Rambling #1

Hi folks! It’s been a while, and even though I should be working (right this second, actually) on a draft analysis for my dissertation (more on that at the end!), I am here, writing on my blog because it has been way too long… and I miss it!!

Last week was a crazy roller coaster! It is safe to say it’s been that way since I started the program, but amazing things have happened and I’m eager to share.

So yeah, last week I gave my first talk ever (YAY!) with a sweet, amazing and intelligent colleague of mine (Hi Bethan!) about the importance of language in our everyday interactions as outsiders and insiders of the LGBTQ+ community. We were invited to do it as one of the events of LGBTQ+ History Month at the University of Birmingham. I must say it went great! We had a lot of positive feedback, comments and a discussion at the very end of the session. The talk focused on bringing sexualities and genders that have been traditionally erased from everyday language, imaginary, and activism Рbisexualities (or, better, non-monosexualities), trans genders, asexualities, and intersex. Yeah, they are all plural because I am by no means universalising the experience of all of these folks. To do this, we explained the intricate ways privilege and oppression works to make these invisible (through monosexism, cissexism, the gender binary, the sexual binary and so on), we mentioned the importance of their recognition and presence within the community.

I really loved the discussion, especially at the end about sign-language and its limitations for expressing and talking about non-conforming genders and sexualities.

The event being promoted!

The event being promoted! ūüėÄ

So yeah, I don’t have a picture from the event itself, so that’ll do ūüôā

Last week we also got our first grades back… boy was I¬†nervous! It went really well though and I am happy, I worked SO hard for that paper. It is a big leap from undergraduate to postgraduate, especially a masters in research as I am doing. There are a LOT of expectations that can be terrifying when it comes to analysis and writing and so on. My paper explores binormativity in contemporary american media representations of bisexuality, using Callie Torres from¬†Grey’s Anatomy¬†and Oberyn Martell from¬†Game of Thrones.¬†I really enjoyed writing it, I can share some of it here (not textually) sometime, not right now lol ūüôā let’s see where it takes me now.

yaaaas

Yeah, now on to other projects!

1. I have to hand in another essay on April 29th.

2. I have to hand in my literature review on April 29th.

3. I have to hand in a mock PhD proposal on April 29th.

yeah, on April 30th I will sleep for 12567753 hours straight.

This is pretty much the reason why I haven’t written here this much. Since September time has flown by and well, I love that this blog is about concise topics and analysis, I can’t do that right now, at least until April 30th hahaha. But, to keep it up to date I will either do micro posts of things I find interesting, things related to my work, or just little updates like this. That’s all I can do for now, I hope this is okay with all of you.

Alright, next post may be a repost from a blogpost I am going for the event I mentioned. I can also talk about my dissertation as an on-going project over here ūüôā

Much love xxx

Valeria

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Addressing Our Global Crisis Of Disconnection

This blog post was originally written for and published in Akasha Innovation, a social enterprise that aims to prepare and empower young changemakers to become future sustainability leaders. Go check out their amazing work and be ready to become inspired!

While completing¬†my social entrepreneurship minor at Hult IBS, I had the opportunity to take a class with Akasha’s Chief Innovation Officer¬†Mike Edwards¬†about the global¬†environmental crisis and sustainability. With his open-ended assignments, he genuinely encouraged us to find our passions and seek ways to speak our truths. In one of the assignments, I decided to write for him about a realisation I had in that school term because of his class and my work as a facilitator (or teaching assistant, as it is called): our global crisis of disconnection.

But disconnection from what exactly? Most people argue this is the most connected we have ever been given the many ways (fastest methods of transportation, the Internet and other technologies) that we can connect to each other and to the world in this globalised era.

And perhaps, this is true. But I am talking about the global crisis of disconnection from nature and from each other that has reached its peak in the past few years. This disconnection has proven to be lethal, as it has worsened climate change, biodiversity loss and social inequality.

To radically transform our current state of disconnection, we need to get to the roots of the problem. What is causing this disconnection? How is this disconnection affecting us? And once we find those answers, we need to envision a viable solution.

Disconnection is one of the critical symptoms we suffer from by living in a system that alienates us from nature, our food and our communities. Marx and Engels¬†tell us that¬†alienation happens when individuals become estranged and detached from the world in which they live in. Consumers are alienated from the source of the products they buy because¬†they rely on factories that¬†abuse the land and other creatures to satisfy our needs. Businesses¬†dehumanise people and exploit their labour in several countries of ‘the Global South’.

