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A Woman’s Razor, a Tool of Oppression?

When I was young, I shaved my legs every day; EVERY day.  Spring, Summer, Autumn, AND Winter; every day.  The media told me that having smooth, moisturized, soft legs was an important part of being pretty – and as a teenager and young person I bought into it.  I believed the myth of beauty society fed me.

As I came into adulthood, I still shaved – though not with the same frequency.  I spent a great deal of my time as a young adult sick and in pain… pretty just wasn’t as important when you hurt so bad that you can’t get up and down stairs without dissolving into tears.  But I still shaved and moisturized.  It was part of being a girl.  We couldn’t have people thinking I actually grew hair on my legs.

Then I became a Mom.  And yes, even then I shaved my legs.  By then it was just one of those chores you do.  Going swimming?  Better shave.  Wearing shorts or a skirt?  Better shave.  Just part of the self-grooming routine.  Something I didn’t think about.  Something I did in a rather robotic fashion, another member of the trained masses.

I want my daughter to grow up knowing these things are choices – even if we don’t always feel they are.  Not all Women shave.  In some parts of the world it would seem odd to do so.  My daughter believed this until she was three.  Then one day she laughed, astonished, at the ridiculous notion that a Woman could choose not to shave.  That was the day I stopped shaving my legs.

Lily-Ann has other Women in her life who are non-shavers, my sister for one.  But clearly this was something she needed to see with more frequency.  It may seem like a small thing, but I needed her to know that we have a choice.  We don’t have to shave.  We don’t have to buy into the view of beauty that the media is selling, we can choose something different.

I may be the odd Woman out here in North America, sporting hairy legs all year long – without shame and, quite frankly, with a little pride.  And yes, it may seem like a strange thing to take a stand on…  but I couldn’t let my daughter grow up thinking she has no choice, that she has to go along with whatever ideals society sets before her.

She has options and choices.  We all do.

Sure, I could have kept on shaving – but she shocked me out of it.  Sometimes, that’s what we need.  Something to shock us out of that robotic state we get lulled into.  Something to bring us back into personhood.  A sudden splash of cold water, a bucketfull dumped on us while we lay half asleep, lounging in the sun.  Something to remind us we’re alive, and we have the right to make these seemingly small, seemingly insignificant, choices for ourselves.  And sometimes, those small choices end up being some of the biggest.

my hairy leg out in the sun

Out working in the yard, clearing away the Winter ick. My hairy leg enjoying the Spring sunshine.

5 Girls & 7 Boys – Gender and Sex in a Kindergarten Class

On Thursday my attention was drawn to a new part of the daily routine for the girl’s kindergarten class.  As soon as I saw it I knew I had to do something to have it changed.  Today was my first chance.

A simply drawn boy wearing a baseball cap, and holding a bat and ball, coloured blue with the word BOY.  His counterpart in pink with a pretty dress and holding a flower with the word GIRL sits beside him.  Both on the bulletin board next to the calendar, a counting chart, and other simple items used to subtly teach the kindergarten class basic numerical skills.

boy and girl clipart

The teacher touches the head of each student she deems as “boy”, counting as she goes.  “Seven boys.”  The number gets written on the wipe off board under the picture representing “boy”.  She then touches the head of each remaining child, counting.  “Five girls.”  That number gets written on the board too.  An addition sign gets added between them, and everyone counts on their fingers.  “Twelve kids.  Seven boys and five girls makes twelve kids.”

Now, my ideal kindergarten is gender neutral.  At this age there really is no reason at all to discuss “boy” or “girl”, what each means, and how we each fit into societies gender binary – at least not at school.  At the very least, if it can’t be a neutral space, it should be a equal space.  And these disgustingly stereotypical figures are far from that.  If we must count girls and boys, we need to ask the children “Who identifies as a boy?”  Then count the raised hands, marking the result under the word (no picture) BOY.  “Who feels like a girl?”  Then count those raised hands, marking those results under the word GIRL.  But I think we can do better.  Why reinforce a false binary by bring gender into question at all?  After all, there are more than two sexes, more than two genders (and the terms boy and girl can refer to either gender or sex, which just further muddies the water).

