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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

An Ode to Questioning

From the first time I came out, there was an air of pressure. Pressure to be sure, certain, solid in what I was saying as though once the words rolled off my tongue to hang in the air, once my thoughts were laid open for others to see, they became something immutable. Permanent. I had from a young age picked up on two things about declaring an identity in our society: one, that it would not be without consequence, and two, that people who changed their minds about their identities were ‘attention seekers’ and ‘fakers’, and held in poor regard by gay and straight people alike. 

Now, if we’re speaking from an educated standpoint we know that there’s more to it than that, that gender and sexuality can be fluid and there are many people for whom labels will change, but in the broader cultural context there is not nearly enough appreciation for the process of questioning.
This not only adds to the difficulties some folks experience in coming out, but can be particularly damaging for certain identities- as a bisexual person, I have noticed that many negative stereotypes about bisexuals seem to stem from a loathing for uncertainty. 

For example, many times I have heard bisexuality stigmatized as being confused, a stepping stone to coming out as gay or lesbian, being unsure what we want, or more likely to cheat because we can’t ‘choose’ one gender. Now, I could go on ad infinitum about all the things wrong with these statements. Today though, I want to focus in on a common thread that runs through these assumptions: the idea that a choice must be made. It frames uncertainty as the enemy. Now, bisexuality itself is not uncertain- it’s as solid of an identity as any

I’m bisexual regardless of the gender of any partners I have had or will have, and I have no need to choose a single gender to be attracted to. My question is why the idea of uncertainty is weaponized against identities, as though there’s something wrong with continuing to explore yourself.

Why should we allow the potential for growth in our self-understanding to be used to hold us back or as a smear campaign against identities? For a lot of people it’s natural to be averse to questioning- it can be a painful time, and the certainty of belonging to a group can be a great comfort. However, questioning is not inherently bad. If we truly want to embrace our rich spectrum of gender and sexual identities, we have to knock it off with our insistence on being certain. If someone changes their label, that’s great! They’ve found a new understanding of themselves! Give folks the ability to try on labels and see what fits without judging the person (or the label for that matter) if they experience changes.

If you’re still questioning, be gentle with yourself - allow yourself the room to breathe and grow. Some of us are on a quick trip and others might be traveling their whole lives, and that’s alright.

Blog submitted by Dana Lund

Friday, November 4, 2016

What Your Mother Didn’t Tell You About: Mental Illness

So you’ve heard me rant about privilege, periods, and violence, but today I feel like discussing something a little closer to home: mental illness. It’s something that so many of us, myself included, struggle with, yet it gets little to no visibility. It’s stigmatized, feared, and silenced. Too often do we make generalizations about mental illness instead of actually drawing personal experiences from those who suffer from them. Prior to developing a Panic Disorder I actually had no idea there was such a wide variety of mental illnesses alongside a plethora of symptoms. I’ve learned so many things about mental illness following my diagnosis.

First, a traumatic experience doesn’t have to occur for your development of a mental illness to be triggered. As for myself, I believe that being informed about an event that happened to a friend of mine is what triggered my anxiety disorder. Of course, genetic predisposition and environmental factors could have played a role, but I am sharing this because it is completely valid if you are triggered by things that may seem minuscule to others. Second, you don’t have to know what’s going on in your brain, why it’s happening, or anything of the sort. So many times after sharing my diagnosis with others I was asked “Well why are you anxious?” or “What happened?” and just about 100 other questions that I did not have the answer to. More times than not you won’t have the answers to these questions, and that is okay. Again, whether you’ve experienced trauma or not, your feelings are still valid. One controversial issue in the realm of mental illness is medication. Personally, my experience with medication was an unpleasant one, which eventually deterred me from experimenting with more. With that being said, if medication helps you accomplish daily tasks and you have the means to get it, then take it without remorse. I found that many people used fear tactics on me when I shared that I was interested in trying medication, and this is not okay. We all have different ways of coping with mental illness, and if taking medication is yours, so be it.

