So I just did a teaching presentation in a class about the power of words in the context of the LGBTQ community.
First I did an exercise. I had everyone close their eyes and respond to these prompts. I asked them to name the ugly words. I also made a point to say that if they were uncomfortable saying these words out loud that it was probably a good things because it meant they were sensitive to the power of these words. But by saying them out loud and acknowledging that they exist (in the context of this kind of discussion– not out in the world!!!) we rob them of power.
But then I asked them for words in response to these prompts.
And we talked about the difference between those two groups.
The responses to the first group of prompts were more numerous than the second and also a lot more ugly.
This is because we live in a heterocentric world. We live in a world where the default assumption is white, heterosexual cis-gendered ness. We don’t have as many ugly words for what we consider to be “normal.”
So this sends the message to those of us that are not the default that we are not normal. It is othering and hurtful. Most of the situations I encounter that bother or offend me stem from a heterocentric assumption rather than a homophobic comment. Don’t get me wrong– homophobia is real and awful and that crap sucks, but more often then I get called a dyke, I have someone ask if my ‘boyfriend wants to come.’ Most people don’t say these things to be offensive, they just don’t know better.
I proposed some broad definitions with the caveat that people define these identities for themselves and they can be very different.
Some people embrace the identity of “queer” where some find it really offensive. A lot of our discussion was about Trans* as a term and how language has changed. How ‘transvestite’ used to be appropriate and is now offensive. The subtleties of terms that can be embraced from within the LGBTQ community and the reality that those outside the LGBTQ community have a more limited vocabulary when talking about identities. Just like other communities, insiders have access to words that outsiders do not. I can call my brother a dork but you can’t. I can call myself a dyke but you can’t. Maybe it isn’t fair but it’s true, so it’s a good idea to learn what words you can and can’t use.
I also talked about images, and that when I look at the images that surround me they don’t act as a mirror as they do for other people. If all I see staring back at me are hetero families, what message am I supposed to take away from that? If all children of two moms, or only dad, or living with grandparents see are images of the nuclear hetero family, what message are they supposed to take away from that? Again, most people don’t see the heteronormativity around them, not because they are prejudice but become they just don’t realize. They’ve never had to. It has never been an issue.
It’s easy, as a queer person, to be really angry at everyone all the time. My experience is that most people don’t want to be total jerk-faces. Most people just don’t know, don’t realize and have never had a reason to think about the complexities of gender identity and performance and the many shades of the identities wrapped up in sexual orientation. Yes– there are jerk-faces who are bigoted and prejudiced and mean. There are people who are hateful and deliberately awful. But they are far outnumbered by people who just have never thought about it. I tried to think of all the similar issues that I’ve never thought about, and it is hard because… well… I’ve never thought about it. All we can do is be open to thinking about new things and learning new things.
Like, in this case, the power of words.
I was pleased with the presentation, it seemed to go well and everyone was very respectful. It’s a nice sort of trial run for me since my final project in this class is about services for the queer community. Word.