Introductions are Crucial to Gender Equity

By Ace Garrett

If you think about it, we are introduced to new people (partners, coworkers, friends of friends) all the time—and often with no heads up. If you are like me, you may still be working on remembering peoples’ names when you’re introduced (a pretty important part of the interaction, for sure), but names aren’t the only things we should be exchanging when we first meet.

The moment when two or more people are introduced is one of the most effective opportunities we have to normalize and validate trans and non-binary identities. If you caught Sierra’s post about sex, gender, and pronouns, you should remember that someone’s gender presentation does not always “line up” with their pronouns or their gender identity—you can’t simply “tell” what someone’s gender is (and trying to do so leads to misgendering)

But if we can’t assume someone’s pronouns or gender identity, how do we find out? They have to tell you, of course. When it comes to gender identity, we don’t actually have to know someone’s in order to talk to them or about them; pronouns, however, are a huge part of conversation and language. You need to know someone’s correct pronouns pretty much as soon as you meet them.

So how should sharing pronouns work?

The key word here is sharing: everyone in an introduction should share their pronouns. You might feel inclined to only ask people who “look” queer or non-binary, but this can be extremely alienating. What if, in a classroom of people, the teacher only asks one student what their pronouns are? That student is now singled out, and this reinforces (in the minds of the other students) that this student is different. We all use pronouns, and we all have a gender—gender non-conforming people are alienated enough without being singled out every time they introduce themself.

Introducing yourself with your own pronouns is the best way to make others around you feel comfortable sharing theirs. And this applies to introductions as well. When you introduce people to each other, don’t only mention pronouns that aren’t “obvious.” Doing so reinforces the falsehood that someone’s pronouns can be assumed from their presentation. The truth is, someone who looks very masculine or very feminine may use they/them pronouns, and someone who looks ambiguous may use he/him or she/her pronouns.  There are even neopronouns to consider (more on that in the future).

The solution to knowing everyone’s pronouns, in short, is for everyone to introduce themselves with both their name and their pronouns. If we all get used to asking for and sharing pronouns, we will stop letting ourselves and others assume. By doing this, not only are we helping prevent harmful misgendering, we are also changing our social climate! Never forget: we have the power to make a difference. 

As you get to know people better—make friends or get into relationship for example—discussing each other’s gender identity will probably up (in most cases). We will be covering how to talk to someone about their gender identity in an upcoming post!

“It’s a straight! It’s a gay! Wait—it’s a bisexual!”

By Sierra Voorhies

As a bisexual, I have encountered bisexual erasure first hand, but bisexual erasure also affects other identities under the Bi+ umbrella (encompassing anyone who is attracted to two or more different genders). Bisexual erasure or invisibility is when “the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.”

In the media GLAAD says that “Bi+ characters make up 25 percent of regular and recurring LGBTQ characters [on broadcast television]” despite the fact that “more than half of all non-heterosexual people in the United States identify as bisexual.” If there are more bisexuals than gays or lesbians, why are bisexuals less represented? 

This is tricky because, like the wage gap, there are a lot of factors contributing to bi erasure. First, bisexuals have a list of hurtful stereotypes that are commonly portrayed in media. These include portraying bisexuals as attention-seeking (they are willing to take attention wherever they can get it) or as confused (they just haven’t figured out who they’re attracted to yet, they will have to choose one day). Another is the belief that someone’s bisexuality is revoked as soon as they are in a relationship. As soon as a pansexual woman starts dating a man, for example, the fact that she is still attracted to other genders is ignored and she is seen as straight. This is invalidating and can make bi+ people feel isolated, unseen, or pushed out of the queer community—people are still bi+ no matter who they happen to be with. 

Bisexual erasure is especially destructive to women and foc people because, as you know if you caught Ace’s most recent blog post, feminine relationships are already invalidated, and hypersexualized. Some people still reference Freud in relation to feminine relationships: there must be some masculine centered trauma that would make a FOC person turn to a woman besides a man for a relationship. Discrimination of women compounds with bisexual erasure in order to oppress bisexual foc people. 