Speaking of coping, I thought it might be helpful to share what I’ve found to be therapeutic when experiencing a panic attack. Number one has to go to podcasts. Finding a podcast that really sparked my interest and listening to it while driving, or pretty much anywhere if i’m feeling anxious has proven to be so helpful for me. I prefer them to music because I feel compelled to actually focus on what they are saying rather than my symptoms. My personal favorite podcast is titled "Coffee with Chrachel” and follows a hilarious couple with two lovely cats who are getting accustomed to living in Seattle. They discuss everything from video games, to coffee, to sex positivity and I love it. But really, what helps me the most is simply talking to people. Confiding in a trusted friend or partner about how you’re feeling, expressing to them that you don’t mind being checked up on, or even just sitting in silence with them has changed my life for the better. Most of all, I want you to know that you’re not alone in this fight. Of all the things I've learned on this journey, the most important one is that it’s okay to not be okay.

Sierra Caraveo
Trans Program Intern

Friday, October 21, 2016

What Your Mother Didn’t Tell You About: Menstruation

Periods: So many people get them, yet they are stigmatized and made out to be unnatural. Menstruators are thought to be un-pure and moody. Periods are something that are so natural, but we are taught to be disgusted, even scared of our own bodily functions. Menstruation products such as tampons and pads are highly taxed and deemed luxury items as if we have options other than to  BLEED EVERYWHERE. It baffles me that a product that is 100% a necessity for folks who get periods is made highly expensive and, in some cases, unattainable. With that being said, I sought out my favorite meninist, Ryan Williams, to gain knowledge as to why the tax on period products is so crucial. Williams, a 19 year-old self-proclaimed meninist from England, claims that tampons should be taxed because women should “just learn to control their bladders”. He goes on to say that our lack of ability to control our bladders is not a taxpayer’s problem. Aside from William’s apparent failure to pass 7th grade Biology, there are deeper issues within his ideology.

First, women are not the only people that have periods. Due to the medicalization of trans identities we often forget that there are trans men that menstruate as well. In fact, menstruation can be an almost traumatic experience for trans men who don’t have the means or desire to medically transition. Although his belief that a person’s ability to control urine somehow equates to our blood is problematic, what really frightened me was William’s claim that period products are not a taxpayer’s problem. This goes so much further than the surface because what he really means is that women are not a taxpayer’s problem; therefore, women and people who menstruate are a problem. He and people that support the tax on period products completely erase the experiences of homeless people who don’t have access to them, young girls that are forced to miss several days of school while they’re menstruating, and virtually any person that has ever had a period. Items that are truly luxurious such as viagra and condoms are tax free and sometimes complementary, so why is it that people who have periods are having to pay for something that is involuntary. Free period products are a fundamental human right. They should be tax-free better yet, entirely free. Every person that menstruates deserves access to these products. I encourage Williams and like-minded individuals to do some research on the effects that using unsanitary period products, which is the only option for some menstruators, has on our bodies. Furthermore, I encourage folks to speak up about menstruation. Share your stories and connect with other people who have periods. If you have the ability consider donating to organizations like Free the Tampons, which actively works to equip public restrooms with free tampons. On a larger spectrum, we need to change the way menstruation is viewed and show people like Williams that our blood makes us powerful.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Balancing Act

Ever since he could pick up a textbook my older brother Jared has been known as the genius of the family. If I could name any two traits in which Jared encompasses it would be diligent, and serious. One would understand then, why it came as a shock to me when I received the text message I received from Jared at the beginning of this semester.

I rarely talk to my brother, but I began this semester by sending him a text wishing him well. His response back ended with “And don’t forget, have fun.” “Have fun”. The words jumped around inside of my head. “Have fun”. This coming from the person who gets less than five hours of sleep a night because of how much he is doing all at once.

As the semester goes by I have found myself in the reality that is, junior year of college. Where even the simplest of all stressors are at an all time high. As the weeks go by, I keep thinking back to my brother Jared’s text message.

Initially, I was bewildered. I would have never expected those words to come from him. I expected a “Make smart choices.” or a “Do good in school, this is the year that counts the most.” or even a “Don’t be a dumbass.”. I soon began to realize though, why my brother chose these two short, impactful words.

