All those who have wondered about the name, the Bradford Women’s+ Group – what’s the ‘plus’? – got their answer at the Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library on Monday night.
“It reflects our understanding that gender is a spectrum, not a binary,” said group co-founder Jennifer Lloyd – a topic explored further by guest speaker Valerie Kuye, women’s health program co-ordinator with the AIDS Committee of York Region (ACYR).
The monthly meeting began with participants listing stereotypes used to define male/female, the double standards that define the same behaviour (‘assertive’ when it’s a man, ‘aggressive’ when it’s a woman), and the expectations, inherent from childhood.
Then Kuye took the discussion beyond male/female, beyond the “binary.”
With a little effort, the participants were able to identify the components of LGBT2SQ: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Two-Spirit, Queer.
But it was a different story when it came to actual definitions. What is the difference between gay and queer? What is questioning? Intersex? A-sexual? A-gendered? What is Two-Spirited?
“We’re all here to learn,” said Kuye, giving the group the challenge of matching descriptions and definitions, along the gender spectrum.
With such complexity, it’s important to be accepting, to move away from gender-specific language, Kuye noted – and to realize that a person who “presents” as male or female may have a completely different gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Sexuality is a very important part of who we are as human beings,” she said, but it’s not the whole story. She used the image of a "genderbread person" to identify the different aspects of an individual: the biological sex, based on ‘born-with’ genitalia; sexual orientation reflecting physical and emotional attraction; identity or mental self-definition; and expression, in voice, clothing, hair and makeup.
Rather than making assumptions, Kuye recommended using gender-neutral language – “they/them” instead of “he/she” – or identifying by name, not gender.
If confused, “just ask the person,” she said, and if you ‘misgender,’ apologize and move on.
Kuye called herself lucky: the gender she was born with is also how she self-identifies. She doesn’t have the personal struggle that others face, something Kuye recognized as a privilege.
And that recognition, she told the group, is the first step in being an ally of the LGBT2SQ+ community.
“Understand your privilege. There are some things you will never have to deal with,” Kuye said.
Other steps? “Do your homework – know the issues,” she said, which these days include the erosion of LGBT2SQ+ rights, and persecution in some parts of the world.
Provide support, but never “talk over” the voices of the LGBT2SQ+ community itself.
If you make a mistake, apologize.
And finally, Kuye said, remember that “ally is a verb. Saying you’re an ally is not enough. Do your work, do your work.”
That means watching out for gendering, generalizing and misgendering in conversation and daily life.
“Are you still talking about male/female on your intake forms?” Kuye asked.
It involves losing the judgmental attitudes, she said, working to be inclusive and respectful – and creating safe and welcoming spaces, like the Bradford Women’s+ Group.
The session marked the start of Pride Month, and rainbow flags were everywhere, from T-shirts to napkins.
The meeting attracted a smaller group than usual, but Lloyd wasn’t discouraged. “It might not attract as big a crowd, but it’s an important and interesting topic of discussion to have in Bradford,” she said.
Coming up in June:
On June 21, the Bradford Women’s+ Group will be hosting a Wine and Dessert Pairing at Sabella Bar and Restaurant, 23 Barrie St., under the guidance of Wine Journeys. Tickets are $30 for an evening of appetizers, desserts, and wine, from 8-11 p.m.