People are who they are no matter who they are dating. Sapphic relationships are beautiful and aren’t formed because of trauma. Bisexuals are still bisexual no matter what gender they are currently dating.

Combating Domestic Violence

By Brooke Davidoff

Unfortunately, “nearly three in ten women and one in ten men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner (or former partner).”  

Domestic Violence Awareness Month began in October 1987 to connect people seeking help with the organizations working to empower victims and educate the public. Progress has come a long way, but there is still much more work to be done. Stigma silences many victims of domestic abuse.    

Domestic violence a heavily gendered crime, (although cis men can very well be the victims of domestic violence, and they can and should seek help). Furthermore, “LGBTQ members fall victim to domestic violence at equal or even higher rates” than their cishet counterparts, and they also experience unique elements of abuse, such as the threat of being outed. Domestic violence is absolutely a gender equity issue, and much work needs to be done to educate about and prevent abusive relationships. For now, knowing what to look out for and how to get help is the best way to keep yourself safe. 

In a victimology class I took recently, we learned that intimate partner violence falls into four categories: stalking, psychological aggression, physical violence, and sexual violence.  People experiencing intimate partner violence don’t always know right away that they are being abused, and abusers tend to be good at manipulation, leaving victims to question themselves when they consider leaving the relationship.    

A few reasons people stay in abusive relationships: 

Some people in abusive relationships want the abuse to end, but the relationship to last, and they find themself waiting for their abuser to change. Financial dependence is another reason some victims feel trapped with their abusers. Shame, guilt, helplessness, embarrassment, and fear are only a few of the emotions that can cloud one’s judgment when trying to decide to stay or go. On top of that, there is still stigma associated with speaking out and admitting you are a victim.   

It is extra important for people to be aware of psychological aggression, because non-physical domestic violence can be difficult to recognize, but it can still cause potentially long-lasting trauma and emotional impacts. How do you know if you’re in an abusive relationship if there is no physical violence? Are you afraid of your partner? Are they extremely jealous? This screening helps you determine if it would be in your best interest to leave your partner for your own mental health and safety.   

If it is possible that you are in an abusive relationship, there are many ways you can seek help:

On campus you can always stop by the RISE office in Haag Hall Room 108. They are open Monday – Friday 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. You can also visit their website. 

Rose Brooks is a 24-hour emergency shelter in Kansas City.   

The Kansas City Anti-Violence Project (KCAVP) is the only LGBTQ-specific domestic violence or sexual assault service in Missouri. KCAVP was created to provide support and services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and hate violence.  

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, you can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now  

If you need help, please reach out to one of these resources. There are people who can help you find a safe way out; you are not alone.   

 

Sexism in the Queer Community: Some Factors

By Ace Garrett

Last week, Sierra enlightened us to the limited representation for queer women and foc people on screen. Today we are going to dive into the what factors influence the perception of queer women and foc people. We do not see well-rounded representation of queer foc relationships in the media (let alone frequently), so what gives?

Note: Claims in this post not hyperlinked to a source come from my reading of the book Becoming Cliterate by psychology professor and human sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz. I highly recommend it to everybody.

First of all, patriarchal control has majorly influenced the porn industry and sex on screen: for decade, the idea has proliferated that sex without a dick involved is not sex. Why do you think it is common for an entire sexual encounter to consist of a hand job or blow job, while going down on a woman is “only foreplay” leading up to the main event? This societal norm is harmful for all of us with vulvas, and it means that sex between two female people is discredited. It is difficult for queer female relationships to be respected when queer female sexuality is completely misunderstood. 

