So then in the afternoon, there were a lot of choices as to where to spend time. For my first session I chose to listen to three different people talk about their experiences. Eric is a university student who made the transition from tomboy to lesbian in his teen years to real boy now and reported on how supportive the USSU Pride group at the University of Saskatchewan campus was as he went through this, and continues to be family and support for him and so many others.
Deanne McKenney, a professional educator, talked about the man she once loved who went through the process of becoming a woman and how she herself dealt with that surprise – badly. She shared her mistakes and regrets and very emotional, heartfelt moments from her life as she went from anger, to grieving for the loss of this man she knew, to getting to know the woman she’d become and finally realizing she was still the same person after all. It was quite moving, especially for some nursing students in the audience who realized their education was missing something very essential in terms of how to deal with this end of the medical spectrum. Some of them hope to entice a speaker to a conference they’re prepping so more students can become aware of these issues.
The third one was actually the second to speak but I wanted to write about her last because Sara went through a bullied hell at my old high school, a hell I never imagined it’d ever be there. Mind you, I was there from 1990-92 and was totally clueless. I hung with the church girls and went to bed early. I never knew about parties or drugs or alcohol or gangs or anything else that was going on while I was there. I was so very, very sheltered and ignorant.
I do recall there was an area in the school called Jock Hall, though, where all the cool sporty guys would hang out and tease anyone who looked a bit weird. There was one guy I knew who dealt with that all the time. I don’t know if he ever reported it as harassment though. Probably not. I know other kids were in the habit of taking the long way around to classes and lockers just to avoid them. So the idea of Sara being bullied wasn’t unsurprising, but the extent of it shocked me, from assaults in the hall to swirlies (people actually do that?!) and other shit.
[edit Mar 20/10: looking at what I wrote here, this needs amending. I just meant that bullying is so ubiquitous and it doesn't take much for a kid to be made a target of it. It's bad enough to be picked on for hairstyle or weight or physical features or interests (this I know all too well). When it ramps up to the level of insulting one's identity through race, religion, sexuality, and people still don't do a hell of a lot about it, then that's a bigger issue than what's happening to one kid. PFLAG started an ad campaign in Saskatoon to raise awareness of this issue, and has posters for schools, too.]
It got bad enough that she had to switch schools. She found a lot more acceptance coming out as gay there, and got involved with a Gay Straight Alliance group there. They soon came to the conclusion that it’s not enough to have such a thing at one school; the whole city is in need of it. So they made arrangements for space somewhere in town and just had their first meeting. She never said how many turned up but she was pleased with the number. It’s about time the city’s crappy motto, “Where life makes sense,” edges a bit closer to reality.
Since that talk was titled “It Gets Better,” the Youtube videos that run with similar promises got a mention but one of our Freethinkers attending this session pointed out that it’s not enough to make that promise. It’s not enough to assure kids that things will improve after high school. Things have to improve now. Things need to be getting better now, and the only way that’s going to happen is if support is there from every side, gay, straight, or whatever. They need allies every step of the way.
The other talk I chose was done by Carla Blakely, an ally herself, and a Lutheran pastor. Her focus lately has been on going back to the original translations of the bible to reexamine its interpretations, especially considering the fact that most interpretations have come from a heterosexual male perspective from a time when the notion of “woman” as we have it today didn’t really exist. She shared some alarming medical nonsense people used to have about what women were (misbegotten men) and how reproduction was thought to work (sperm was babies). She showed illustrations from old medical texts where the uterus was considered to be an inverted penis and the fallopian tubes were mislabeled as testicles. They just weren’t making the cognitive leap that women were a completely different gender with different sexual organs. They supposedly didn’t even know there was such a thing as a clitoris until Renaldus Columbus “discovered” the thing in 1559.
Yeah, her talk was really really really interesting.
Anyway, the point she was getting at was that beliefs about humanity and men and women and male and female and theories about the “reality” of Genesis versus the nature of creation mythologies has had a big role to play in where people get the idea that God hates gays and why they’ll embrace that nonsense and fight any attempts to increase the rights of gays and lesbians. She suggested that some of this trouble has lied in the way the original Hebrew was translated, losing its intent through misunderstandings and misinterpretations. She gave an example out of the Greek, too, a Roman soldier asks Jesus to heal his slave. She said in the original Greek that word wasn’t slave, it was “dear one,” suggesting to her that Jesus accepted the nature of same-sex relationships and had no problems with it and translations edited it to be other than intended. She also said she’s run into people who believe the bible’s always been in English. I find that to be quite hilarious.
And that was that for the 14th annual Breaking the Silence On Issues in Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity conference.
Well, almost. An achievement award was given out. It’s named after the late Peter Corrin, who I never heard of, but he and his long time partner, Murray, were heavily active in gay rights across Canada and their list of accomplishments is a long one, including the right to adopt and foster children. What also interested me was a situation in Surrey B.C. involving a fight between a teacher and his school district regarding his desire to include three gay-friendly storybooks in his classroom as part of a lesson plan. The school vetoed that idea initially but in 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada
held that a local school board could not impose its religious values by refusing to permit the use of books that sought to promote tolerance of same-sex relationships.
So that was good. Anyway, the recipient of the award this year was the one name I did not write down. I guess I was too busy listening at the time but now I don’t even remember what he said.
This day was so jam packed with education and information..it really could have been set across two days for the amount of stuff they had going on. Other Freethinkers were in attendance and went to some of the other sessions so after I’m done my oath talk and discussion session tomorrow, I hope I can find out what some of them got out of it.
One point that did get brought up on our way out today, the concern that this conference is going to get too religiously leaning. A lot of sessions had to do with how churches are dealing with gay rights and that’s going well and terrible, depending on what church they talk about, or even what parish of what denomination. Some of the speakers were gay and Christian, or at least still retain much of what must have been giving them some solace during their struggles, but I think I can return to the question Shawn was asking here: why stay with a group or community that isn’t going to respect you?
Yeah, some churches are changing, allies are coming out of the woodwork and willing to put their careers on the line for human rights and a good fight and all that but over all, will the stress of this be worth it in the end? Will changing the churches get easier as young people take up the spaces elder (bigoted?) leaders will eventually leave behind? Are they going to make a difference? I heard a few speakers mention other churches aligning themselves with countries like Uganda, which consists of a government that’s on the cusp of making a terrible decision for dealing with homosexuality: death sentences. If any of those churches have their fingers in local political pies, what kind of future policies will they support or kill?
Something that maybe could have gone on the evaluation for suggestions… I wonder if they’ve ever asked GBTL atheists to share stories. There must be some who lost their faith as they embraced their sexuality. There have to be some who realized their religion wasn’t going to allow them the freedom to be themselves, questioned what they’d always been told and came to realize freedom could be easier once free of god-belief. I think it’d be worth getting that word out, if they haven’t yet. [mar 20/10: meant people in and around Saskatoon or further who'd come and speak at something like that.]