Friday Philosophy: Teaching against Stereotypes

As usual as Friday approaches, I start panicking because I haven’t a clue what to write about.  That especially happens around midterm as we crawl towards Spring Break.  On more week before refreshing can commence.

It is often the case, however, that events provide an idea.  This one crystalized with plf515‘s morning offering, WGLB presents: Stereotype.

In my mind I teamed this together with several other recent events, listed after the fold, and the idea of writing about teaching against stereotypes arose.  I’m hoping to generate some helpers, both in the here and now and to pick up the burden after I die.

Stereotypes are ubiquitous.  I battle them consistently.  All my political battles, not just for GLBT rights, but also for Native American rights, against the English-only doofi, for the poor and downtrodden, against racism and religious and ethnic discrimination, for the equality of women, against bullying…and so many, many more, all have at their root the battle against stereotypes.

Be aware that if you choose this path, you will be called sanctimonious, self-absorbed, self-important, thin-skinned fascist against freedom of speech.

If that’s the price to be paid, so be it.

The events of the past week that I can recall in my beleaguered state (there may have been more):

  • appearing as a transsexual woman in The Vagina Monologues a week ago (but a straight one…which was a step out of character for me)
  • a recent “conversation” with people who insist that atheists are treated more poorly than GLBT people and therefore we should gain rights for atheists while we delay the quest for equal rights for GLBT people
  • a lunch conversation Tuesday about transsexualism open to the campus community here at Bloomfield College, to which ten people showed up, including the academic dean
  • a seminar presentation in the Women’s Studies class, Changing Women’s Lives, at BC
  • an attempt last night to educate someone BarbinMd’s Stick An Ice Pick In Your Ear Or Attend CPAC … You Make The Call from yesterday, someone who utilized quite a panoply of negative stereotypes of transsexual women in defending his bigoted behavior
  • Africa’s plea for advice about ho to fight bullying to protect her niece, Seeking Advice on Bullying, also from this morning (if you can help, you should go do so)
  • the memories of being denied medical service, which arose in the seminar as well as in Obama to nix so-called “conscience rule” by SusanG.

I’m sure other incidents will pop into my head as I write this and as the evening progresses.

I was hesitant about doing The Vagina Monologues for probably longer than made the director comfortable.  The fact is that they chose to do that piece over one from The Women behind the Veil because they figured they had an actual live transwoman on campus.  And who better to be in They beat the girl out of my boy, right?

Well, they cajoled and guilted me into doing it…and I then probably stepped on somebody’s toes by saying I would do it if I could do the Calpernia Addams role.  While she is straight and I’m a lesbian, I wanted justice done to her role.  If you don’t know the story, her boyfriend, PFC Barry Winchell, was beaten to death for being gay.  No matter what you may have heard from anyone, including the Human Rights Campaign, he was not.  When as man dates a woman, we do not consider him gay.  And transsexual women are, in fact, women.  And some of us are lesbians and some of us are heterosexual and some of us are bisexual…about one third of each.  Calpernia was not interested in the slightest in having a relationship with a gay man.  Barry was heterosexual.  But he was beaten to death because of a stereotype, the stereotype that says we are “really men” and implied that therefore he must be gay.

You may have noticed that there are quite a few people around, people who proclaim themselves to be liberals and progressives, agree with that stereotype.  Fighting that is why I blog.  It’s a tougher battle than one would think.  I would have hoped that it would be harder to educate our enemies than those who purport to be our friends.

In the program at TVM there was a blurb about the Tuesday lunch presentation.  Almost nobody saw it.  Or if they did, they had “better things to do.”  Or more important things.  This is a college after all.

So there were only ten people who showed up:  one man and nine women:  both college personal counselors, the Dean of Academic Affairs, the college’s nurse, my partner, who is the Coordinator of Women’s Studies (which sponsored the event), two students, a biology professor, me and the lone man, the director of the ESP (Enhanced Support for Pre-Nursing) program.  One student worker was in the corner of the room, working at a computer.

Frankly I had hoped for more.  We offer majors in Social Work, Criminal Justice, Nursing, Psychology, Human Relations and a certificate program in Diversity Training.  I had hoped at least a smattering of those students would have understood…or would have been told by their instructors…how this opportunity could have helped prepare them better in their chosen fields.

But alas, it didn’t happen.  The ten of us ate our rubber fish as I opened the floor for questions.  Although I sometimes have integrated my poetry…and sometimes my art…into what could be classified more as performance pieces…I asked two questions at the beginning and we went on from there:

What do you think you know about transsexual people?  Do you know any transgender people?

From there on it was sufficient for it to be just a Q & A session.  Let those who wish to learn steer the learning.