This alienation and the subsequent disconnection from nature and from each other has been furthered in our society¬†by a history of uneven power relations and linear modes of production. Can you guess what I’m talking about by now?

Capitalism. 

That’s what we thought too. Credit: http://futureconomy.com

Our capitalist society and its never-ending need to consume has normalised the belief that everything is disposable. A thing that is disposable can be thrown away after use Рsimilarly, a disposable person is considered to be owned and ready to be dismissed when the service is done. A culture of disposability enables linear modes of thought and action. Capitalism reproduces this linear model in two ways. Firstly, it promotes a society that likes to waste resources rather than preserving, recycling and reusing. Secondly, privileges a business model that dehumanises people and sees them as disposable and replaceable, rather than seeing them as whole persons with dignity and rights.

Not surprisingly though, this disposable culture that breeds disconnection from nature and each other has injected itself into every aspect of our lives Рespecially and most disturbingly, in the education system.

Over the decades, capitalism, has transformed¬†the purpose of education and the ways we educate our children and youngsters. Henry Giroux explains that the purpose of education is to preserve our capitalist order by corporatising education. If individuals¬†internalise corporate interests¬†through the banking model of education, they will become subjects that fit within the mainstream cultural (corporate) norms of our society of economic growth and consumerism. This purpose is achieved by implementing pedagogical strategies such as the ‘the banking system’ of education.

Paulo Freire, considered one of the founding fathers of critical pedagogy,¬†describes some of the features of this new ‚Äėbanking system‚Äô of education in his book, ‚ÄėPedagogy of the Oppressed‚Äô:

  • It reproduces dichotomies such as teacher/student, active/passive, literate/illiterate, domineering/submissive and so on because of the positionality and power dynamics between teacher and student.
  • The teachers, the ones that possess the knowledge that the students ‘need’ to know, assume the role of a narrator that explains the students about the world outside the classroom.
  • The students become passive recipients that are supposed to fill their “empty heads” with the knowledge provided by the teacher.¬†They¬†become listeners that are completely disengaged and disconnected from the reality the teacher is supposed to be teaching them about.
  • The teacher¬†¬†is considered to be a powerful and knowledgeable authority while the students are considered to be completely ignorant. This dehumanises the students by deeming them incapable of providing any kind of knowledge to the classroom.
  • The students exist to memorise, repeat and accept the information being taught without questioning or challenging it. As a result, they are left without understanding how this imparted ‚Äúknowledge‚ÄĚ is useful for them.
  • The teachers are better teachers the more they fill¬†the students’ empty brains with information that they will memorise and repeat in a test. The more the students agree to accept this information and repeat it in the test, the better students they are.

The banking system of education is preventing learners from becoming agents of environmental and social change because of its lack of inquiry of practices, discourses and identities that we consider ‘normal’.¬†

The current environmental education content being taught in schools suffers from the narration sickness inherent in the banking system of education. Not only do students not get to experience the environment they are learning about (which means they learn out of context); but also, environmental education has become descriptive and passive. It focuses mostly on the description of our ecosystem’s processes in isolation from one another, reflecting the way we try to address environmental crises and its causes.

This banking model of education perpetuates social oppression and inequality since it is favoured against a model that aims for the liberation of oppressed groups of people such as queer pedagogy and critical pedagogy. To quote¬†Henry Giroux’s¬†On Critical Pedagogy, the neoliberal education system ‚Äústrips education of its public values, critical content, and civic responsibilities as part of its broader goal of creating new subjects wedded to the logic of privatisation, efficiency, flexibility, the accumulation of capital, and the destruction of the social state‚ÄĚ.¬†

Since everyone can be a learner and an educator at the same time, how do you address our global crisis of disconnection? We need a revolutionary and vibrant form of education.¬†By applying the¬†principles of ecology¬†(the language of nature) such as systems thinking, networks, cycles, interdependence and diversity to¬†the way we teach¬†and school curricula; we can achieve a truly sustainable change in education that will make us ‚Äėsee the world anew‚Äô. Fritjof Capra explains¬†in¬†‚ÄėEcological Literacy‚Äô¬†that in order to use resources and treat people in a way that does not compromise the ‚Äėneeds and aspirations‚Äô of future generations, we need to¬†imitate how sustainable natural ecosystems work.

