Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Biological Determinism Vs. Social Construction

Biological Determinism is the idea that our gender if biologically assigned along with our sex. This line of thinking suggests that some genders are biologically advantaged in some areas and disadvantaged in others. A common example is to say that women are traditionally caregivers because they are naturally more emotional, caring, and or sensitive than men. Likewise, men are in fields related to math and sciences because men are more logical, analytical, and or intelligent than women. Biological Determinism supports traditional gender roles suggesting that these roles are natural for women and men.

Social Construction suggests that gender is not a biological assignment like sex, but is instead a creation of culture. The idea here is that individuals are socialized in to gender roles based on cultural pressures to conform. The argument is that women are not naturally better at caregiver roles, but that they fall in to them because in society they are told that that is their job. To support this assignment, girls are raised differently than boys. For instance, girls are given dolls, and encouraged to play “house” whereas boys are given toys more appropriate for their future gender roles.

Social Construction is a great deal less limiting on an individual. If someone is told they cannot do something because it acts against their culture, there is more room for rebellion than if someone is told that they cannot do something because they are biologically incapable. For example, if a woman wants to go to college and someone tells her she cannot because women are more fragile than men, less intelligent than men, or less logical than men, the woman hits a hard wall. If instead, the reason is that women cannot go to college because the culture does not see it as proper; she is more likely to be able to combat that line of thinking. However, it is easy to see how using Biological Determinism in a situation could lead to constructing social roles that limit someone based on their gender.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gender Queer: An Experiment

"At the bar, dykes smile and nod my way, connecting butch to butch. Gay men cruise me hard, then look away. The bouncer cards me, surprised when I'm not a 15-year-old boy. The bartender calls me “cripple” and “girl” in a single glance.

In another world at another time, I would have grown up neither boy nor girl, but something entirely different. In English there are no words. All the language we have created – transgender, transsexual, drag queen, drag king, stone butch, high femme, nellie, fairy, bulldyke, he-she, FTM, MTF – places us in relationship to masculine or feminine, between the two, combining the two, moving from one to the other. I yearn for an image to describe my gendered self, not the shadow land of neither boy nor girl, a suspension bridge tethered between negatives. Rather I want a solid ground with bedrock of its own, wish for language to take me to a brand new place neither masculine nor feminine, day nor night, muscle nor bone, stone nor wing."
-From the essay “Neither Stone Nor Wing” by Eli Clare, as published in From the Inside Out: Radical Gender Transformation, FTM and Beyond, edited by Morty Diamond © 2004, Manic D Press.
I read Eli Clare’s “Language” and I found myself connected. Connected is an interesting term to use, but it is the only one that occurs to me. I love how ze writes about the namelessness of feeling neither male nor female. The words we use to describe gender variance play off language that determines one’s relationship to male or female. As if binary was the only thing that mattered. What this does is create an oppressing feeling of “otherness” to individuals who describe themselves as neither. It ostracizes people who do not fit within male or female or in-between.

I loosely identify myself as gender queer. I realize that the definitions of this term vary person to person. In some ways that is both why I love the phrase and hate it. I love the fluidity of “queer”, but I hate the otherness of it. To me, it feels like gender queer is the miscellaneous category. All the extras go here. Do not get me wrong, I like identifying as gender queer. Saying it is delicious. Queer. I love that word. To me it is fantastically eclectic, interesting, intriguing, wonderful, exciting, diverse, eccentric, fascinating, and inclusive. I love the word queer.  I only wish that it was not the only option recognized for people who do not fit within the gender binary.

When people look at me, they see a woman, albeit a young one, a teenager. They see long hair, and skirts. They see me smile at strangers, and cross my legs. I am a woman. I identify as such. I am female biologically and I’m happy with that. However, I am also gender queer. I feel myself caught somewhere between and outside of male and female. Growing up, I felt uncomfortable in both the male and female sections of any department store. Now, I have come to feel alright in both, though I shoot for androgyny when I can. 

Generally, I do not seek labels. I think that boxes are limiting and that individuals are more than categories. However, I agree with Eli Clare when ze says that: “I yearn for an image to describe my gendered self, not the shadow land of neither boy nor girl, a suspension bridge tethered between negatives” (“Neither Stone Nor Wing” by Eli Clare). Labels give stability and community. When a person finds themselves floundering without labels, they can feel lost and alone. Where is the security for the unidentified and unaffiliated?

I suppose one way to overcome this identity struggle would be to create my own. My hesitation here is that there is strength in numbers and until others adapted my label, I truly would be an outlier. Because of this, I have settled on gender queer. It is an experiment. I like it so far. I am hoping that I can find that this identifier fits me.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lobby Day Success (In the Senate)

Midterms are upon me! I told myself I wasn't going to post this week...well unless I had a really good reason. Lo and behold, in my procrastination web-surfing, I found a video by the team members at One Colorado. The video, hosted by by Brad Clark and Jessica Cook Woodrum, is chock full of great news. A few posts back, I blogged about LGBT Lobby Day. I expressed my anxiety in approaching my Colorado Representatives and asking them to vote yes on the Civil Unions Bill. I was not alone in my venture, I estimate at least a hundred comrades marching on the capitol that day in order to have our voices heard.

