Meet My Project
Gender Studies. Noun. The academic discipline which analyses constructions of gender in society, often with reference to class, race, sexuality and other sociological characteristics.” Gender Studies, I believe, is an attempt to build an understanding of what makes us all, as people, who we are. While the title may make you think results in a limited depth of understanding, the intersectionality of any number of identities (as white, black, gay, cis-gender, or any other factors), mean that through this, we can understand many factors that play into who we are. And while this is a powerful tool for developing empathy for the experiences of others, it also can result in negative stereotyping.
Stereotyping of LGBT+ people is everywhere, in all different kinds of ways, and while these assumptions can manifest as harmless microaggressions (defined as indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group), they can also be harmful.
The LGBT+ experience can be really hard, especially for young people first coming into their identities. In a digital world where bullying and violence against LGBT+ students and teens is becoming a more and more of a public topic, factors both inside and outside of school including the legal system, sex education, and the future of education for LGBT+ students are on the mind of more and more people.
In an area like The Bay, predominantly liberal, and at the core of many movements toward equality, one may think that acts of discrimination may be less of an issue. One would be wrong. As with any issue of social inequality, good steps in the right direction doesn’t equate the elimination of bias, and even in a vastly liberal community, these small separations persist.
That’s why I wanted to focus on this topic for my project, because I kept realizing (slowly), how alive these stereotypes were.
The publishment that has become Humans of New York began in 2010 as a photography project (not unlike the Catalyst project), when student Brandon Stanton, was assigned a project in his photography class, photographing people on the street. Once the project began he began interviewing his participants, which developed into a blog. Today, the output of Humans of New York is wildly popular, focuses on a variety of locations and kinds of people, and shares their stories through various platforms (social media, web, print, etc).
My project was mainly based on three of the requirements: Text, image, and interview. I interviewed two people at my school, one teacher and one student, to see what experiences they have had with assumptions. I had planned to take pictures of them to demonstrate how the assumptions any person may make about their appearance match or don’t match their reality, however, due to the nature of the information shared, one participant was uncomfortable with their photo being shared online.
Name: Lee H. Teacher, The Nueva School
Preferred Pronouns: She/Her/They.
I grew up in the bay in a friend group that was extremely accepting, I didn’t realize that there were still problems, which sounds dumb. I knew intellectually, but not really with depth. I was an RA in school and I had a student who was gay, and he told me when he was in [high] school [in Kentucky] he was outed to his parents and they disowned him, send him away. He ended up spending his senior year on the couch of his friend who had liberal parents. In my school, we had a prom queen and queen, and that wasn’t even a moment of “rights”, it was just what was happening. So, it was shocking to me. So being in a GSA in HS for four years was… made me feel extraordinarily normal. As a queer person. It also gave me a foundation to think of that as a normal and not fascinating thing. Just a part of who I am. Being in a place where Queerness was so normal and the pride was so unquestioned was just, it shaped my feeling of normalcy. I never struggled with that Identity, I never feared coming out, I mean I was worried about my parents but it was something that was no big deal.
Do people make assumptions about you based on appearance?
I think so. I think most people think I’m straight. I don’t know why that is. Long hair, earrings, I don’t get the markers, the appearance markers. I don’t have any way to read them and my gaydar is non-existent. That’s lead to several issues. I have no sense of a way to manipulate fashion to do things like that.
Anything else you want to tell me?
I know my experience is not everyone’s experience. And even in the Bay Area there was a particular path I happened to take which made my life really easy. I think it is interesting how many of my friends which have positive stories about coming out. It’s interesting how generational change has accepted that. It makes me very hopeful, very happy.
Name: Noah H. Sophomore, The Nueva School
Preferred Pronouns: He/Him
I’ve kind of known [I was LGBT+] since 6th grade or so, but I didn’t come to terms with it until 8th. I didn’t know about same-sex relationships until 5th grade. Before that, I always felt I was somehow broken or different. But people here definitely tend to be more accepting than the other places I’ve lived.
Do people make assumptions about you based on appearance?
Oh, for sure. Straight people often assume that because we’re pretty liberal homophobia isn’t a real problem. In reality, it’s all too common here. Although the acceptance, definitely made it easier to come out.
How Do We Combat These Stereotypes?
There are any number of ways to fight against oppression, from more active, to more passive things.
Stand Up, Speak Out
If you notice something in which you think someone is acting inappropriately or making unfair assumptions, don’t be afraid to speak up. Be sure to consider both your safety, as well as the safety of others. This should help you determine when it is okay to intervene, is especially key when you know people directly involved, as you will know if they are comfortable with you stepping in.
In this increasingly modern age, we face messaging everywhere, from every direction, it is all the more important to be aware of what media you are taking in. Look at advertising, movies, TV, even slang, through any of these, certain assumptions can be consumed by us without even registering them. The more you stay on top of your media, and aware of where it does have faults.
Set the example of breaking norms by being as fully, authentically yourself as you can. Wear what you want, study what you want, and act however you want. The best way to be an example and encourage others to do the same is to follow your own advice!
- Ball, Carlos A., editor. After Marriage Equality: The Future of LGBT Rights. NYU Press, 2016. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt18040hv.
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- Hasenbush, Amira, and Laura Erickson-Schroth. “LGBT Issues.” Education Week, 2018, www.edweek.org/topics/lgbt/index.html.
- Stanton, Brandon. “Humans of New York.” Humans of New York, www.humansofnewyork.com/.
- UNJUST: HOW THE BROKEN JUVENILE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEMS FAIL LGBTQ YOUTH. 2016, pp. 1–38, UNJUST: HOW THE BROKEN JUVENILE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEMS FAIL LGBTQ YOUTH.
- Wing Sue, Derald. “Microaggressions: More than Just Race.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 10 Nov. 2010, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race.