The seminar students were a bit different.  First of all, they were required to be there.  That could have meant that there would be people present who were violently opposed to who don’t fit their notion of propriety.  On the other hand there was a larger group (around 25) and they had supposedly done some reading leading up to this:  Leslie Feinberg’s We are all works in progress (pdf).  Thus the first order of business was to separate me from my friend Les, explaining some ways in which we are similar and some of the many ways in which sie and I are different.  One of the major one of those is that Leslie identifies as transgender with regards to gender and I identify as being gendered, a woman.

The students were mostly nurses, with a few sociology and criminal justice majors…and a few scattered others, like the woman majoring in graphic design.

We spent an hour and a half gnawing on the questions which they came up with.  Some of the students remained silent the entire time.  Some hardly looked up.  Some glared at me.  But mostly there were questions which deserved sincere and thoughtful answers…and stereotypes that needed to be debunked.

I understand that Christine Jorgensen had to say what she did…to give her doctors the answers they wanted to hear…back before her surgery in 1952.  But it created a transsexual narrative that many others had to repeat and that went a long way to creating the stereotypes that haunt transfolk to this day.  Becoming ourselves is the point of our separate journeys.  We shouldn’t have to lie in order to do that.

So I told the truths that I know, as I perceive them.  I told the truths of my life and explained when I could how my life is atypical…and about how their is no typical here…that we are all different…all on our own paths…all separate works in progress.  And I tried to convey how this word “all” included them.

Just as it includes you, dear readers.  Our battle is for your right to be yourself.  And we will wage it with or without your help…and with or without your obstruction.

The instructor for the seminar, acting as my shill during a lull in the conversation, asked me about my treatment by the medical community.  Included in the several related stories I reported was the one I shared this morning in SusanG‘s story.

As someone who has been refused treatment…

…and thrown out of an endocrinologist’s office for being a transwoman (I was there because I had just had my thyroid irradiated and my GP thought an expert should be consulted about that), calling it a “conscience rule” masks what it really is:  a rule supporting bigotry.

That was a painful event.  It still is.  I still have fears about seeing any new doctor.  And my present doctor is moving further away.  I’m not sure what I am going to do about that.  I’ve had to educate every doctor I’ve interacted with on how to treat me…medically as well as humanely.

And just like my interactions with people politically, in my constant battle against being treated as subhuman, as less than equal, as nothing more than a stereotype, I will have Truth as my only weapon.

Wings of Truth

A Modern Cave

Spreading truth

in the face

of ignorance

we return to the cave

after experiencing

the beauty and wonder

of a better place

a more just world

a brighter future

We understand

the difficulty

you face

having lived in the

in the mostly dark

having only experienced

the shadows

that passed as reality

What we don’t understand

is why you can

no longer hear

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–February 27, 2009


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    • Robyn on February 28, 2009 at 00:00

    …but only if they are asked.

    There will be a few changes to this in the next half hour or so.  I sort of ran short of time.  It may need some music.

  1. with your essays…

    Our battle is for your right to be yourself.

    I think you should emphasize that more!



    But this…as I face it almost everyday, gave me a big wry grin!

    As usual as Friday approaches, I start panicking because I haven’t a clue what to write about.

    • Alma on February 28, 2009 at 01:01

    So I told the truths that I know, as I perceive them.  I told the truths of my life and explained when I could how my life is atypical…and about how their is no typical here…that we are all different…all on our own paths…all separate works in progress.  And I tried to convey how this word “all” included them.

    Many don’t realize they are still on a path growing, and that more growing and learning can make them much better people.  I first put “will” instead of “can” in the last line, but honesty made me change it because some will just grow a moldy disease instead of healthy growth.

    • Robyn on February 28, 2009 at 01:25

    …in Orange

    • kj on February 28, 2009 at 05:14

    Well, I’ve just kind of been enjoying your full-on and multi-faceted Artiste Self this past month.  🙂    

    • kj on February 28, 2009 at 20:50

    worked against a stereotype yesterday, by playing along with it.

    one of the McCain supporters has been getting angrier and angrier with Obama and the loss of conservative power.  he is a co-worker and we get along.  so he said yesterday, “I just want you to know that I’m declaring peace today towards all Democrats and Muslims.”  i replied, “I keep telling you, I’m an Independent.”  someone else joined the conversation.  (if you can call words that dismiss Muslims and Democrats like that a conversation, anyway.)  So, he rails on about “giveaways.”  someone says something.  i say (talking about both parties as if i belong to neither) “One givesaway, one takesaway.”   dead silence.  the guy is a Christian, what did christ teach, to give, or to take?  of course i didn’t say that.

    so, not explained very well.  tired and unexpectedly sad today.

    but it was an attempt to play to a stereotype, to show the frame, or something.  i’m sure it didn’t work.  oh well.  we try.  we do not turn away.

    love what you do, Robyn.  love it.

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