teaching moments

5 Sep

we took a vote on the way our bathrooms would be gendered. two teaching moments occurred:

1. we did the votes on pieces of paper, and were asked to write down our preferred gender (so they would know to make a single-gender bathroom for men if most of them wanted it, or for women if they wanted it). anyway, it didn’t ask for “sex,” it asked for “gender,” so I put down “woman.” I recognize and accept that my biological sex is female, and am okay putting that down if the question is asked of me, but would prefer to answer “woman” when asked about my gender. To me, gender is more purposeful than sex and results from experience and growth and life. I identify as a woman because I feel like it’s something I’ve grown to, something I’ve chosen for myself, something that is strong and beautiful and flawed, whereas “female” is something that was assigned to me by someone else.

Anyway, a girl sitting next to me saw me write “woman” for my gender, and asked me why I wrote it. I think she was confused as to why I didn’t just write female. So I got to explain to her everything I just explained to all of you.

2. The rule for voting was this: if even ONE person said they unequivocally needed a single-gender bathroom, there would automatically be one, even if the majority of people said they wanted gender-neutral bathrooms. For example, if even one girl said she wanted a single-gender bathroom, there would automatically be a women only bathroom. I asked why that was, and they (the Student Adviser and the Residence Life Coordinator) said they wanted everyone to feel as comfortable as possible. I asked what if a gender neutral person felt really uncomfortable choosing either a men’s or a women’s bathroom? why aren’t we worried about them feeling safe and comfortable? i didn’t really get a good answer to that question, but there was a half-hearted attempt at justifying it by saying that we cater to the most conservative person. Um, horrible reasoning? I also ran into a tad bit of unspoken animosity as a result of me challenging the idea that one gender binary-conforming person’s interests trump the interests of everyone else. Dear person who gave me asshole-y looks during this conversation: genderfucks, transsexuals, gender neutral people, intersex people all exist. Your rights do not trump theirs. They have just as much a right to a safe space as you do. A compromise would be more productive than just simply asserting the rights you claim as a member of the majority.

In the end, we did come to a compromise. One bathroom is woman-only, and one bathroom is gender neutral. I have chosen to only use the gender neutral bathroom, not because I am genderfuck or transsexual or gender neutral, but because I think it’s important that everyone feels comfortable entering that space, and I want to show that gender neutral bathrooms can work for all kinds of people.

Teaching moment number three, which did not involve the bathroom vote:

A person I just met, who has since become a friend, used the word “pussy” in a derogatory manner toward one of his friends. I asked him not to use the word, and explained that it bothered me because he was equating a body part of mine (which I love and take pride in) with weakness and fear. My pussy is not weak or scared, it is powerful and a great source of joy for me (and others). This leads to the greater issue of equating femininity with weakness. Feminine=strong, wonderful, powerful. Not worthless or weak. Next time you insult someone, please think of a non-gendered word, because I take offense when you use my body to bring other people down.

(p.s. look forward to a future post about using gendered insults)

During the course of the conversation, I had a learning moment, too! We were brainstorming words to use instead of “pussy” that could convey the same message without being super ultra sexist, and we came up with “sissy.” I have no personal experience with that word being anything other than a synonym for weak. But my gay friend spoke up, saying that “sissy” is a word used to describe/make fun of gay men. He told me about how he was called a sissy throughout his childhood, and I promised him I wouldn’t use that word either.

Can’t decide which is better, teaching or learning. Thoughts?


5 Responses to “teaching moments”

  1. alexthesane September 5, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    They thought “sissy” was an acceptable alternative!? First of all, that’s just as demeaning to femininity because it is a diminutive of “sister”. I personally have a very unpleasant history with the word “sissy” and endeavor to have it never spoken around me ever.

    As for the bathroom issue, you say the distinction became between womens and ungendered? I would be very wary of this situation, as a gender-variant person, because the non-womens bathroom would potentially tend to be a mens room no matter what the sign on the door was. If given a say, I would personally prefer my own ungendered bathroom separate from a mens room (unless the only bathroom is ungendered, but that probably will never happen.)

    • annanettie September 6, 2010 at 11:01 am #

      there is a women’s bathroom and a gender neutral bathroom. people of all genders have been using the gender neutral bathroom, so i don’t think there’s a problem.

  2. Naomi September 7, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    Sissy, while not a particularly helpful alternative to ‘pussy,’ is such an interesting and loaded term. This American Life did an awesome episode about Sissies (listen for free here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/46/sissies) and basically I completely agree with Dan Savage in that I love sissies. Sissies are brave, sissies are hot, sissies are fucking fierce. It’s starting to be reclaimed as an identity but I hope it really comes back in full-force. The LGBTQA community could use some sissy sass.

  3. alexthesane September 7, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    @Naomi: I understand the point you are trying to make about reclaiming the word, I would like to reiterate that I hate that word with a burning passion. Having something shouted at you while people chuck rocks at you will have that effect. So while I understand and support that people are trying to remake it as a positive term, there are some of us in the LGBTQA community that would rather avoid having anything resembling “sissy sass” and would prefer that the word never be used in reference to us or anything to do with us ever.

    • Naomi September 8, 2010 at 1:36 am #

      Language is difficult and important, especially for those of us who have been victimized due to language. I completely respect your dislike and opposition to being called a sissy yourself, that it’s a hateful word used to hurt and humiliate. I do feel, however, that there is a push away from femme or ‘sissy’ identities in the gay community right now. The pressure to be ‘straight acting/appearing’ leaves a lot of my friends feeling frustrated and isolated, that their supposedly ‘feminine’ mannerisms make them inherently undesirable to other men. My support for sissiness is rooted in the belief that sexual and gender expression should never be a source of shame.

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