Secondly, queer women actually are represented on screen—as sexual objects. If you can think of “queer women” on screen, how often are these women just making out, doing whatever the male director considers lesbian sex, or doing either of those in the company of one or more men? Queer women and foc people are mostly represented in media so far as they are a tool for male enticement and enjoyment. Even most “lesbian” porn is made through the male gaze and with the intention of pleasing men. This quote from The Atlantic suggests an explanation: “men are most aroused by visual cues that emphasize youth and downplay drama and emotional complexity. Lesbian porn, therefore, works for straight men by ‘doubling up’ those visual stimuli, Ogas told me. The only thing better than one nubile, personality-free woman is two of them.” This phenomenon somehow manages to hypersexualize queer women and foc people while tying that sexualization to men. 

The resulting perspectives of queer women and foc people are that their relationships are mostly sexual, but only “for fun”—they don’t have real sex. Quite the oxymoron. People more often than not fail to see relationships between women and foc people as strong and complex romantic bonds like other partnerships, which in turn, narrows the representation of our relationships in media. As I hope we will explore in future posts, these factors also result in other sexism-driven difficulties for queer women and foc people. 

Sexism in the Queer Community: Representation 

By Sierra Voorhies

We have all heard of the LGBTQIA+ acronym representing the queer community (this acronym, the identities it represents, and even more terms are explained here), but you might be surprised to know that sexism affects queer people, those of all genders and sexualities. Sexism in this context is the undermining and devaluing of femininity as well as discrimination against femininity (instead of being narrowed to prejudice and discrimination against cis women from cis men). Unfortunately, sexism affects the queer community in a lot of ways, so this will be the first in a series of posts. The first sexist trend we see through the LGBTQIA+ space is queer feminine of center (foc) people not being nearly as represented in media or stories as masculine of center people are.

Take box office hits “Bohemian Rhapsody” about Freddy Mercury and “Rocketman” about Elton John, for example; are there any movies starring queer feminine of center people being made to the same impact, scale or success? GLADD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) found that in 2019 within LGBT representation in movies, only 32% of LGBT characters in mainstream media were women, where 68% were men. GLAAD also noted that “there were zero transgender or non-binary characters counted in mainstream releases this year.” An example from Cleo-Symone Scott of how sapphic relationships are less valued is in the Academy Awards, where Brokeback Mountain and Milk were given Best Picture, but lesbian films (for example Battle of the Sexes featuring a lesbian’s historic tennis win over a straight cis man) are rejected by judges. It’s important to note that bisexuals and transgender characters lag behind in proportional representation to their gay and lesbian counterparts. 

In the future we will discuss why this imbalance exists and how it’s tied to sexism, but for now let’s address the problem: we need to see queer women as more than the main character’s side kick or the straight man’s eye candy, but how do do that? How do we validate queer foc individuals in their sexualities? Well, of course, we can create and support the representation we want to see. If you are in a story-telling position, advocate and create feminine of center love stories. For us consumers out here, find and engage with queer foc stories by streaming movies, buying books, reviewing or sharing on social media, etc. We can vote with our dollar for the kinds of stories we want to see. 

If you’d like to see some foc queer relationships, there is some representation out there: check out the Legend of Korra comics, listen to Haley Kiyoko’s “Girls like Girls,” watch She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, or read Sappho or the people she inspired like Gertrude Stein. There is also information to find online like this article about critically acclaimed Women who Love Women movies and this website that lists books that represent queer relationships.

Clarifying Gender: Using Multiple Sets of Pronouns

By Ace Garrett

Right now as you read, gender is evolving into the fun, expressive, and validating construct that it always should have been. People here in America finally have the language to understand and express their gender, and many are beginning to step outside of traditional gender expectations and live as their most authentic selves—which is all any of us want, right? If you want to continue being supportive of gender non‑conforming people, a good place to start is understanding pronouns. 

This week, Sierra skillfully informed us about pronouns and their independence from gender, which I am following up with this little series of additions to help you understand the niche aspects of pronouns and gender. Today, we’ll be covering the use of multiple pronouns.