The amount of stress that we as college students face on a daily basis is inconceivable. Whether it be a class, paying bills on time, relationship hardships, stress from extracurriculars, or all of the above and everything below. Suicide today is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24. MIT and Harvard lead in suicide rates among college campuses. These statistics show us that young people and college students as a whole face an unhealthy degree of stress.

I am halfway through my first semester of my junior year of college, and I now understand why my brother chose the words that he did. He graduated from a private university in four years and is now in grad school, I consider him an expert in this experience. He chose those words not because having fun is the most important thing in life, but because sometimes it is essential to make having fun a priority.

I never once took my brother’s words as “Party hard, it’s your junior year!”. I take my brothers words in a number of ways. I take his words as a reminder to keep a balance between school, work, leisure and sleep. I take his words as a reminder that not all of the time, but sometimes, going with the decision that will make you happiest in that moment is worth it. I take his words as a reminder that although school comes first and my work ethic does in fact matter in the long run, allowing myself to be a 20 year old holds importance as well.

Finding the balance between the things that make us happy and the things that we do because we are functioning beings in society is difficult for anybody. No matter your workload, your work ethic, no matter the number of items on that enormous platter of yours, never forget that before a student, before a bill payer and before a go-getter, you are a human being. 

-Brina Covarrubias 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What your Mother Didn’t Tell You About: Intimate Partner Violence

\\\\\tw/cw: domestic violence, rape, abuse/////
As some of you may or may not know, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so I found it appropriate to discuss intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence can happen to anyone, but it is extremely prevalent in the queer community. The National Violence Against Women survey states “21.5 percent of men and 35.4 percent of women living with a same-sex partner experienced intimate-partner physical violence in their lifetimes. Transgender respondents had an incidence of 34.6 percent over a lifetime” (Glass). IPV extends much farther than physical violence. Verbal and emotional abuse, rape, and stalking are just some of the many ways that abusers exercise control over their partners. Although progress has been made as far as creating resources for victims of Intimate Partner Violence, we are still faced with the issue of queer violence erasure. This erasure is not always performed by our heterosexual counterparts, but by queer people as well. The queer community is a tight-knit one, but not flawless. Many times queer intimate partner violence goes unsaid which is due, in part, to our efforts to paint a perfect picture that combats the perpetuated hatred posed by society. Our community has overcome an immense amount of hardships to become even remotely accepted, so a threat, like violence, that could potentially damage our image is frightening. Intimate partner violence is often portrayed as an issue in heterosexual relationships, so existing resources are not accessible for people who don’t fit the stereotype of an IPV victim. Our society is set on the fact that female-identified people cannot be abusers and male-identified people cannot be victims. In some cases, this belief affects queer relationships in that violence within them is not taken seriously, almost as if you are fighting with a friend or sibling. Intimate partner violence exists in all communities and we need to start talking about it. We need to eliminate the stigmas that plague IPV victims. Doing something as simple as recognizing that this happens in our community and starting conversations about this issue can go so far. Spread awareness, fight for resources, use your voice! Something must be done to shed light on the violence that occurs in queer relationships. I stand in solidarity with queer victims of intimate partner violence, do you?

Glass, JD. "2 Studies That Prove Domestic Violence Is an LGBT Issue." Advocate (2014): n. pag. Web.

By: Sierra Caraveo

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How My Perception of Consent Was Changed Forever

I have identified myself as a feminist since the moment I grasped a concept of feminism. As a feminist, I have always been all for consent. However, my understanding of consent and what consent looks like in any relationship drastically changed when I met my ex partner.
Sex and consent were two topics my ex and I discussed fairly often in our relationship. Until our relationship my idea of consent was simply that somebody had to ask something along the lines of “Do you want to have sex?” and their counterpart responding with “Yes.”

