• My Growing [and ever evolving] Understanding of Gender and Sexuality


    photo courtesy of logotv.com

    The first time I saw RuPaul’s Drag Race was two years ago.

    I’d just been initiated and was in-between apartments. So after we came back from Miami, I stayed with my God-mother for almost a month. Little did I know that my Iya was a secret Drag Race junkie. So along with a bunch of other random tv shows and movies, I started binge watching Drag Race right along with her.

    Initially one of my major problems when I started watching Drag Race, and then Drag University, was the idea of men teaching women how to be “women.” It disturbed my “feminist” sensibilities, that women had to go to a university to be trained in a form of hyper-feminization that I personally didn’t identify with. At the time, I considered writing a blog post saying just that, but between multiple moves, and a very tenuous Iyawo year, the blog just never happened.

    Fast forward to 2014.

    Tonight some folks were discussing Drag Race on twitter and I turned it on for the first time in well over a year.

    But more than being transfixed by the costumes, beauty and makeup (something that my  Oshun seems to be transfixed with more, and more by the moment), I was shocked at how much my perspective has changed in relationship to the show.

    I think like a lot of people, my previous understanding of gender and sexuality was a very static binary. Either you were a man or a woman, and you were either straight, gay or [maybe, like in my case] bisexual. You would think I’d know better after studying feminist work for almost a decade now, but I never considered any of these concepts as potentially being a spectrum.

    This time around, when I was watching Drag University, instead of seeing “men” teaching “women” how to enact commodified versions of womanhood. I saw femme-of-center people, teaching each other how to celebrate different versions of feminine style, and beauty. I was transfixed by the way in which the drag-queen-professors were able to teach other femme-identified people skills that they desired. Skills, that, in a world that values hyper-masculinity to the point of extreme violence, are, in this context, celebrated, exaggerated and passed on as a form of art and performance.

    Even more, I found myself excited by episode two of season six of Drag-race. Particularly when

    photo courtesy of dragofficial.com

    photo courtesy of dragofficial.com

    Courtney, an Australian drag-queen, very openly discussed how complicated sexuality is. In an especially poignant moment, she argued, pretty persuasively, that if folks weren’t pushed into boxes of “straight” or “gay,” more people would be able to enjoy sex and intimacy in a way that actually brought pleasure.

    Two years ago, I don’t think I would of understood what she was saying. I probably wouldn’t of even noticed the particular moment. I certainly wouldn’t of understood the importance and the urgency of making sure I described folks using their chosen pro-nouns (teaching moment: depending on how an individual identifies, they may prefer to be referred to as “she”/”he”/”they”… it’s important to recognize that you can’t assume how somebody wants to be identified just by looking at them). So, for me, it’s kind of crazy to see how much my mind has evolved in regards to how I think about gender/sexuality.

    Funny enough, most of this evolution can be attributed to social media, and twitter in particular. Since I don’t have the permission of the individual people (who probably don’t even know I exist), I won’t name them here. But by paying attention to the ongoing conversation that a wide variety of folks within the queer community, as well as folks who are allied with the queer community, are having about gender and sexuality, I have learned a LOT… by simply saying nothing and observing.

    Even more important [I think], is that I’ve done my best not to ask others to educate me. Instead, I’ve tried to watch, listen, and look for information in books, articles and videos when needed.

    I have to admit, writing this post, and putting myself out there like this is pretty scary. I have a big fear of being torn apart on twitter for doing/saying something stupid. More than that, I know as an academic, I should probably already know this stuff. Even though I am only recently fully out as a queer woman, there is a part of me that feels shame around not already knowing everything I need to know about gender and sexuality.

    But part of my mission with this blog is not only to make [sometimes] challenging socio-political concepts more accessible, but to also to lift the veil on how I continue to learn and grow as an activist, writer and scholar.

    So for full disclosure, there may be things in this particular blog that are not 100% right or that are worded incorrectly. If that is the case, please tell me! While I do my best to carefully research everything that I write, I will make mistakes.

    But regardless of the very real fact that I’m still learning about the macro issues of gender and sexuality, and the micro-issues of my own gender and sexuality, I want to talk openly about my progression.

    I’m very much enjoying the process of continuing to learn more about my multiple identities and the communities that are a part of them. While I may also stumble and fall, the blessing is that it’s all in service of fully understanding and celebrating the folks that share this earth with me.

    So tell me [in the comments below], what are some questions you have about gender and sexuality?



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3 Responsesso far.

  1. reine says:

    Being an academic means you are dedicated to learning…not necessarily knowing. There’s a difference, so be easy on yourself.

    I enjoyed reading about your shift in perspective on the show, which I’ve never seen but now want to watch. It sounded like true internal growth which, to me, should be celebrated. The ability to loosen the grip on past ideals–which isn’t easy at all in our world–is always a reason to celebrate.

    I look forward to reading more posts.

  2. Keely Jones says:

    Alex, this piece is so wonderful and so humbling to read! When I was loud and outspoken in under-grad majoring in Feminist studies, one of my most favorite (and intimidating) professors advised me that perhaps I should learn the art of ‘active listening’. At the time I assumed she was politely telling me to shut up. But as I have grown and matured, I have learned that active listening empowers one to learn from others while still being able to have their own lived experience, which contributes to a much larger dialogue. We are living in a time where sexuality, gender identity, intimacy, and the way we express these things, is constantly evolving and shifting. This post is a part of that on-going dialogue and offers the chance to openly talk, rather than simply defining things in categories. As someone who identifies as a lesbian, I am still learning about the various terms, conversations, and viewpoints out there. Our job as activists, supporters, and HUMANS, is to continue the conversations!

    I recently started watching RuPaul’s show, and I really love the idea that this show is about embracing femininity in it’s many different forms and celebrating it in a uniquely authentic way.

    Thank you so much for writing this piece!

  3. Kyla Johnson says:

    I appreciate your honesty (with us and with yourself).

    Human beings are a complex species. It baffles me how we can think our sexual identities can fit into a few distinct categories…We are constantly evolving and changing.

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