You might be surprised, but many people actually use multiple sets of pronouns. For some, a mixture of pronouns might best reflect them. For others, they might simply be comfortable with more than one set and allow their friends and family to choose whichever they want to use. There are some people that are even comfortable using any pronouns! 

You probably know that pronouns come in sets of three (e.g., she/her/hers), but all three parts is pretty redundant, so pronouns have already been commonly abbreviated to the first two parts: she/her; they/them; he/him; etc. And these sets get abbreviated even more when someone uses multiple pronouns. People who are comfortable with more than one set of pronoun often abbreviate their pronouns like this: 

  • she/they
  • they/he
  • he/they/she

For some, this represents a catalogue of the pronouns they are comfortable with. However, some people have a preference, and they will put the pronoun set they are most comfortable with at the beginning. For example, non‑binary people who prefer they/them pronouns may also be comfortable with the pronouns tied to their sex assigned at birth—especially if (1) they are just discovering their gender identity or (2) they present in a very feminine or masculine way.

But remember what Sierra covered on Monday: pronouns and gender are independent parts of our identity, which is also independent from gender presentation. Someone could, for example, present very feminine while only using they/them pronouns and being agender.

To wrap this post up, I want to remind you that all people are different. We don’t have labels and “rules” in order to box people in; we have them to help people express themselves and find community. Each person is an authority over their own identity, and we should all take care to listen and be open to people falling outside our expectations.

Keep an eye out for part two!

Sex, Gender, Pronouns, Oh My!

 

By Sierra Voorhies

When someone uses she/her pronouns, you might assume she’s a woman, but pronouns and gender do not always match. Sharing and asking for someone’s pronouns is becoming more common, so it’s a good time to address the common misconception that gender and pronouns are synonymous. I’ll start with explaining sex versus gender. 

Sex is determined by a combination of all sexual characteristics: chromosomes, hormones, and internal and external sex organs (for example ovaries, penis, vulva). If one were to ask what your sex is, they would be referring to your physical sex makeup, and one would respond female, intersex, or male. Check out Aurora’s last blog to learn about what it means to be intersex!

Sex is connected to gender, but they are not the same. Someone’s gender is how they fit into the socialized perceptions of femininity and masculinity. Genders include but are not limited to:

  • cisgender (or cis): when one’s gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth (e.g., a woman who was assigned female at birth).
  • transgender (or trans): when one’s gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth (e.g., a man who was assigned female at birth).
  • non-binary or genderqueer: when one’s gender identity is not only or completely either a woman or a man. Someone who is non-binary or genderqueer may be in between a man and a woman, complete outside of those two genders, or some combination of the two.
  • genderfluid: when one’s gender identity or presentation changes over time. Some genderfluid people flip between genders day to day, others shift gradually from one to another. There are no rules!
  • agender: when one does not identify with any gender.

Many non-binary, genderqueer, and genderfluid people identify themselves as trans (under the trans umbrella) because their gender does not fully align with their sex assigned at birth. The non-binary identity is also considered an umbrella under which other, more specific identities may fall. And keep in mind that gender labels are a tool for people to communicate their own identities: listen to gender non-conforming people, they may deviate from these definitions or labels and that’s okay. 

Finally, why are we all here, pronouns! Pronouns are the gendered terms we use to refer to people when not using their name (e.g., he/him, she/her, they/them). Pronouns are connected to gender, but are also not the same. Most importantly, pronouns don’t dictate gender and vice versa. This means that no matter what someone’s pronouns are, you can’t use them to assume their gender; and you can’t use someone’s gender to assume their pronouns. For example, a non-binary person might use he/him pronouns because they are not ready to come out, because they are comfortable with them, or for many other reasons. A woman I know goes by both she/her and they/them (yes, people can use multiple!) so their pronouns are she/they. 