I now realize that consent is so much more than just sex. I soon found myself asking for consent for everything. At first it was things like placing my hand on another person’s thigh. A year ago I figured that if I and a person are sitting down, there is obvious sexual tension,  and from what I perceive by the person’s body language they “want it”, then there is a green light for my hand to grab their thigh.
This is not okay. An individual’s clothing, body language and nonverbals do not provide consent. I am now a junior here at Chico State, and because of my change in perception of consent I find myself the odd one out. I have been with other people after my ex, and I ask consent for everything. Once I was actually told it was “weird” that I had asked for consent to put my hand on the person’s inner thigh, simply because we were already openly attracted to each other.

Consent is so much more than just sex. The definition of consent is to give permission for something to happen or be done. However, the concept of consent and how and when to use it is ambiguous. The definition does not specifically say when consent should be used. In my opinion, consent is very simple. Consent should be applied in any interaction with another human being where there is reason to believe that there is a chance that what you are about to do or say next will make the person uncomfortable in any shape or form.

For example, I now ask my counterparts “Do you mind if I bring this up?” if I believe I might be bringing up a touchy subject. I have received response of confusion, because most people do not ask for consent in a conversation. I have also received very positive responses, such as “Thank you for asking first, it is kind of hard to talk about sometimes”.

Think about when a good friend and their long-term partner break up. For the next few weeks of that person’s life they are usually asked on a daily basis “Why did you break up?” Nobody says, “Hey, do you mind if I bring up the break up?” Even though many of us know how painful break ups could be, and how painful they could be to talk about directly after happening.

Another example is when asking a friend who identifies in the LGBTQ+ community, “How does your family feel about it?”. Even if you are great friends with this person, you should always ask for consent for that particular conversation. The person may be have been kicked out of their home, abused, or even cut off completely by family members because of their identity. Asking this question without permission might be a severe trigger for this person.

As human beings we are curious. As friends, we care. However, the next time you are wanting to ask someone about something that may be a touchy subject, ask for consent. It does no harm, and almost always the person will appreciate you asking. Whether it is regarding sex, asking for the reason a person did something, or anything at all that could possibly lead to a person’s discomfort, ask for consent.

By: Brina Covarrubias

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What your Mother Didn’t Tell You About: Privilege

If there is one word I’ve heard continuously throughout my academic career it’s privilege. All of us have it, yet it remains as taboo as menstruation (we’ll get to this issue another day). Why is it that we’re so fearful of identifying our own privileges? First off, we feel as though we’re being blamed for something out of our own control. Often times when people are reminded of their privilege the response is along the lines of “you have no idea how hard I’ve worked for XYZ”. What those people fail to realize is that although there can be privilege within certain socioeconomic statuses, it is also exercised institutionally. 

As a cisgender-identified female and someone who passes as such, I’ve never experienced the stress of deciding on which bathroom I need to use, or been discriminated against during airport security checks. I am privileged in that way. I’m completely able-bodied, so access in places like concerts is not a concern of mine. I am privileged in that way. On the other end of the spectrum, I may experience discrimination and/or hate for identifying as a lesbian or African American or Latina. Someone with white privilege or heterosexual privilege would not share these experiences with me. Another reason privilege is problematic for some people is because they feel guilty. We are all privileged to some degree, so feeling guilty for these privileges is counterproductive. Feeling guilt is not enough, and it does nothing to better the circumstance for marginalized groups. Rather than being so afraid of this word we should recognize it. We should acknowledge our privileges, and check them. We should use them to speak up for folks who do not share these privileges with us. Not so as to erase their experience, but to use our platforms to further strive for equity in our society. 

The other aspect of privilege is knowing when to use it. You may have the privilege as a manager within a company or professor at a university to speak at events or gain celebrity on behalf of the organization you represent. Before enjoying that limelight, check your privilege and decide if there is someone more suitable to give that speech or interview for that new broadcast. For instance, if you’re the CEO of a restaurant chain who is asked to speak at a conference about the topic of minimum wage, take into consideration that someone who actually works for low wages may make a better speaker. Listen, we can’t change the privileges we have, but what we can do is refrain from denying them and use them for greater good instead.

By: Sierra Caraveo