As you will see in the video, all of our hard lobbying paid off! The Civil Unions Bill passed in the Senate! Not only that, the bill had the support of a republican, making it a bipartisan vote. Congratulations to the LGBT community and a huge thank you to everyone who helped this pass in the Senate. I am talking not only to those of us who lobbied in person, but also those who wrote to their representatives or called them up. Each of you helped sway the vote. Let's celebrate!

Recap video

The fight is not over, however. The bill still needs to go through the House. Let's see what happens!

What's in the works now? As the video talks about, an anti-bullying bill in schools is next in line for the vote. Bullying in our country is not a new issue. However last fall we saw a huge number of LGBT youth suicides in the news. As a reaction to this devastating trend, Dan Savage (my personal hero,) launched the It Gets Better Project. Additionally, the Auraria Campus responded by hosting an event that combined the ideas of It Gets Better Project and other campaigns to end anti-gay bullying by creating a day called "It Gets Better Because I Give a Damn!". The event, held on campus, brought swarms of students, faculty, and community members together clad in purple. I remember the energy that day and thinking back on it now, I am reminded of the power that lies in our community.

I say our community as a blanket term referring to not only LGBT individuals, but also straight allies like myself. As I reflect again on the personal stories, and strong words each of the speakers brought forward I smile to myself. I love seeing the acceptance of that day. I love feeling it as a tangible weight that filled our hearts and brought tears to our eyes. I remember an overwhelming sense of a "we can do it!" mentality.

Hearing the news about the passing of the Civil Unions Bill has brought that feeling back to me. For the first time in my life, I feel a part of the difference being made. I am honored to be among such wonderful individuals as who share this experience with me.

I'm gushing, it's true. I may even be ranting. However I am immensely proud of my community for its hard work. It is amazing to see our efforts paying off. I know that I have much to learn from my friends and I cannot wait to see the progress we make together in the future.

If you have not already seen It Gets Better Project you better check out the link I'm providing you with!

It Gets Better Project

Keep your eyes peeled for the results of the bullying bill in the near future!

Also, because this song came on while I was typing this, I figured I should attatch it:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Center

One of the things that I like best about The Center is that it tries to provide resources for the entire LGBT community. The inclusive nature of The Center means offering a place for not only the more well-known letters of LGBT, but others as well. The acronym should expand to LGBTQQIAAPP, commonly referred to by my peers as the "Alphabet Soup Acronym". To clarify, these letters as I understand them stand for: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, polyamorous, and pansexual. Different people add or subtract letters based on their own views of the community. However, what I like about the center is that the organization offers a place for more than just the traditional 4 (LGBT), arguably traditional 2 (LG).

The Center's website is truly a great resource for this community. On it, you can find a news feed that talks about issues facing the community, some of which were mentioned in my last post, such as civil unions. You can also find information on their programs. Rainbow Alley is an excellent program geared towards youth that emphasizes empowerment, and works to educate young adults on safe sex practices in a fun and safe environment. SAGE of the Rockies offers activities for community members over 50 such as yoga, computer classes, Tuesday coffee, and more.

Apart from program offerings, the website has a fantastic selection of resources and information that focus on everything from legal issues and advocacy to health resources. At The Center itself, there are rooms available for community use, a wonderful library with books you can borrow, a computer lab, and helpful motivated staff and volunteers.

The Center is heavily involved in community activities. Besides LGBT Lobby Day (view my previous post for more info,) The Center also helped sponsor  Westword's 2011 Artopia, they do fundraising for the LGBT community, and are most well-known for sponsoring the nation's 4th largest Pride Fest here in Denver. The Center's community activism helps them get the word out about their services and let the community know what a helpful resource they are.

To return to my original comment on inclusivity, the center is working on a Transgender Job Fair for May 7th, 2011 through their Transgender Career Advancement Project. According to their website, "TCAP was created to assist Colorado's transgender community find good-paying jobs with employers who have transgender inclusive policies in place. TCAP also assists employers in cultivating a friendly and inclusive work environment." For more information on this event please see this web address:

As I learn more about The Center, I continue to be impressed with what they are doing for the community. What I love best about working with them is the sense of belonging I feel, even as someone who is new to the LGBT community. From the moment I filled out my volunteer application with them and saw that they had provided room for identifiers other than straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans, I knew we would get along well. Additionally when it came to gender identifiers, I appreciated, though was not surprised to see that the form had a separate section for gender and sexual orientation. Small things like this on a form have a magical way of making people feel accepted. It is a wonderful thing to be able to self-identify in a way that you are comfortable with.

That sense of comfort deepened as I learned more about The Center and its programs. I feel that they do an excellent job on educating the community about issues, and providing resources to assist the community. I am increasingly motivated to see what my own contribution to The Center will be. As I look towards my future working with them, I am in deep contemplation about what I can do for them, because really, that is why I am volunteering my time. I hope that what I offer The Center is as beneficial as what they continue to offer me.