As we continue to ask for people’s pronouns, it’s important to note that it’s not appropriate to use that information to assume someone’s gender or sex. It’s always polite and appropriate to ask for pronouns at the beginning of a new conversation with someone, and if you have known someone a long time, it’s good to check in and ask now as well! I hope this blog is helpful, and we can continue to make mistakes, grow, and learn together.

My Gender Non-conforming Kid

By Brooke Davidoff

When Chelsea came home from Target with us, my son said from the back seat that he wanted to be a mommy. 

We had gotten into an deep conversation in the isles—other parents and kids were looking on as we weighed the options. I made sure he knew that if he chose a baby doll and opened the box, he couldn’t change his mind, it was non-refundable. But he articulated that he needed to buy this doll.

Chelsea had big brown eyes and pigtails, a flowery summer dress, and a pacifier. Chelsea was my son’s first Baby Alive doll, and she slept beside his bed in a painted shoebox with pillows and blankets.

My kid was 7.

Dr. Theresa Tanenbaum is an Associate Professor of Informatics at UCI, a trans woman, and a friend of mine who said, “I’ve been a girl my whole life, but I didn’t always know it. As a result, many of my childhood experiences were defined by cognitive dissonance. Growing up as a trans girl is like being gaslit by the whole world and still finding the strength and confidence to say ‘No! This is who I am.’”

She is a wealth of knowledge about the kind of trauma and pain trans women experience living in a male body most of their lives. I’ve know her since she was in 10th grade and she helped me understand that it’s not my place to guide my son to masculinity. As a single mother, I thought I needed to get him into Boy Scouts or sports, but she helped me stand back and allow him to lead his own journey. Part of the trauma trans people face is the internal struggle of living a double life.

One day my kid decided he needed a dress. I had never imagined I would have this conversation with my son, but he was crying saying he didn’t feel like he fit his own skin. So, we went into the little girl’s section and he happily picked out a pile of glittery rainbow sundresses to try on. He fell in love with one and we took it home. He wore it almost every day after school until it didn’t fit anymore.

Theresa also said, “As a kid, I yearned for ‘normal’ girl experiences, but wasn’t allowed to have them. I suffered in terror from ‘boy’ experiences. Not knowing I was trans, all of it was so confusing. My socialization wasn’t the same as a cis girl, but it wasn’t anything like a boy’s” 

I can’t imagine what it feels like not to fit into my skin. But I do have empathy for those who live that way. I am trying my best to help my child feel at home in his body. It isn’t easy to understand what a kid needs when showing gender non-conforming behavior, but parents and guardians must be prepared to support transgender and non-binary youth. At the moment, I call my kid non-binary. Some days he calls himself a boy, some days he wants to be a girl more than anything. He might be a woman one day, or a man, or maybe he is neither, but it will be his decision. He still has to figure out what gender means to him, how pronouns make him feel, how he wants to present and be perceived. Gender identity is a huge part of our lives and kids need to be allowed to take their time figuring it out.

We need to work better to educate ourselves and others: kids are just kids. No one fits into a neat box. In the end, we should all just be kind and respect other’s lifestyles, decisions, and privacy.

 

Safer Sex Practices: Protection and Testing

By Brianna Green 

In my last blog I talked about the importance of getting tested and practicing safe sex. But what is safe sex? And what does it mean to be sexually responsible? In this blog I’m going to explore these questions and suggest when to get tested for specific STIs and where on campus and in the Kansas City area you can get tested and treated.  

So, what is safe sex? Well, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, safe sex might not even be a real thing because all forms of sexual interaction have some kind of risk associated with it. However, there are guidelines on how to practice safer sex. 

Their list includes 10 items, but here are a few of them: 

  • “Think twice before beginning sexual relations with a new partner. First, discuss past partners, history of STIs, and drug use. 
  • For oral sex, help protect your mouth by having your partner use a condom [or dental dam]. 
  • Be aware of your [and your partner’s] body. Look for signs of a sore, blister, rash, or discharge. 
  • Have regular Pap tests, pelvic exams, and periodic tests for STIs.” 

