Friday, April 18, 2014

Thesis Symposium Reflections

I presented my thesis: "Silence Will Choke Us," at the Plan II Symposium this Sunday. It was the culmination of not only a year's worth of research but the effort for me to understand this intersection of my life better.

My three presentation points about issues I noticed affecting tolerance levels were: preservation of heterosexual models, perceptions of cultural barriers to discourse, and scientific legitimacy. I focused on scientific legitimacy as a theme through each category of the LGBT spectrum. The points are as follows:

Homosexuality - generally speaking, straight+cisgender participants who cited "born this way" rhetoric tended to have had conversations in positive light about homosexuality, and were otherwise more tolerant. Those who said "It's a choice" tended to be a lot less tolerant, and often qualified the choice as a moral or character judgment rendered poorly. What was interesting is that LGBT participants, when offered the same question about what caused homosexuality, brought up the choice/birth debate and even denigrated it as "distracting," or "pointless to the real issue of tolerance." Basically: those in the community and had had these discussions personally sometimes disagreed whether being born a certain way meant that others should be more tolerant. Those outside the community had been taught that phrase as a line of accepting rhetoric, and were able to repeat it.

Bisexuality - the only part of the spectrum regarded as illegitimate. Interestingly, being presented with the Kinsey scale often encouraged more statements of tolerance, as if the numerical descriptions corresponded to more scientific data about bisexuality's existence.

Transgender - there was a lot of confusion about this, with capital-T identities being treated more seriously than lowercase-T's. If people saw it as a subsect of homosexuality, they tended to be more tolerant (if confused about "why" someone would be like that). If people saw it as a mental illness...this is where it got interesting. I hesitate to say that they were more or less tolerant, rather than their tolerance took on a different color (most often pity, the same way someone with a disability might be patronisingly pitied).

At the Q&A panel, I got asked for tips about the thesis. Much to my own surprise, I said, "If it is a subject you love, prepare for it to change your life." It was definitely one of those answers that garnered momentum the more words that came out of my mouth. But it is true - I think I want to eventually do policy work, or work inside corporations to start shattering those ceilings and climbing those ladders. It's been a whole new motivation for the importance of looking forward, and always telling myself to succeed.

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