Abstracts Queer U 2011

Normalcy, Boundaries, and Heterosexism: An Exploration of Online Lesbian Health Queries
by Andrea Polonijo, Sociology

Internet based eHealth resources have become deeply integrated into modern healthcare and may be a venue for providing the LGBT community with culturally competent care. Online doctor-patient communication services may be particularly valuable for lesbians, a group that has faced a history of heterosexism and homophobia from society and the healthcare system. Drawing on sociological and public health perspectives, this research examines health queries posed to an online, lesbian-centered, “Ask the Doctor” service. Quantitative content analysis and grounded theory analysis techniques were used to identify prevalent health and healthcare concerns and identify qualitative themes. Queries primarily addressed sexual/gynecological health, conception/family planning, and culturally competent healthcare services. The content of queries was shaped by the desire to conform to social norms, the presence of symptoms/behaviors that transcend bodily boundaries, and encounters with heterosexism in healthcare. These contextual factors also contributed to individuals’ conceptions of risk and health behaviors. The results inform recommendations for how future health policy, healthcare, and health promotion initiatives can better support lesbians.


Public/Private: Latent homophobia, feminisms, and the politics of anonymity
by Daniel Swenson, Women’s Studies

My paper observes the way the Internet as a geo-political tool can influence and interrogate the public and private spheres. By reading such LGBTQ movements as It Gets Better, and keeping them in dialogue with the way so-called fourth wave feminism has found its home on the Internet, we can see a trend in the way Internet feminist interacts with queer theory in an interesting way. Examining Dan Savage’s blog on Seattle’s The Stranger Website, the queer/feminist hybrid blog Tiger Beatdown, Craigslist personal ads, Battlestar Galactica and Glee, we can see the ways that globalized private spheres (such as the Internet or popular television shows) can reveal latent heteronormativity and homophobia in queer depictions and propagations.


“40 Years After the Flood”: A brief examination of gay liberation and student activism at UBC
by David Anderson, Centre for Cross-Faculty Inquiry in Education

February 2011 marks nearly the 40th anniversary of the gay liberationist and lesbian feminist political action of August 1971 and this paper will celebrate the almost 40 years of gay liberation and eventually queer student activism at UBC. In October, 1972, during the federal election debates at UBC, the well-known gay liberation activist, Maurice Flood argued vociferously for the recognition of gay rights. This event marked an important moment in the history of gay liberation in Canada and signaled the establishment of the UBC gay liberation student group known today as Pride UBC.
This paper will document informal research and investigate how UBC served as an important space for early gay activism. Through the use of student and community newspapers and other archival sources, this paper maps the development of Pride UBC and its connections to both larger political activist movements and various academic and non-academic institutions. This paper focuses on the relationship between the UBC campus and the surrounding city of Vancouver to aid in an understanding of how historical and socio-political contexts helped to foster a fertile environment in which a gay student group could manifest itself. This paper will add to research on sexuality and space, locating the specificity of UBC for the act of claiming, losing and re-claiming ever-shifting activist space and place.


A Place of Promise? How the University campus figures in sexual exploration for students
by Rachael Sullivan, Sociology

As a unique site for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, and asexual (LGBTQQA) identified students, the university can offer a more liberal space through which to explore one’s sexuality. Yet, as with any public space, there is always a risk of homophobic and transphobic violence and harassment for queer students who are willing to be ‘out’ on campus. Drawing on 26 in-depth interviews with queer identified students at the University of British Columbia (UBC), I examine how these students navigate the transition from high school to university. As well as, how the university campus, specifically UBC figures in their understanding and development of queer sexualities. Here, I argue that some students were able to identify and understand their sexuality while attending high school; yet, some students were unwilling to explore their sexuality at this time, waiting to attend university before embarking on their sexual exploration. This paper offers insight into how the university is precariously constructed as place of ‘promise’ for sexual liberation for queer and questioning students.


