Creating Positive Space

Posted by: | July 22, 2011

This week I participated in the Positive Space Campaign training coordinated by UBC’s Equity Office.  The goal of the program is to promote increased visibility and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, intersex (LGBQTTI), gender queer and questioning people. In addition, the program provides training for UBC staff, faculty and students to become resource people who help to identify positive spaces and resources on campus.

The morning was great. The workshop included a diverse group of attendees and we were asked some challenging questions.  The activities focused a lot on the use of language.  In our world today, we have become very conscious of our words and therefore I think it is important to recognize how language can include, alienate, anger, uplift or offend others.  The session reminded me of how important it is to take language cues from others when unsure and to also be conscious of the fluidity of our words.  There will never be one definition for a gender identity or sexual orientation that will be acknowledged or accepted by everyone.  Yet despite this, we tend to feel the need to slap on a specific label. Our society loves labels that fit perfectly into tiny boxes that can be organized and stacked neatly on a shelf for when we need them later. I recognize myself as a type-A personality as I appreciate great organization, clean lines and tidy thought progressions; however, the need to label everyone and every relationship is something that I struggle to comprehend.  The psychology undergraduate student in me says that humans have a need to categorize people, places, and things to better understand their place in relation to others and the world.  On the other hand, the anthropology student in me says that perhaps we have developed a sophisticated classification system which has protected us and allowed us to survive all these years.

What do I say?

Put away the boxes.  Be happy with a little ambiguity. Why are we obsessed with knowing if someone is male or female?  And what is the worst thing that could possibly happen if we don’t find out?  Life in reality is never as simple as black and white whether you are gay, straight, questioning or otherwise.  Appreciating and understanding difference is key and acknowledging that at some point in our lives we all question who we are, what our beliefs will be, and how we want to live.

I was brought up in Vancouver during a very politically correct time. As a white, middle class and straight person, I was conditioned to be overly cautious in my language, judgments and interactions.  The point, I assume, was to foster inclusion, tolerance and understanding.  As I examine this now, I feel it resulted instead in the creation of a bigger divide and highlighted the differences that were trying to be erased.   It is time to stop treating difference with kid gloves and instead to begin appreciating and acknowledging  that we all walk the same earth, breath the same air and therefore are inherently the same.  I can only hope to live long enough to see a society in which sexuality is not thought of as straight until proven otherwise or in which gender is no longer thought to be defined exclusively by visible biological characteristics.  Though we are not there yet, programs like the Positive Space Campaign are champions for the cause and will serve to assist in pushing us forward and pushing the boundaries of our comfortable little boxes.

Filed under: Miranda Massie

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