway through my junior year and I feel like it’s too late to do anything. Is it even worth it?

Hell yeah it’s worth it! What I would really recommend is getting in touch with the people who lead the group and talk to them about your interest alongside your reservations. It is decidedly possible that the people running it are straight and misguided, which I can’t really fault them for when y’all are in high school. Let them know that you want to help them be more productive, more supportive. Pitch it as a way for them to be better allies, a way to capitalize on good intentions and actually have some really cool results. Also I’m assuming that like my high school’s GSA, there will be a teacher who stamps their name on the group or sits in on meetings or whatever. Get them involved in the conversation! I responded to a question a while back about possible discussion topics for a GSA, which you can find here. If you come into the conversation with some solid ideas and a defined direction of where you want to take it, you’re going to get a loooot more support.

Something else you might find useful to share is actually from a local Seattle organization but is definitely accessible in other areas. Put This On The {Map} is a documentary made by a group in the area that went on to do work with a focus on Reteaching Gender & Sexuality and to an extent, allyship. The website for the film is here and if you poke through they have a really interesting discussion guide that’s up for grabs, and a lot of the questions listed are absolutely solid without the film as a background. They also have a great short video about what they want to accomplish here.

Time is, I think, a non-issue here. I really think you could help the GSA become something better, even if it only becomes better next year. But be active in it! Because it’s really worth it! You could actually be the reason why people are having better discussions, and that’s a really satisfying and rewarding feeling. Challenge them to do better and be a part of them actually evolving as a group that I’m sure was started for all the right reasons.

Go for it. And good luck!


Starting a GSA

I’m starting a GSA at my school and I want to have meetings with different topics each week. I want the topics to focus more on less well-known issues like the biphobia, etc. Do you have any ideas of what I could talk about?

Oh awesome, this is awesome. This is really cool of you to take upon yourself! Two huge tips I have from the get-go: 1) stress intersectionality! Put a spotlight on overlapping groups of marginalized people, don’t let the people in your future GSA associate queer issues with only white, thin, able-bodied, wealthy people! 2) Make it interactive, and not only in the context of having an open discussion. One thing I think is really helpful is asking people what they know and what they want to know more about and what they just simply don’t understand, at the very beginning and as you move throughout the topics. This will definitely require ice breakers first, though. Ok I’m gonna list out some potential topics of conversation (in no particular order!) and add some resources and whatnot that I think you could find useful.