Transgenderism through Chinese History: From Han-era medical texts to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
by Jen Lundin Ritchie, Asian Studies

The history of transgenderism in China has not received much attention in academic literature.  Usually, it only garners a small mention within the general study of ‘gender in China,’ which is more often than not a focus on female societal roles or reproductive functions. Modern popular representations of China include a firm Chinese disapproval of LGBTQ people and activities, even to the point of denying their existence in China. No differentiation is made between sexual behaviour and desires, anatomical features, or gender.  Anyone displaying behaviour outside the normative sexual and gender roles are routinely touted as ‘abnormal’ and even ‘ill.’  This has led to a dearth of resources and support for Chinese LGBTQ persons, and an unfortunate sense of isolation for Chinese LGBTQ individuals.  However, this phenomenon is surprisingly new in Chinese history.
In fact, the idea of a biological/anatomical basis for gender and sexuality (and its resulting paradigm that ‘deviance equals illness’) is very Western. China borrowed these ideas from the West only within the last 60 years, beginning with Mao Zedong’s attempts at ‘modernization’ and globalization. For thousands of years of China’s history, sexuality and gender were seen as fluid and independent of biological structure.
It appears that China has actually had very interesting and enlightened views on gender for a very long time, and that the classification of transgender as negative or ‘abnormal’ is a very recent phenomena—a mere blip in the history of China. In many eras in Chinese history, people who changed their gender or who identified outside the male-female dichotomy were an accepted part of society.  They held high posts in government, served as military combatants and generals, were accepted in households as ‘husbands,’ ‘wives,’ ‘consorts’—even biological mothers and fathers!
Starting with evidence found in archaeological medical texts, and moving through centuries of received dynastic histories and pieces of literature, this presentation will share ideas and examples of gender and gender fluidity in China present since the Han era (ca. 200 BC). These include records of female-to-male and male-to-female transformations, individuals deemed ‘neither male nor female’ (fei nan fei nu), recipes meant to change the sex of a child both before and after birth, and perceived differences between homosexuality, transvestitism, and transgenderism. I will conclude by highlighting some very recent attempts by Chinese individuals (e.g. in art/theatre/dance/film) to counter the prevailing modern Chinese ideology, and return to a more fluid and positive view on gender.


Characteristics of asexuality
by Morag Yule, Psychology

Asexuality is defined as “a lack of sexual attraction”, and is often viewed as a sexual orientation. It has been suggested that asexuals may experience a sexual dysfunction known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), however the limited existing data suggest that asexuals do not experience distress nor do they want to be “fixed”, making asexuality fundamentally different from HSDD. Many asexuals oppose the notion that asexuality is a symptom or component of another disorder, including HSDD, and feel that there are important distinctions between the two groups. This is an important clinical topic, given that individuals may present for treatment (perhaps at the insistence of a distressed or dissatisfied partner) for low sexual desire, however, the extent to which this is distressing, versus not distressing, to the individual will guide treatment. Our research investigates the physical and mental health correlates of asexuality, as well as the potential difference(s) between asexuality and HSDD, in the hopes that this will better allow us to differentiate between these two groups. We hope that this research may lead to educating and reducing stigma associated with asexuality, and will allow us to avoid the pathologization of asexuality, while determining who might best benefit from treatment for low sexual desire.


Innovations in sexual-political activism: Queer theology meets Theatre of the Oppressed
by Kerri Mesner, Centre for Cross-Faculty Inquiry in Education

Despite extraordinary strides in sexual-political activism in recent decades, religiously motivated anti-queer violence continues to be as prevalent as it is inadequately addressed. Forms of subtle and outright homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia —as I have seen in my work as an ordained queer minister, artist, and educator—are among the few remaining forms of societal discrimination that still have an air of acceptability. This discrimination appears to be further exacerbated both by complacency within queer communities, and an increasing normalization and mainstreaming of queer religious activist movements.
This presentation introduces a new body of work combining queer theologies and Theatre of the Oppressed to develop strategic interventions in addressing religiously motivated anti-queer violence. Utilizing an innovative combination of queer (Christian) theological reflection and techniques from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed methodologies, this presentation aims to bridge the gap between academic and activist approaches to sexual-political activism, opening out thereby an embodied queer theological praxis.


  1. Hello. I’m a professor in English and I have a student who would like to do research on China and transgenderism. I remember hearing Jen Ritchie’s paper at Queer U and think it might be useful to my student. Is there any way you could put me in touch with her, to find out if she would be willing to share a copy? Many thanks, Sean Saunders.

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