Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Sea of Knowledge

Tuesday began bright and early. I have finally managed to get into a routine where I can get myself up early enough to go to breakfast. In class, we continued to plow ahead, our topic of the day being LGBT+ issues. This was a change from the previous week and a half, when we mostly talked about the problems communities faced in regards to race and religion. On Monday night, we had to read an article about sex, sex categories, and gender. The article had some pretty complex language, and the concepts were difficult to grasp at first. This was especially in comparison to the topics we had covered in the past, because I hadn't been very educated about these concepts before. However, I felt that I had a good grip on them by the time the day was over.

When we got to class, we split into groups in which we were assigned a term, either sex, sexual categorizing, or gender. Our task was to come up with a definition for our group's term and a lesson plan to teach it to the rest of the class. My group was assigned the term sex, which one of our TAs had told us the day before was actually not all biological, but a social construct. I didn't really understand this, but as we reread through the article, it explained how there were many people with chromosome combinations other than XX and XY. These differences are not always obvious, but it turns out that  1 in 100 people's bodies differ from what we typically think of as "male" and "female".

Based on what our group discussed, we came up with the following definition for sex: a categorization of one's body based on their presumed reproductive capacity. To illustrate this, we came up with a skit to perform to the rest of the class. In the skit, a mother gave birth to triplets, one male, one female, and one who was neither. The skit followed the child, who was treated like a male throughout their life, as they and people around it tried to figure out what their unusual sex meant. Despite the serious subject matter, we ended up presenting it in a rather silly manner, partly because we didn't have very much time to put it together.

The second group also performed a skit, in which they demonstrated how we use hormone levels and sexual organs to places people into the categories 'male' and 'female', and how this can be harmful and confusing. This group's topic and lesson were very similar to ours, and I'm not sure where the distinction was. The third group, however, had to define and teach what gender is, which is very different from sex and sex categories. They taught us how society has placed certain stereotypes and expectations on those of different sexes and how none of these are based in science. A person's true gender identity is a combination of their sex, their sexual orientation, and how they personally choose to identify and express themselves.

With all of that said and done, we moved into a film called Diagnosing  Difference, which was about how being transgender was stigmatized by the medical community and how transgender people are treated in medical situations. Basically, there is a mental health illness called Gender Identity Disorder, which many trans people are diagnosed with in order to get access to hormones and sex-change operations. The problem is, this forces trans people to concede that their identities are a disorder, which is problematic. I found this film interesting, because I haven't been exposed to many transgender people before and my knowledge on the subject prior to watching only barely scratched the surface.

After lunch, we spent a little bit of time in our small discussion groups talking about how and why society had constructed our ideas about sex and gender, and the effects that this has on us all. The entire class came back together to hear the story of the primarily gay neighborhood here in Philadelphia, the Gayborhood. Our speaker, who lives in this Gayborhood, gave us a full overview of its history, from being a rather seedy part of town to becoming the minor tourist attraction that it is today. One of the things that surprised me the most about this history was the fact that the Episcopal Church had been so involved with the gay community of Philadelphia, especially during the AIDS crisis. You do not usually hear about gays and Christians working together. Our speaker also touched on why exactly gay neighborhoods are important, since they can be a safe haven for those struggling because of their sexuality. He told us about gay enclaves in many major metropolitan areas, including The Castro in San Francisco. These communities will remain significant as the LGBT+ community continues to face attacks such as the shooting in Orlando a few weeks ago.

We ended the day by talking about gay subculture, particularly in the media, and how it had slowly become more mainstream. As we left for the day, we all had the tune to YMCA by the Village People stuck in our heads, which one of our TAs had broken down the lyrics to for us. YMCA is one example of a way that gays found to sneakily represent themselves in the media. They also did so through sexually ambiguous cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and characters that intentionally embodied gay stereotypes, such as Big Bird.

I went to dinner at around 5:00 PM, kind of early, since I had signed up for mini-golf with my friends later that evening. We were to take the subway to center city to get there. On the way, one of our RCs actually missed the train, but we were able to catch up with him once we arrived at our destination. The mini-golf course we went to was very cute, with each hole reflecting a monument in Philadelphia or a part of the city. The only problem was, there were a lot of people there, so myself and my group of five other friends were rushed through the course and even had to skip some holes. Initially we had decided not to keep score, and  and eventually we stopped playing properly all together. There were all sorts of crazy things going on, like taking multiple swings, standing over the hole, and sometimes flat out picking up our balls and dropping them into the hole ourselves. Humorous though this was, we realized that we had lost motivation, and decided to leave the course before completing it.

The course was situated next to a carousel and a park. My friends and I got on the carousel to take pictures, and then relived our childhoods on the monkey bars and the swings. We had to wait for the other groups to finish golfing, so we had some time to play around. In the final minutes before we left, we bought French fries and milkshakes from the area's snack bar and sat around a table chatting and laughing. Finally, an RC called us over to take a group picture, and snapped several shots before we got back on the subway to head home.

Before going back to the dorms, some of my friends wanted Starbucks, which they bought as we were walking. Once we got to the Quadrangle, I was sticky from the humidity and tired from the long day I had had, so I went up to my room. This was how the day ended. I had learned a lot about a community that I hear about often, but which still seems pretty distant from me. Through the Social Justice Research Academy, I am finally being educated on the issues facing communities besides my own, which I think is a very valuable thing.

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