Modeling the school curriculum and our pedagogical strategies on the principles of ecology allows us to understand the importance of connectedness, relationships, context and resilience. Education for sustainable communities teaches us to see environmental and social¬†issues as a whole¬†and not as isolated issues that have different causes and effects. It disrupts the teacher/student dichotomy by¬†bringing equality to the classroom where everyone is both a learner and an educator. It teaches that when you get¬†‚Äėknocked down‚Äô, you ‚Äėgotta get up again‚Äô¬†because that‚Äôs the essence of nature:¬†rebirth, growth¬†and transformation.

Current educators, leaders, business people, organisations, institutions and governments need to revolutionise education for it to challenge the environmental and social crises that are detrimental to the needs and aspirations of future generations.


If you want to support Akasha Innovation and its wonderful Young Pioneers Programme, please contribute to their kickstarter campaign here. It is of utmost important that we take steps towards a better future, and Akasha is doing just that by guiding young changemakers to become the change they wish to see in this world! Please contribute, these are the best people I know ūüôā ‚̧

What Would Queer Sex-Ed Look Like?

After exploring¬†the reasons why we have never heard about queer sex-ed in our schools in last week’s post, it’s time to imagine what queer sex education would look like.

And to imagine what queer sex-ed would look like, we need to keep in mind these four fundamental things as the foundation for our new sex-ed:

  1. Gender Is Not Binary, Gender Is A Spectrum:

Gender Identity is a person’s inner sense of self. This can be as man, woman, something other entirely or something in between. There are people, whose sex doesn’t match their gender identity, who identify as transgender.

Gender is a social construction because there’s nothing really natural, inherent or essential in a person’s gender identity. Society has constructed gender as a set of norms, roles and scripted expectations that determine¬†how people within the gender binary (man and woman) should look,¬†think and behave.

Our job as educators is to break the gender binary and construct gender as a spectrum. This means that a person’s gender is not about¬†either/or, but about both/and.¬†No one on this planet is made to perfectly fix society’s boxes of “men” and “women” and these categories are not in opposition against each other. Men have feminine traits in their character and vice versa. There are trans* folk who feel that they don’t belong to any gender or have traits of both of them and feel somewhere in between. There are people that feel another non-binary gender in its entirety. There are people that feel they have no gender identity at all.

  1. Sexual Orientation Is Not Fixed, Sexual Orientation Is Fluid

There are many sexual orientations! Think about all the labels people can choose to identify with: gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, queer or no label at all. We know sexual orientation is very diverse and, as such, it is not binary.

Sexual orientation is the sexual or romantic attraction (yes, they are separate things) a person feels towards other people. Much like gender, sexual orientation has nothing natural, essential or inherent about it. In fact, it only became an identity marker around the 19th century (thanks for the info, Foucault).

This attraction felt by people towards others is just pure desire and desire cannot be regulated or controlled by social norms. So, a person’s sexual orientation cannot strictly fit society’s boxes of “heterosexual”, “gay”, “bisexual” and so on. Identity¬†is fluid and can change overtime,¬†but this is not to say that everyone’s sexual orientation changes. Some people know they are gay and identify that way their whole life just as others ‘come out’ many times in their lifetime. It really depends on the individual and his, her or hir past experiences.

  1. Sex Is Not Just Male and Female, Sex Can Be Everything In Between: 

Have you ever heard about a person being Intersex?

Just like gender identity and sexual orientation, biological sex is a spectrum. Some people are born with genitalia that is not exclusively male or female and/or with chromosomes other than XX and XY. Intersex people are born with biological traits that do not fit the sex binary of male/female and these traits can be chromosomal, hormonal and/or physical.

Our society tries to normalise¬†these bodies through corrective surgery from the moment they are born. This is because our society wants to maintain the (binary and limiting) status quo regarding sex, gender and sexual orientation. All this is to preserve the privilege and power of those that are cis-het people with normative genitalia (because they are in power and are wary of people that are different taking their power… duh) *rolls eyes*

Credit: Bruce Lawson (http://brucel.tumblr.com)

Credit: Bruce Lawson (http://brucel.tumblr.com)

  1. Sex¬†‚Ȇ Gender¬†‚Ȇ¬†Sexual Orientation

All these categories have one thing in common. This one thing is what our current sex-ed and society wants us to ignore: sex, gender identity and sexual orientation are not binary, black and white categorical boxes. These identity markers are diverse spectrums. 

Sex, gender identity and sexual orientation do not determine each other, but are extremely linked and influence one another.

And guess what?¬†All of these identities exist, all of them deserve respect and recognition and all of them are normal.¬†So let’s start teaching sex, gender and sexuality as they really are¬†and not as we’ve been conditioned to think they should be.

