“Occupying Margins” A Panel Discussion on Gender

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“This panel aims to spotlight the lived experiences of non-binary/genderqueer/gender non-conforming folx who live beyond the gender binary”

As part of Trans Awareness Week on OSU’s campus, SOL and the Pride Center hosted an event entitled “Occupying Margins: A Panel Discussion on Gender” in which three OSU students—Tara, Malik, and Vickie—spoke about their personal experiences with gender, as well larger impressions of the topic. During the event, the panelists answered pre-decided question as well as queries from the audience. A wide array of issues were addressed, including South Asian poetry duo Dark Matter and their argument that if you are a person of color, queer, differently abled, neuro-diverse, low-income, etc. you already do not fit the definition of “man” or “woman.” The three describe their vision for working towards a society that cherishes these trans and non-binary genders and relationships, rather than just “accepting” non-binary people. In addition, the group explores the ways in which the definition of gender can be expanded and improved by acknowledging histories and legacies of slavery and colonization. All of the panelists stress the need for difficult conversations, and interventions that make others question their harmful assumptions. They explain that this includes talking to strangers, standing up for your friends, and fostering dialogue with family members.

A longer summary of the panel, and corresponding time stamps for the video, can be found by scrolling to the bottom of this post.

Panelists: Tara Crochett, Malik Ensley, Vickie Zeller
Moderator: Samantha Wood
Date: November 14, 2016
Location: OSU Centro Cultural César Chávez

Link to Recording of “Occupying Margins” A Panel Discussion on Gender

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This event was part of OSU’s Transgender Awareness Week 2016

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As part of Trans Awareness Week on OSU’s campus, SOL and the Pride Center hosted an event entitled “Occupying Margins: A Panel Discussion on Gender” in which three OSU students—Tara, Malik, and Vickie—spoke about their personal experiences with gender, as well larger impressions of the topic. In the recording of this event, the panelists begin by introducing themselves, stating their name, pronouns, and what the last thing they posted on social media was. The first question asked of the panelists by the moderator was, “What do identities that fall outside the binary look like to you and what do they say?” (00:02:21) Malik begins by stating that these identities take many forms, and are expressed differently and uniquely by each individual, meaning that non-binary folks can look like anyone. Malik points out that there exists a misled assumption that non-binary and/or trans people are inherently white, able-bodied, skinny and fashionable. Tara adds that non-binary folks are not always visible, often for safety reasons, and the panelists discuss the various cultural barriers that can impact the way these identities are talked about.

In the second question, the panelists are asked, “How do you view non-binary identities in terms of ‘trans’?” (00:08:40) Vickie responds in saying that trans is an umbrella term, and explains the various identities that fall under that umbrella. However, Malik and Tara add that there needs to be critique of such umbrella terms, because it can often erase some of the identities it is meant to encompass, thus making it more difficult to identify as such. Malik outlines the ways in which many who identify as trans, or underneath the umbrella of trans, may not wish to transition, but how there is often pressure to do so. In addition to seconding Malik’s resistance to dominant trans narratives, Tara differentiates between gender identity and gender expression. Vickie wraps up the question by asking why they are pressured to present themselves in a certain way in order to have their non-binary identity validated.

For the third question, the panel moderator asks, “How do you feel about the way gender is defined in mainstream feminism? How can we improve and expand this definition?” (00:19:15) Malik begins by saying that for them, “mainstream” feminism and White feminism are one in the same, defining White feminism as a movement that is not intersectional. They stress the importance of asking who the categories of “man” and “woman” are made for, and who were they made around? The panelists discuss an argument made by queer South Asian poetry duo Dark Matter that if you are a person of color, queer, differently abled, neuro-diverse, low-income, etc. you already do not fit the definition of “man” or “woman.” The panelists discuss their vision that rather than working towards “accepting” non-binary people, we should instead work towards cherishing these relationships and these identities. In addition, the group explores the ways in which the definition of gender can be expanded and improved by acknowledging histories and legacies of slavery and colonization. Tara ends by providing an example of how mainstream definitions of gender hurt activist work, using a Trump protest they attended as an example of the ways gender non-conforming people get erased with phrases like “pussy grabs back” and “her body her choice” that prioritize the needs of white cis women.

In the fourth segment of the panel, the participants answer the question, “How does this ‘in-between’ identity complicate the other ways you identify?” (00:30:00) Tara explains that as someone who identifies as both mixed-race and non-binary, they have experienced feeling a sense of in-between or that they were a “watered-down version” of a particular identity. At the same time, they explain that they have begun to come to terms with their identities, but also recognize the simultaneous privilege and erasure that occurs with such “in-between” experiences. Malik expands on this, noting that because of the narrative of hyper-masculinity forced on black men, Malik sees that their relationships are complicated greatly by gender identity, sexuality, and romantic identity. The panelists discuss the need to ask themselves when they want to put themselves out there, when they can disclose their true identity, when do they come out with their gender pronouns, and how all of these questions are complicated by intersecting identities.

Next, the moderator asks, “Why are panels like these important? Why does sharing experiences have so much power?” (00:39:29) Vickie explains that panels of this nature give a sense of community, making a space to share experiences allows for growth and support. Malik agrees that panels can provide necessary connection, and can be helpful for people to understand the struggles experienced by others. However, they also explain that we need to get to a place where we don’t have to meet a physical person to feel connected to their pain, and want to do something to fix the structures that impact them. To prove why sharing experiences is so powerful, Malik describes interactions they have had with their young students, and how these conversations have challenged the binary ways of thinking into which children are commonly indoctrinated. The panelists also discuss the importance of visibility, and the need to recognize the QTPOC work that has already been accomplished which allows for panels like these today—making these conversations a way of honoring the hard work that has been done in the past.

Following this discussion, the panelists are asked to provide a call to action with the question, “How can we support identities that are beyond the gender binary? How do you want people to support you?” (00:47:45) All of the panelists stress the need for difficult conversations, and interventions that make others question their harmful assumptions. They explain that this includes talking to strangers, standing up for your friends, and fostering dialogue with family members. Importantly, Tara acknowledges that it is best to start these dialogues in spaces where one has privilege that can, to some extent, protect against potential backlash. Malik also mentions the need for everyone to always introduce their pronouns, regardless of the individual’s identity, and to respect other people’s pronouns in a number of different ways. Malik ends by advising the audience, and their fellow panelists, to always try to “do a little better than yesterday.”

In the last question, the panelists are asked, “Do you have any tips for people who are struggling with their gender identity, and how to explore that?” (00:58:14) Malik repeats the importance of conversation mentioned in the previous discussion topic. They suggest to talk about their struggles with others who will be supportive and to additionally focus on verbalizing what they do know, and spend less time grappling with what they don’t know. Tara draws on a quote they read in the Pride Center bathroom book in saying, “Know that you don’t have to fix the world” (01:01:20). Vickie adds to the discussion by explaining that not all people need conversation for support, and suggests listening to the stories of others and using the internet as a resource for those that are “internal processors.” The panelists spend the last 15 minutes responding to audience questions (01:05:11) and comments, and wrapping up the discussion. The panel ends on a positive note (01:23:15), with panelists and attendees articulating their gender in unique and creative ways (i.e. my gender is “masculine wild child”).

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