By Abby Lass
Most Monday J-blocks, I spend my time at Denebola, standing in front of a room of 70 or so students, hurriedly throwing out praise and suggestions and desperately hoping that I don’t forget anything crucial. Even when we break into sections, I’m constantly moving about, trying to connect with as many people as possible before we all go our separate ways during the long week ahead.
This Monday, however, I choose to sit. Wheezing slightly after climbing up three flights of stairs to room 2310, I am greeted with a warm hug and am ushered into Newton South’s Gender Sexuality Awareness Club.
I find myself in a room encircled by looming cardboard cutouts of characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Legolas. The desks have either been pushed against the back wall or arranged in a particularly intimate circle. The hum of quiet discussion– of the day, of clothes, of the newest Harry Potter film– somehow make the chilly room feel warmer. Looking around, I’m struck by the diversity this relatively small group contains; within this assembly of 15 or so students, I witness a wider variety of races, grades, and artificial hair colors than I come into contact with at any other point in my school day. It’s a group as colorful as the image of the gay pride flag on the back wall.
Before too long, we are silenced by the banging of the “gayvel”, the multi-colored cousin of the tool utilized in every courtroom drama. With brief introductions out of the way, we dive head first into a video entitled “The ABCs of LGBT: Got Gender Queer-ies?”. It’s 3 pm on a Monday and I’ll admit it, 80% of the terms mentioned in this video fly right over my head. I’m mildly proud of my cisgender self for already knowing the difference between gender, sex, and sexual orientation, but suddenly the categories I’d been made mildly aware of dissolve into a plethora of identities that are replaced with new words almost as quickly as they appear onscreen.
Of course I respect an individual’s right to identify and be referred to as whatever combination of terms they see fit, but I can’t help but take the approach I’d used when studying biochemistry: a basic understanding is plenty, especially considering I’m not a biochemist. Besides, my privileged mind tries to rationalize, does anybody really know what each and every one of these identities is?
It takes me all of 12 seconds to realize that my assumption is hideously wrong.
As soon as the video ends and the lights come up, the group launches into an in-depth discussion about how off-base this video is. The students dissect the discussion in the video and contrast its definitions and their own experiences with the precision of a surgeon. They explain themselves, share brief anecdotes about misunderstandings, and build an elaborate mosaic of their shared and separate realities. In minutes, the nebulous and seemingly superfluous terminology that had flitted across the screen becomes tangible concepts in the form of parental misconception or misguided judgement from peers.
Though the identities and experiences are infinitely different, the common thread throughout the course of these meetings is clear: here is a group of people that aren’t asking for anything more than the right to be understood, the right to live their lives free of judgement. It’s such a basic request that, in this moment, it’s hard for me to grasp why that right doesn’t already exist.
What I realize walking out of this meeting, though, is that this basic appeal can be granted with a relatively simple course of action: educate yourself. Ask questions. Make mistakes, improve upon them, and then teach others to do the same. The information is out there, and it’s on us to understand why it matters that we call someone “neutrois” instead of “agender” if they ask us to.
And if you’re not quite ready to tell the entire world your story, the folks over in 2310 are ready and waiting to listen.