Sunday, December 10, 2017

10 Tips for LGBTQI Persons and Allies During Winter Break

The Holidays can be a really tough time 
for queer and trans people, especially for those of us 
who come from religious families.


Over the last fifteen weeks of our seminar on "Beyond Male and Female," the students in the seminar became practiced countering anti-trans, anti-queer, anti-intersex and anti-crip discourses in society as well as tactics for locating or creating alternative structures. Indeed, the classroom became such a protected space where arguments could be practiced and alternatives could emerge. At the start of the seminar, the students drafted a "Class Covenant" that served as the guiding rules of engagement when entering into these conversations. The students drafted the agreement and voted for it. Having practiced these methods of debate and discourse over a semester within the protected space of the classroom, on the last day of classes the students drafted a new list. This list would be addressed to the world they are about to enter back into where conversations on gender and sexuality don't always play by the same guidelines as an arbitrated academic classroom. Ten tips were listed that could be adapted to scenarios such as season family gatherings, holiday parties, online comment sections, or future seminars where topics of one's identity and body arise. While hardly exhaustive, these are samples of the advice the Beyond Male and Female seminar suggest to survive and help others survive the winter break:



5 Tips for Allies

1. Model Preferred Name and Pronoun Usage

Start conversations with, "my name is___ and my pronouns are ____." Even as an ally, presumably cisgender and heterosexual, using such phrases begins to normalize the practice and creates important room for others to share their preferred names and pronouns. This may spur people to ask questions, which gives you an opportunity to provide some useful information to friends and family. Importantly, if someone does come forward with a name or pronoun other than the ones you or others use, follow their lead. Even if you make mistakes, a simple acknowledgement of the misstep and a further effort to get it right will do important work. Indeed, by openly showing that you try even as you make mistakes will encourage others to do the same.  

2. Advocate for Those Not Present

Names and pronouns are most often used when people are not in the room to advocate for themselves. Likewise, people who have problems with someone's gender and sexuality might not make this antipathy explicit until the person leaves. At this moment, your role as an ally really becomes tested. Are you just an ally when the community is there to watch? What does it say that a person feels comfortable expressing transphobic, homophobic, anti-intersex, anti-queer statements when you are around? Your position as an ally and one not overtly LGBTQI means you are privileged to be in exactly these sorts of positions to advocate for those who are not present. Indeed, anti-LGBTQI people might be more willing to listen to an ally than a member of the community in question. Be aware of that power and use it responsibly!

3. Create Alternative Spaces

Even if you do not know for sure that members of your friends or family are LGBTQI, announcing yourself as a safe person and safe space will allow those who are quietly in need to seek you out. Often safety cannot be assumed and cannot go unsaid. Making your alliance known may be risky and come with consequences, however it may be a calculated risk which can be life-saving for friends and family. Once you make yourself known, you may find that the number of people who come out of the woodwork are larger than anticipated. This may lead to the formation of an ad hoc community for your local area which might convene and reconvene during breaks. Don't be surprised if you start to have regular guests of "strays" who show up during holidays until they find/make their own safe place.

4. Read and Share Important Texts

Minds don't grow all at once and not always on their own. One way to change a community to make it more safe for LGBTQI friends and family is by answering misinformation with more accurate data and stories. This can start by conversations at seasonal family gatherings but rarely are minds changed so quickly. What can help transform communities is sharing books, films, and television shows that can continue the work started during these gatherings. The trick is finding the right book for the right people. For younger people, books like "Being Jazz" might be great for teens and youth, while "I am Jazz" might explain transgender to even younger generations. For older groups, books like Caitlyn Jenner's memoir, "Secrets of My Life" would be a touchstone with someone they more likely know, who speaks to language and experiences more common to older generations. Even if you don't want to put these books under the Christmas tree, having these texts around the house to share or hand away is useful.

5. Know LGBTQI History

One of the common ways to discredit LGBTQI persons and identities is by saying how "new" it all is and how people need more time to adjust. To answer this, knowing more about LGBQTI history puts the struggle for recognition and justice into the context of struggles that reach back all the way into antiquity. For instance, Catholic family members who quote Pope Francis's complaint that transgender reflects radical new gender theory might be answered by citing the history of trans persons within the Church, counted among the canonized saints. Familiarizing yourself with figures like Saint Marinos the Monk (sometimes called Marina the Monk, despite that fact that he presented and was known as Marinos) will answer such Catholicism with its own terms and history. In such a historical light, transgender is revealed to be an ancient and integrated part of Catholic history from its very start.



5 Tips for LGBTQI Persons

1. Find Alternative Ways of Expression

If you are not safe to engage in your preferred means of expression, it may be possible to find alternative fashions that will be legible to those in-the-know but not to others. One example is for those who usually express themselves with decorative nails but feel that the home space would not be accepting of this. In this case, using clear-nail polish instead of a visible color would provide a sense of the experience in a fashion not likely to be detected by others.

2. Find Alternative Ways of Self-Affirmation

If you are not safe to engage in acts of self-affirmation or transitioning, it may be possible to use other discrete methods which accomplish similar goals in ways that are otherwise undetected. One example is for those who usually engage in chest-binding but feel this would put them in danger at home. In this case, using a sports-bra might imitate some of the effects using apparel that would otherwise go unnoticed. Alternatively, bagging clothing might help hide the chest of a trans masculine person uncomfortable being perceived without a binder or a trans feminine person who doesn't want to be perceived without their breast forms.

3. Locate Alternative Places to Go

If you do not feel safe or comfortable at home, it might be advisable to spend as little time there. In this situation, knowing of alternative places to go can be critical. Ideally, the place is somewhere one can express and affirm one's full identity. This might be the home of an LGBTQI friend or ally, or someone identified by trusted members of the community. It is not uncommon in queer homes to find "strays" from the area, people in need of safe and affirming community. Alternatively, other neutral places such as the mall, movie theaters, or public parks might be locations which are not totally affirming but which provide a break from the dangers or discomfort at home.

4. Don't Feel Obligated to Talk

If you do not feel safe disclosing information about your gender and sexuality or about your political views, do not feel required to talk. While silence has been something the LGBTQI has been fighting to break free from for many many years, silence is often the safest strategy in dangerous places. Silence can be an effective way to deal with people espousing offensive view points because it takes away attention and a potential target. While silence may be seen (as it is) as an act of resistance, there is an ambiguity in silence which may be safer than disclosing the truth or lying. Sometimes silence can be enacted discretely by tactically changing the topic or giving non-answers.

5. Remember: People May Surprise You

If you are worried about going home, but have to nonetheless, do not despair because among the bad that is likely to happen there may be unexpected good. For example, although parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents may have more set and dated view-points, you might be surprised by how people can grow and change at any age. Usually, families have had LGBTQI people in some form or another hiding in silence for generations. They may be on the look out for you just as you are on the look out for them. Alternatively, siblings may be surprisingly affirming or flexible because they share more similar experiences to you. In general, one never knows for sure what the future holds. Good may not come where we want it but there might surprising good hiding in unexpected placed nearby.



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