So what does this look like?

If queer sex-ed has as its foundation the four criteria explained above, it is automatically more inclusive and a more accurate representation of what sex, gender identity and sexuality really are. This means queer sex-ed needs to include traditionally marginalised voices within the queer movement like trans*, genderqueer, asexual, bisexual and intersex.

There are no assumptions of anyone’s gender identity, sex or sexual orientation and this means two things. Firstly, this creates a safe space and opens the conversation about how everyone feels and identifies, without being judged or considered an outcast. Secondly, the class needs to be taught accordingly, queering pedagogical methods (like using examples of queer people, asking for preferred pronouns, diversifying the literature to include queer voices).

Queer sex-ed should be leading the way towards a pleasure-based sexual health education. This means that, unlike abstinence-only education that focuses on babies and the (false) consequences of sex and contraception, queer sex-ed should be about learning to safely pleasure oneself and one’s partner. And this pleasuring¬†should be without boundaries, which means acknowledging every gender identity and sexual orientation.

Queer sex-ed should be¬†sex positive.¬†Sex positive goddess Laci Green¬†explains that sex positivity is about embracing one’s sexuality (no matter what that is) in a safe and consensual way. Sex positivity goes against the fear, shame and judgement that sex-negative societal attitudes seek to reproduce (mostly through sex-negative abstinence only ed), like slut-shaming. Sex-positivity calls for the freedom to express one’s sexuality alone or with a partner (or many!). But most importantly, sex positivity emphasises the need for consensual acts and advocates that only yes means yes. Important to say that ALL sexual relationships need consent, regardless of the genders and sexual orientations involved.

Yes only means Yes! Credit: http://tumblr.safercampus.org

And last but not least, queer sex-ed should be body-positive. This means that part of sexuality education needs to focus on developing a positive and healthy relationship with our body image, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. This should focus on building acceptance, respect, love and admiration for our own bodies no matter what size we are. Also, to broaden our understanding of diversity, body-positivity fights against ableism, since this is another axis of oppression in relation to bodies in our society.

Surprisingly, there are a few organisations and academics (like me in the future, just saying) that are developing general guidelines and building curricula to queer sex-ed or make sex-ed queer. And this is not only regarding sex-ed, but to queer education in general. These awesome people have realised that in regular sex-ed, or even worse, abstinence-only education,  queer sexualities and non-conforming gender identities are not only invisible, but they are considered threatening and immoral. 

Think of the stigma, depression, loneliness, anxiety, sadness, bullying and other horrible consequences queer and trans* kids face in school (if not all of their lives) because they are taught that their experiences are considered unworthy of acknowledgement (to say the least!).

Credit: US Teen Culture

Beyond including facts and figures about the LGBTQIA+ community, queering sex-ed is about challenging the status quo. This surely sounds like big words to you, but it is indeed a big thing to celebrate. Queering sex-ed is about pushing boundaries and re-imagining the world we live in. And in doing so, paving the way towards a more equal and fair society.

Are you still not convinced of the need to teach a queer sex-ed? No? Okay. Just ask the following question: why is queer sex-ed important?

Well, basically because it is important that members of a marginalised community have¬†the right¬†to know how to have safe and consensual sex and be represented in the school curricula: LGBTQIA+ YOUTH.¬†This type of education validates their experience in a world that constantly tells them that they are wrong and they shouldn’t exist.

This type of education promotes and promises LGBTQIA+ youth a better relationship and understanding of their identities, their bodies and their desires. They will learn how to have safe sex and enjoy it. They will learn how to prevent STIs and HIV. They will learn that consent is necessary in all kinds of relationship. They will learn that they too can form families.

Queer sex-ed not only benefits LGBTQIA+ students but everyone. This means that cisnormative heterosexual students can learn to accept and respect people that identify differently. This means that this cis-het students will learn about their identity privilege and will be encouraged to engage in active self-reflection about their role in oppressive structures.

Queer sex-ed dismantles the taboo status regarding sexual education (queer or not, to be honest!). It helps to see other identities and orientations as normal and helps dissolve the tension and fear of coming out. It will, by default, decrease the homophobic and transphobic bullying that is so rampant in our schools.

Queer sex-ed teaches gender identity, sexual orientation and biological sex as they actually are and not how we have been conditioned to think they should be. 

So, I don’t know about you, but this sounds like my cup of tea ūüėČ I love me some queer sex-ed.

If you have any suggestions or ideas that you think should be included in queer sex-ed, please feel free to post them in the comment section ūüôā