Why not ask “Who likes baseball?” and “Who likes football?” and add those two numbers.  Switch it up, and the next day ask “Who likes veggies?” and “Who likes fruit?”.  Every day of the week could be a different pairing of questions.  After all, we don’t need to come up with the same answer every day.  Some kids may vote yes to both, some may not raise their hand at all.  This way we practice our early math skills, learn something interesting about our friends, AND we don’t reinforce any false notions about gender or sex – which have no place in a kindergarten class to begin with.

I spoke to kid kid’s teacher about my concerns today, and I’ll be honest.  I’m not sure she understood my concerns at all.  She thanked me for bringing them to her attention – but it was very much a canned response…  what one could expect from someone who has never really given much thought to their own gender or sexual identity, someone with CIS privilege, who has lived in a very small, heteronormative box, their entire life.  While I don’t hold this against her, it does mean it may be time for a little educating.  Issues of gender and sexual identity are vitally important to the health and safety of our young people (and the adults they will become), and even something as simple as being told they are BOY…  simply drawn with a baseball cap, bat and ball, coloured blue…  can hurt, when that child knows -inside- it’s not right.

I’m sick, here are some links!

I’m not feeling very well tonight, so instead of either boring you or grossing you out with details, here are a couple of posts and articles elsewhere that are worth a read:

http://www.fpa.org.uk/campaignsandadvocacy/sexualhealthweek/itsmyright

http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2010/05/14/can-disability-be-sexy/8048/

http://www.kindredcommunity.com/articles/does-time-magazine-have-er-attachment-issues-by-robin-grille/p/2433

http://plussizebirth.com/2012/01/the-unique-shape-of-a-mother.htm

 

Just a few things I’d come across recently on topics that I love.

Night everyone!

 

A2Z – Our Organs, Ourselves

Blogging our way from A to Z on sexual and gender identity - Our Organs, Ourselves

Do I get triple points for coming up with not just one or two O words, but for hitting a homer with three???  I think so.  Even if I’m just giving myself the points and they don’t actually accumulate towards a win of any kind.  😉

So, the idea that our sex organs define who we are.  It’s a pretty heavy one, and rather long standing.  And the longer folks have believed something, the more ingrained it is, the harder it can be to shake it.  However, the fact of the matter is that our parts have little to no bearing on our actual sex or our gender.

A person’s “assigned sex” is based on their genitals.  It’s when the midwife, doctor, or doula sees a baby’s bits and announces “it’s a boy/girl!”  Actual sex, I’m afraid, is a LOT more complicated.

If you want to get right down to it, a person’s actual sex is determined by their chromosomes.  And here, many folks would happily jump in with “Okay, so that means it’s XX or XY!”  Yeah, but not really.  Sure, those are the two combinations we’ve all been taught in grade school…  but those are FAR from the only options.  It’s not as uncommon as you’d think for individuals to have X0, XXX, XXXX, XXXXX, XXY, XXXY, XYY, or even XY/XXY chromosomes.  And unless you’ve been tested for chromosomal abnormalities, you may be XXX or XYY and not even know it.

Still with me?  Assigned sex is based on your organs, actual sex is based on your chromosomes, and Gender?  Gender is the realm of the philosopher (back in the day, I was either practicing art or studying philosophy).  Gender is about how you feel, it’s about who you are.  It’s how you define yourself.  And with gender there are as many options as there are individuals.  No one can define your gender except for you, and it may or may not match up with your assigned or actual sex.  Heck, it may or may not be the same from day to day.  As we grow, learn, evolve, and change, our gender may do so right along with us, and that’s totally okay.

So our organs really can’t define us, not in any real way.  And the idea of a sexual or gender binary?  It just doesn’t work.  There are more than two sexes (as our chromosomes clearly indicate) and there are more than two genders.  Our parts may convince some that a binary view works, but all you have to do is check out the myriad within even the physical bits to know humans are more complex than that.  And I, for one, am grateful for all of our beautiful and amazing complexities.

the alphabet blog challenge

Sex, Gender, and How the Heck I Fit into it All!

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.

Ivan Coyote speaking at the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon Saskatchewan

…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.”

My session.

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.

The Gingerbread Person - on Assigned Sex, Sexual Desire, Affection, Expression, Gender, and Orientation.

