When discussing something, relaying a story, or describing an event the logical place to start is at the beginning. So, with the fifteenth anniversary of Breaking the Silence that would seem to be with Ivan Coyote’s performance on Friday evening. I’ve got a couple clips that I know you’ll love.
…However, that’s not where I’m going to start. I’m going to start at the end. Or, well… almost the end. The last session of the day, before we all gathered for the conference’s conclusion:
“Sex, Gender, and How the Heck I Fit into it All.”
I had printed 25 of the handouts I’d created, expecting 15 – 20 youth. We had 176 (it was 176 or 172, I can’t quite remember) registrants, and five options in each session slot. And with a title like mine, I didn’t expect a huge turnout. Not when competing against some of the amazing options that were presented this year. I figured by printing 25, it would give me a little wiggle room, and also allow me to share a few copies with people who were in other sessions, but were still interested in the topics I addressed.
Walking up the stairs to find the room I was presenting in I passed two people who had veered off into the other upstairs lecture hall – I’d attended a session earlier in the day there (a great one by Jim Drake on personal narrative). I kept walking… And that was when I realized, the throng of folks walking up the stairs with me were headed into room 103… into my session.
The room was already packed when I walked in, and more people kept coming. I was shocked! And I’ll admit it, I was suddenly nervous. My throat swelled, my legs felt weak, my stomach did a little turn. These are not feelings I was used to, however they weren’t entirely foreign either. I remember them well from the days I first entered politics when I feared I wouldn’t be good enough, days long past now.
George Georget, a fellow member of the board gave my introduction. He’d asked if there was anything in particular I wanted him to mention. There wasn’t really, and I told him as much… but I didn’t want to leave him lacking for something to say, so told him he could always just tell them I was a Mom and photographer. I didn’t need to be worried. He had plenty to say, all of it lovely. I thank him for that. 🙂
I began by apologizing for my lack of handouts, and asked that they share in groups of two and three… just so everyone could see what I was referring to. I began handing them out. Then realized it would be a lot more efficient to enlist a little help. I handed some to Chance Briere, an absolutely wonderful young man I met this Summer and am proud to call friend, and some to a woman across the row from him and asked for their assistance.
Still feeling a little shaky, and surprised not only by the amount of attendees by also by their diversity (I was expecting youth only, but there was a brilliant array of ages, it was inspiring to see them all gathered for a session I thought would have such narrow appeal), I began to speak.
It took two or three minutes, but I found my voice… the same as it always was. Honest, open, and willing to talk about anything.
I didn’t expect the laughs, loud and openly shared. I didn’t expect the cheers, unbridled and on point. I didn’t expect the types of questions, asked with heart and intention. I didn’t expect to inspire or to move people… but that seems to be what I did.
Very honestly? I was presenting a mainly informational session. I knew I wanted it to be more of a discussion than a lecture – but I came prepared with an activity, just in case questions were slow to come. I didn’t realize that I would touch lives, or give people hope they didn’t arrive with.
To everyone who came up to me afterwards, to shake my hand, to get a hug (or two or three), to share a story, to ask for help… THANK YOU! I appreciate each one of you. You are truly amazing people. You have touched my life. You have inspired ME. And to all of you who wanted to do the same, but for whatever reason felt you couldn’t. Thank you for being there, for listening, for asking questions, for returning my smiles when I met your eyes during my talk. I know I won’t change the world, but I believe that you can.
Now, for anyone who would like to see it, here is my handout. Please feel free to share it wherever and with whomever you like. I only ask that you refrain from editing it or claiming it as your own. 😛 If there is interest in a printable version (do let me know if that’s something you’d like to see) I’ll find the best way to make that available.
Shortly I’ll be presenting at a few high schools as well as at Breaking the Silence. I’ll be talking about sex, gender, identity and the labels that can help or hinder us as we discover ourselves and how we fit on the spectrum. I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be covering, but I really would love to hear from you on the subject.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the gingerbread man diagrams that have been floating around the net for the last couple of years. There have been several different incarnations of the drawing, and I’ll be creating my own for my presentations too. Basically it just maps out the differences between sex, gender, expression, and orientation. By having this type of illustration handy I hope to equip everyone who is there with the proper language – as that will go a long way to facilitate discussion.
What I’d like to know from anyone who’d be kind enough to reply is this:
If you were, or are, a high school student what would you like to know but might be afraid to ask in a classroom setting? What would you want to know about sex? about gender? about gender expression? about sexual orientation? Is there something you wish you knew? Is there something you do know that you wish others knew? What would you want discussed that you might be to embarrassed to bring up with a room full of people watching?
I want to ensure that those who need the information, get it. But if I don’t know what questions people have, I may miss something important. This is basic information that schools haven’t often given students a chance to learn – information that people often have to discover on their own – feeling alone and insecure. I want to arm youth with the power that comes with knowledge, and knowing that no matter where we fall on the spectrum, that we’re all totally normal with the potential to be awesome!
So today I arrive to pick up my daughter from pre-k as the children and their parents are all making their way outside. When Rhonda catches my attention and says “I have one for you today.” From her tone, I knew I was in for a doozie.
When Rhonda was no longer busy with another family she told me how the class had been playing with play doh. Then she continued on.
…informing me that my daughter, of all the things in the world she could have created, that my daughter made a penis.
Yep. A penis.
Instinctively my hands flew to my mouth.
Of course, it had to be MY daughter.
I then picked my eyeballs up off the floor and returned them to their sockets.
Rhonda laughed, and very soon it was just she, Tracy (my daughter’s pre-k teacher heard us out in the hall and came to join our discussion), and myself. Oh the story… the details… the visuals…
When Lily-Ann had explained what she was crafting: “It’s a penis!” They had looked back and forth at one another, neither willing to touch what she’d shared with a ten foot poll. And Rhonda’s use of her hands while telling the story just about had me peeing myself. She showed how the kid had been rolling it out on the table with vigor, how big and thick a piece of play doh she’d used. Oh my.
Now for a bit of back story for clarity:
I am very open. I’ll talk about anything. I believe in being honest and I don’t sugar coat things. So when my daughter was one and a half and began having questions we talked about where babies come from. We talked about how flowers produce seeds, how birds lay eggs, how puppies come to be born, and how she (and other babies) are also born… and how all these things are alike, yet very different. And how even from family to family, everyone has a different birth story.
By the time the kid was two she knew the difference (and proper names) for her parts. And if you ask her, she’ll happily tell you the difference between many different (for some folk, uncomfortable to mention) body parts and whether they are male organs or female organs, where they can be found, and what they’re for. So, I suppose it was only a matter of time before she began sharing her education.
Back to today:
Later, after returning home and settling into our late afternoon routine, I asked the girlie what she made with her play doh. She was completely open and nonchalant about the whole thing. With a shrug, she replied “a penis”. No big deal. Then I heard her Dad walk in the front door, and before we could get any further, she ran off to welcome him home.
So what does my husband get greeted with as soon as he arrives home? Her story, told rather proudly (because it must be important if so many people feel the need to talk about it), about how she made a penis at school. But it was okay since “it didn’t look like a real one because I made it orange.”
If nothing else, the girlie now knows that just like we shouldn’t talk about our vulva at the grocery store we also shouldn’t make a play doh penis at school. Valuable lessons that we wish we’d thought to teach PRIOR to it becoming very evident that we needed to teach them.
I wonder what she’ll teach me I should have taught her next.