So, if you know about these safer sex guidelines, does that automatically mean you’re sexually responsible? Not necessarily. Being sexually responsible means knowing safer sex practices and actually practicing them. Choma adds that, “Responsible sexual behavior also means that you know more about sex such as:treating your sexual partners equally, making sure your sexual encounters are consensual, and knowing how to use protection properly.” 

In a nutshell—using protection and getting tested is crucial to sexual health.  As I mentioned in my previous blog, STIs don’t show up immediately after a sexual encounter. So, to get accurate test results back, you should wait some time before getting tested. I made this handy timeframe graphic using information from Medical News Today: 

 

Finally, here is a list of some places you can go to get tested:

  •  Student Health & Wellness 
    • STI Testing  
      • Gonorrhea & Chlamydia ($27)
      • Rapid HIV (Free/yearly)
      • Serum Syphilis Testing ($12)
    • Immunizations  
      • 18 different kinds (prices vary) 
    • Appointment for Information  
  • Kansas City Health Department  
    • FREE STI Testing and Treatment 
    • Appointments need to be scheduled! 
      • 816-516-6379
      • Mon–Fri, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. 
      • 2400 Troost Avenue, Suit 2000 
  • KC Care Health Center (LGBTQ+ Friendly) 
    • STI Testing
    • Medication Therapy (PreP/PEP)
    • Safe Sex Kits   
    • For appointments or questions 

The More You Know… The More You Won’t Misgender Your Friends

By Sierra Voorhies

When I started at UMKC, I had taken Women’s Studies in Junior College, and thought I was at least minorly educated in the gender issues of the day. Boy, was I wrong. (Trigger warning: misgendering.)

In my first semester or two at UMKC, I made a small group of friends that included a non-binary person. We had some classes together, and after one class, they told me they were irritated: a professor had discussed differences in brain and behavior in the brains of men and women, but hadn’t bothered to do any research about where non-binary or transgender brains might differ or how they are affected. Later in the semester, they were having some turmoil about how to tell professors to address them by their pronouns (they/them). I asked them, “how is someone supposed to know someone uses they/them pronouns when they present as masculine or feminine?” They replied that non-binary people don’t all dress one way, there’s no androgynous dress code of monochromatic-oversized-Jaden-Smithian wardrobe for identifying as nonbinary. 

 That friend helped me learn a lot about identifying as non-binary, stuff that we should all know. People who identify as non-binary, women, or men don’t have to dress a certain way to present their gender because you literally cannot tell someone’s gender by looking at them. This is very different than every subliminal message I have received about performing gender for my whole life, like, I thought it was radical for women to have shaved heads, because they weren’t performing their gender. But guess what? No one, no matter their pronouns or gender, has to look any certain way.

So, that was a big wake up call for me; I have been making assumptions about people and misgendering them, and I didn’t even know I was doing anything wrong. Looking at a person with a soft face shape and long hair, I would refer to them using she/her pronouns without asking or thinking. Then I took a Psychology of Gender class and learned that gender, like sexual orientation, is not a binary. And just like there is a spectrum of sexuality (pansexual, gay, asexual, straight, queer, etc.), there is a spectrum of gender. The options aren’t A) Boy or B) Girl; they include non-binary, genderfluid, cisgender, transgender, and more. 

In the future, I hope to share more of my follies in learning about gender and to explore topics like gender congruence, the different sub-categories of non-binary identities, the history of gender, gender dysphoria, pronouns, and more. I have made mistakes in understanding and applying gender and sexuality to myself and the people around me. Even though it’s embarrassing and I am ashamed that I might have hurt some of my friends, it’s ok for people to make mistakes. What’s important is that we are compassionate towards others and try our best to educate ourselves on gender and sexuality.