  1. Concepts of power, privilege, and oppression on a very basic and translatable level to work with. It’s really important for there to be a level of understand with these issues before moving into the complication of them in practice.
  2. Transgenderism (this is specific to a trans woman’s experience but http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/591565 it’s also very flashy), transmisogyny (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9I8euP4mEE&noredirect=1), non-binarism, gender as a social construct, androgyny (and complications: http://boldlygo.co/36/ this article is amazing in my opinion BUT there is a danger of people reading this and taking from it “androgyny is bad” and that’s not what I think you should be trying to get across; instead just stress that these issues are complicated and are deserving of critical thinking), body dysphoria, etc.
  3. Biphobia! Is really important to talk about! (I love this article: http://thoughtcatalog.com/gaby-dunn/2013/01/girls-dont-count/) An interesting conversation would be the difference between bisexual and pansexual. There’s a ton of media depiction of biphobia, especially in Glee w/r/t Brittany and Santana’s relationship, Blaine’s soiree with Rachel (if I remember correctly), etc. Something that plays a big key in both of those examples as well as the article is the assumption that in the end, any given person wants a man at the end of the day if queerness is even on the table, which is sexist as all hell.
  4. Asexuality (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKJ_MZNv2GY I like this video because it’s not a sexual person telling you what asexuality is, it’s a sexual person looking at the concept with care and grace and complicating it in a productive way… and she’s right, there’s a LOAD of resources out there, especially asexuality.org), asexual erasure, the possible dangers of growing up asexual when you don’t know that’s even an option
  5. Poverty and homelessness amongst queer youths, systems of criminalization against queer people http://srlp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/disproport-incarc.pdf, http://srlp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/disprop-poverty.pdf, http://srlp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/disprop-deportation.pdf this can tie into the objectification of trans women and the accessibility of transition and why such a large focus on the physical change is counter-productive in trans discussions
  6. Queer sex ed! Non hetero-normative sex ed! I need better resources for this but Joseph Birdsong has done some gay sex ed on the answerly YouTube channel and Laci Green (though problematic) and Dr. Doe (sexplanations) both delve into queer sex.
  7. Polyamory and non-normative relationships is also interesting though it’s important to make a distinction that polyamory =/= queer! And that making those equivalent is problematic in some aspects. Same goes for other types of non-normative relationships, they do not necessarily blend into queerness.
  8. Allyship and why using ally as a label is problematic, white knights and white saviors, White Feminism (that is, feminism that refuses to acknowledges of trans feminine people and women of color and women in countries that are not America as relevant to the feminist cause), Macklemore’s Same Love and ACLU card and the concept of “tacit whiteness” (I think this phrase is interesting and helpful) and the act of making a marginalized group acceptable by incorporating them into the norm INSTEAD OF recognizing and respecting intrinsic differences as valid, etc. Also: http://www.crunkfeministcollective.com/2012/04/23/making-movement-mistakes-what-to-do-when-you-fk-up/
  9. Talk about queer figures in history! I am not good with this so I’ll list a few people who are up on the wall of the Q Center: Audre Lorde, Bayard Rustin, Leslie Cheung, George Washington Carver, Frida Kahlo, Yukio Mishima, etc. Maybe why it is that queer historical figures kind of begin and end with white cis people, specifically white cis men (I’m thinking about Harvey Milk).

I think… that’s a good starting point. This is so exciting, I hope everything goes well for you. Please feel free to send me a message if/when you get this started up! I’m really interested in how it turns out for you.

Good luck!

Re-educating Conservative Friends & Family

How do I explain to my very conservative friends and family what queer means? xoxo

Oof. Well, it’s not easy and it requires a lot of patience, I’ll tell you that much. What queer means is pretty simple, and could almost be covered in just one sentence, but if we’re talking very socially conservative people the conversation won’t stop there. You probably have to defend why queerness is not a bad thing, why discriminating against queer people is bad, etc etc. It very much complicates something that could be very simple, and it is a very much emotional and continual process. In terms of actual content, “queer is not straight” is short, simple, and to the point. If you’re getting a good response, you can delve into the term as a culmination of intersecting marginalized identities… but don’t use that phrase, because it is super inaccessible to someone who isn’t necessarily involved in these communities. Meet them at their level and build up. With intersectionality, one of my favorite quotes is from Gloria Anzaldúa and very poetically addresses this: ”Identity is not a bunch of little cubbyholes stuffed respectively with intellect, race, sex, class, vocation, gender. Identity flows between, over, aspects of a person. Identity is a river, a process.” How much you want to go into terminology of queerness is up to you and up to how you think the person will respond. Sexuality is way easier to broach than gender and trans* issues, so in thinking about this education as a process, this is something you can maybe build up to.

I’m going to link you a game called A Closed World, it’s a simple in-browser rpg that was made to address queer issues in a beautiful and accessible way. To be honest it lacks subtlety (the character literally fights their demons) but it’s gorgeous and I think really touches on what you’re asking about, in a very personal way. It’s from a queer perspective, and regardless of whether or not you identify as queer I think there are some good parallels you can draw and run with. I’m not saying the game will magically solve your problem here, but I think it’s a good starting point for the hurdle you want to overcome.

