Story and photos by ADRIENNE PURDY
How would you feel if your job was in jeopardy based on your sexual orientation? How about if you were asked not to associate with your extended family because of perceived negative influences from your lifestyle? These issues and more were addressed at Gender Blender, an event put on by the Social Justice Advocates in correlation with the University of Utah Pride Week during the first week of October 2012.
This year’s Gender Blender showed a short movie from YouTube, titled “Transgender Basics – Gender Identity Project,” and concluded with a panel of four students self-identifying as members of the LGBT community who took questions from the audience. Lauryn Hansen of the Social Justice Advocates was in charge of the event held in the Petersen Heritage Center. The campus organization strives to create and promote a safe environment for everyone on campus. The Gender Blender event is a way to bring up conversations that otherwise would not happen.
The video highlighted three individuals with different identities: A transgender man or a woman living as a man, a transgender woman or a man living as a woman and a gender-queer individual or an individual who identifies as both a man and a woman.
The video showed some of the problems encountered by transgender individuals, such as gender expectations and the feeling of being forced to select a particular box, indicating that one must choose male or female and there is no other option.
A handout was given at the Gender Blender with a picture of a “Genderbread Person” showing gender identity, gender expression, biological sex and sexual orientation and making the differences between them easier to understand.
The Genderbread Person illustrates that gender identity is how you think about yourself in your head. It is the chemistry aspect and how you interpret what it means. This can range from woman to genderqueer to man.
Gender expression is how you demonstrate your gender based on how you act, dress and behave and can be expressed as feminine, androgynous and masculine.
Biological sex refers to the organs, hormones and chromosomes that you were born with that determine whether you are male or female. One can be born male or female, but one can also be born intersex, which is a biological combination of both the male and female sexes. When a child is born intersex — and depending on the type of intersex condition — surgery may be performed for social reasons rather than medical necessity.
Sexual orientation is who you are physically attracted to, which can range from heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual. Knowing the wide range of possibilities of identity, expression and orientation helps us understand why the problem of “boxing in” is so prevalent.
The four-person panel who fielded questions from the audience after the movie was comprised of Adrian Harrison, Kiko Cloward, Kai Medina-Martínez and Eduardo Galindo, who are students or faculty at the U. All panelists self-identified as members of the LGBT community. Different sexual orientations were represented on the panel, which enabled different points of view to be expressed and heard.
One question from the audience regarding how to ask about someone’s identity sparked different answers from the panel.
“The best way to learn is just to ask,” Cloward said.
Medina-Martínez countered: “I think the intention of needing to know is important. If it’s to honor someone or meet them there that’s great, otherwise does it really matter?”
Galindo said: “Ask respectfully instead of asking a loaded question.”
When asked about what it is like on campus for a member of the LGBT community, Galindo and Medina-Martínez told the audience about the initiative for an inclusive bathroom policy on campus.
Medina-Martínez, who is the director of the LGBT Resource Center on campus, said that where to go to the bathroom is something most people don’t even think about. But for a transgender individual it can be a big problem. Wanting to go to a restroom where one feels comfortable usually means going out of the way to find a single-stall bathroom. The LGBT Resource Center has compiled a list of these bathrooms.
The stigma that surrounds transgender individuals in society was a hot topic and attendees asked whether the same stigma exists in the LGBT community.
“There can be trans phobia in the LGBTQ community as well as the non LGBTQ community,” Galindo said. Transgender can still be a taboo subject even in communities who are very accepting.
A recurring theme among the panelists was the term cisgender, which means conforming to gender-based expectations. Medina-Martínez, who now identifies as gender fluid and uses the pronoun they, said they became very good at expressing hyper femininity at a younger age.
“People want to put me in boxes. I like the fluidity,” Medina-Martínez said.
Cloward, who now identifies as genderqueer, went through periods of expressing femininity and masculinity.
“I love some feminine activities no matter how I look and I love some masculine activities no matter how I look,” Cloward said.
As Lauryn Hansen of the Social Justice Advocates said, “We live in a world with seven billion people, each with our own uniqueness.”
Note: A new version of the “Genderbread Person” with a flowchart is now available.