Friday, January 31, 2014

Language, Law, and Otherization

A new semester brings with it 12-18 new hours of tearing my hair out, pretending that there are more than 24 hours in a day, and navigating the world in overly caffeinated state. Alternatively, it also means 12-18 hours of paradigm defying learning, taking chances, and finding the most interesting interdisciplinary connections between my classes. As a Middle Eastern Studies and Government major getting a certificate in Conflict Resolution, my classes always surprise me in the ways they relate to one another. 

This semester, along with PfP, I’m able to take Practicum in Conflict Mediation, where I will learn how to mediate real life issues and emerge with a shiny new certificate to add to my shelf. In technical terms, mediation is a form of alternative (to court) dispute resolution that places an emphasis on dialogue between the participants. This past weekend I was unable to attend the PfP retreat and instead spent several hours sitting in a very cold room, learning all the basics of mediation. Whenever there was a lull, I found my thoughts wandering towards my PfP family. The mediation process is a bit like what we do in PfP, in that it encourages people to look at issues from a different set of eyes and help brainstorm solutions to different life problems. Naturally, I started wondering how mediation itself is used in the LGBTQ community.

So when I got home I decided to do a quick google search for “LGBTQ mediation”.  After reading through the first page I got the picture. Though the results were for services with LGBTQ target markets, the language they used was inherently otherizing (TED talk word for “turning another person or group into an alien other.”). Many clinics touted their LGBTQ friendliness by reassuring me that, “same sex couples… can be just as contentious as heterosexual couples” and that “same-sex couples experience many of the same complex relationship issues as heterosexual couples”. While I can appreciate that these organizations attempt to minimize difference, these statements only made me more aware of it. I don’t feel as if I need to be reassured that my relationships, with all their ups and downs, are similar to other human romantic relationships. Those basic qualities don’t change when I’m in a “same sex couple”.

As I read on, towards the particular legal challenges facing the LGBTQ community, it dawned on me. It was one of those epiphanies you get that should have been simple, but then it took you a page and a half of google results to figure out. With all that extra legal complexity in dealing with LGBTQ issues, to these professionals, the relationships aren't the same. Everything from cohabitation and adoption to wills and health care is different legally for LGBTQ folks, and this legal distinction feeds into a social one, where same-sex couples are different; they are the other. I could see the connection- if the state has different laws for same-sex couples, it’s because they’re inherently different from straight couples, right? Wrong- or at least, that’s not how I feel.

This is not to say that everything can or will be solved by making LGBTQ folks equal under law. The fact that not all LGBTQ folk are in “same-sex couples” aside, the law doesn’t create the other, it merely reinforces it. So even if we could make laws that were all inclusive to every individual’s path through life, the websites would still be telling us, “Don’t worry. You’re not that different”. 

Rachel is a Junior here at UT. She joined PfP to have a better understanding of LGBTQ issues and how to discuss them (it's pretty much perfect for that). Some interesting facts are that she is a UT tour guide and is learning and loving Krav Maga (Israeli self defense).  =^)

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