The Gingerbread Person on Assigned Sex, Sexual Desire, Affection, Expression, Gender, and Orientation.

Teaching about Sex and Gender in the Classroom

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!

gingy from shrek

Breaking the Silence

The last several months I’ve served on (and last month and this month have chaired) the board for Breaking the Silence.  It’s the fifteenth year for this annual conference that focuses on breaking down walls and barriers in education for Sexual Minorities and Gender Queer individuals here in Saskatchewan.

When Don Cochrane (the founder and force behind Breaking the Silence) asked me to join the board this year I couldn’t say no.  The youth of our province deserve the very best we can give them, and helping to bring this conference together is just one way I can help provide that.  And not only am I working behind the scenes, I’ll actually be presenting at the conference as well.  I’ll be leading a session I’ve nicknamed “Gender, Sex, and How the Heck I Fit into it All.”

There will be several “streams” of information presented at Breaking the Silence this year.  My session can be found in the youth stream, but there are also sessions on health, education, and research.  We’ve also got Ivan Coyote presenting the keynote the night leading into the conference.  If you’ve never heard her, I’d say it’s time you did.  She is absolutely fantastic, and has created a new performance piece specifically for this years conference entitled “As Good as We Can Make it:  On bullying, collective responsibility, and actually making it better.”  It should be amazing.

So yeah!  Check it out!  You can find all the details at:  http://www.usask.ca/education/breaking-the-silence/index.htm  And this year there is even online registration (with different price schedules to fit most any budget – including students and the under-employed).  Want to know more?  Feel free to ask.  Otherwise, I’ll plan to see you there!

Breaking the Silence Poster 2012-1

breaking the silence logo

Government sanctioned discrimination, way to go Canada!

So, it appears Canada is again on the chopping block thanks to Harper.  Our flags once waved proud, but now are just as often full of disgrace.  This newest measure allows discrimination based on gender, going so far as to allow airport security the right to allow or deny access to individuals based on their gender.

Under section 5.2(1)(c) of the Aeronautics Act:

“An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if:  the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents.”

Why is this an issue?  Because for many Trans individuals the sex on their passport may not coincide with their gender.  There are very strict rules in place for changing the sex on your international identification that only a very small segment of the populace qualifies for.  These rules make it impossible for non-operative Trans people to have the M or F on their documents changed to reflect their actual gender.  A better solution, if this wording is to remain in place would be to allow for an “Other” designation.  Gender is, after all, a social construct that has nothing to do with an individuals sex (which, lets be honest, also has more than two possibilities).  Alas, we are stuck in a society that appears to enjoy this incorrect, yet entrenched, gender binary.

This goes even farther though.  The instant we allow those with limited power the ability to select who qualifies as female and who as male – based on how they present, we are opening ourselves up for all sorts of abuses.  Gender is a social construct that changes with time.  It used to be that we dressed our long haired little boys in pink dresses, while the girls wore blue.

What happens when the thirteen year old girl, with short cropped hair, wearing low rise baggy pants and a jersey is denied access to a plane to fly home to her parents after spending part of the Summer with her grandparents?  This policy gives airports the right to determine who is female enough, or male enough to board their planes.  The potential abuses this brings forward are downright scary.  Don’t think for a second that because you are not a genderqueer, or trans individual, or because you don’t have a gender creative child that it won’t affect you.  This is something that has the potential to harm us all.  Will we all have to don a dress and kerchief in order to be female enough to avoid speculation?  It’s a scary idea.  Men, don’t even think about wearing that salmon coloured shirt, you too may be pulled for questioning regarding your gender presentation.  Is this really a slope we even want to start on?

There is a petition here:  http://www.petitiononlinecanada.com/petition/tell-harper-to-allow-trans-people-to-fly-on-airplanes/758  Add your name, and let Harper and his yes men know that you are saying NO to this government sanctioned discrimination.  And for more information and ideas on what you can do to combat this, check out what Chris Milloy has to say here:  http://chrismilloy.ca/2012/01/transgender-people-are-completely-banned-from-boarding-airplanes-in-canada/

female enough to fly?In 1930 Amy Johnson finished a record-winning solo flight from England to Australia.  Would she be “female enough” to be allowed on a plane in Canada in 2012?  I wonder.

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