Question everything

You may not know it, but if you live in Multnomah County, you have protection for rights that many people never realize that they posses, much less use. As a result of those protections, we are blessed to host many artists and assorted “creative types” who otherwise might not even consider living here. The protections that I am referring to revolve around your right to express your gender in the way you choose, without fear of losing your job or housing and with the assurance of equal protection from the law.

Anybody who doubts that free expression of gender has become an essential tool for creative expression hasn’t been paying much attention. Despite the considerable attention that the dominant male/female binary expression has received in modern art, many people never even consider that there may be valid gender expression outside of this tyranny. One artist who continuously challenges hir audiences to question their own gender identity and the implications of gender is Kate Bronstein, who recently delivered the keynote address at Lewis and Clark University’s gender symposium.

Kate, who lives in New York, is a playwright and performer who is adept at creating an intimate atmosphere, no matter the size of audience. Hir genius as a performer lies in hir ability to create a space between hirself and the individuals in attendance where it is not only safe to explore gender identity but also entertaining and enlightening, especially for people who identify as a traditional male or female.

During a question and answer time after the address, ze offered insight into hir creative process. Kate’s work has principally focused on hir own journey to find and come to value hir various identities. Hir humanity and compassion for the journey makes what otherwise might be a terrifying recitation of woes into an inspiring narrative. It should come as no surprise that this deep understanding identity is enabled by a lot of work and analyses over time.

Sassafras Lowrey, a gender identity activist who attends Portland State feels so strongly about the significance of this work, ze has constructed a Chiron Studies course called Gender Revolution, which ze is facilitating next term. The course, which Lowery says was constructed with people who don’t identify as gender-transgressive in mind, will focus on analyzing social gender construction and on the life experiences of gender-transgressive people. The class isn’t intended to make people change their gender identities but rather to give people an additional tool for critical analysis.

Lowery tells the story of one of hir friends who is pregnant and conscious of gender construction issues. “She is constantly being bombarded with ‘Is it a boy or a girl?'” and she answers ‘Well, probably, yes, maybe? I don’t know, it hasn’t told me yet.’ This shows how ingrained in binary gender we are, even before birth. So definitely, being critical of that, being exposed to the diversity of gender expression outside of the binary – that is a box I definitely want to break out of.”

The only pre-requisite for the class is “a willingness to question things you may not have questioned before and the willingness to ask questions that society doesn’t reward asking.” That sounds a lot like art to me.


“My gender cheat sheet”
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  • Pronouns ?” In English speaking countries, the most common gender-free pronouns are “ze,” second person, singular and “hir” (pronounced as “here” by most people), second person possesive.
  • Number ?” There are as many genders as there are people.
  • Fluidity ?” You don’t have to “pick one and stick with it.” You can change your gender identity as often as you wish.
  • Personal ?” You are the one who decides which gender you are. There are no such things as “real” men or women just as there are no fakes. You don’t need anybody’s approval for who you are.
  • Support ?” Lots and lots of people deal with these issues and many of us experience depression and other negative emotions as a result of having our identities stolen from us. You can get support and find community. On campus, the Queer Resource Center, Women’s Resource Center and Student Health and Counseling all have information and referrals specifically for you.