The character fights their demons with three different tools: logic, passion, and ethics. At any given time on any given demon, one works, one is completely brushed aside, and one issues a lot of damage. In turn, the demons rattle your composure, insult you, say the things that hurt the most. You can breathe to regain composure and if you need to, you can walk away. For anyone who has experienced coming out or attempted re-education in a somewhat unsupportive situation, this rings very true. I feel like I’m rattling on about the game a little bit too much, and I don’t want you to think that I’m shying away from your question, so let’s segue into the application and action of how to do this.

Come to the conversation prepared. I think it would be best to have one-on-one talks for two reasons: one, it shows the person you’re talking to that this is something very important to you that requires both of your full attentions, and two, different people have different responses and in thinking about self-care, because that’s vital in these conversations, it will be much more manageable for you. You know these people, so I think the best thing to do would be to estimate how you think they would react, and then start with those you think would be most accepting and positive and work your way up. That way, when you get to the most stubborn/bigoted/etc, you will have a support system behind you. I also want to disclaim that this is not something you should feel you need to charge into all at once. I mentioned breaking it up into one-on-one talks, but it’s a really emotionally draining thing to do and it’s something you should take your time on. I know the idea of charging through and just getting it over with is really appealing, but I know at least for me it’s more rewarding to put time and effort into these talks and to be able to decompress in-between. This stuff doesn’t exist in a bubble either, and someone who doesn’t know anything about queerness will probably have a lot of questions that will come up later.

I think the logic/passion/ethics deal rings very true in real life, and it’s important to prepare for that. If your dad is someone who needs hard evidence, research some facts that you think would make the talk more accessible and “valid” to him. Pay attention to the people you’re talking to, gauge their responses and don’t be afraid to change tactics. Be persistent and calm, listen to what they say, and one thing that I actually find to be helpful (under certain conditions) is to affirm that though it is not true (use phrases like this instead of “you’re wrong”; this is an emotional conversation but it’s also an educational one and people don’t like thinking they’re wrong or somehow bad), that is what is taught and perhaps that you understand why and how they came to think that way. My approach to this is very passive and low-key and in a lot of ways keeps the needs of the person I’m talking to before my own and I don’t want you to feel like I’m telling you to abandon your feelings and thoughts in order to placate your family member and friend. A lot of people don’t like doing it that way and that’s not a problem, this is just how I approach it.

Don’t forget self-care, though. Breathe. Create a calm space. Allow yourself time to think. If someone says something very hurtful to you, tell them that it hurt and why. You care about these people and these people care about you, and that’s something to keep in mind. You can walk away, and you can disagree. If they’re having a really hard time with it, maybe say something like “I don’t want to push this right now, can you think about what I’ve said and we can continue to talk about this later?” It will allow you to get out of a somewhat toxic situation, and it’ll give them time to process what you’re giving them.

Man this is so much word I’m sorry. I hope some of this helps, and again, this is my way of doing it and don’t feel like you can’t change the layout and approach. Good luck, and feel free to come back if you need more specifics than this!

Take Queer 101!

Queer 101 is awesome! If you’re looking for a class full of cool people and interesting discussion that doesn’t come with a whole lot of work you should definitely consider taking it. The official description reads: “Queer 101 is a 2 credit discussion style class focusing on the analysis of Queer/ LGBTQ histories, contemporary issues and experiences. The class will be taught from a liberatory perspective and will encourage critical analysis and understanding of the intersections of queerness, race, class, gender, ability, age, and other social identities.”

The class is peer facilitated, and topics that are focused vary from quarter to quarter, depending on the facilitators. Past themes have included Decolonizing Queer Narratives, the “Gay Agenda” in America, the Social Construction of Gender, and more.

Queer 101 is more formally known as CHID 496 K. Find us when you register! For Spring Quarter 2011, Queer 101 will meet on Tuesdays at 3:30PM in Savery Hall 157. For an add code please contact Cynthia Anderson at chid@uw.edu, the Academic Counselor at Comparative History of Ideas Department (Padelford Hall B102).