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October 19, 2012 4:59 PM   Subscribe

Help me put together an engaging and enlightening workshop about gender and sexuality!

I've been tasked with giving a 2-3 hour workshop about gender and sexuality. The workshop is for a small group of people receiving mental health training, so these people are compassionate and open-minded, but not necessarily very informed/enlightened about gender diversity, etc. They will have read a lot about DSM conceptualizations of gender and sexual 'deviance'.

I'd really like some help thinking up engaging or enlightening activities that I could have them do that would help with the following:
-Illuminate the socially-constructed nature of gender (and sex!).
-Provide insight into the lives of people who are gender variant or 'sexually deviant', in order to help build compassion, empathy, and understanding.
-Engage critically with the DSM, and question the inclusion of some gender/sexuality disorders.
-Provide insight into their own genders and sexualities.

I have 2-3 hours to do as I please! I've rifled through a lot of Trans101 materials, but most of it is just information that I would be talking at them. I'd really like to find activities or exercises that would help them engage, think critically, and come to an expanded and more compassionate awareness.
posted by whalebreath to Education (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I bet you could find some exercises in Kate Bornstein's My Gender Workbook.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:19 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

genderbread person can be a useful way to get started.
posted by nevers at 5:20 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

All I have are 'talking points,' but I've had students audibly begin to question everything they know about gender and sexuality within moments of being asked to imagine they grew up in a society that required homosexual acts of all men as part of their initiation rites. It's a challenging thing to imagine that at first sounds inexplicably exotic. But when you give them some reasoning for it, that it's associated with an earnest belief that the "graduating" initiates' semen supplies to "matriculating" initiates a sort of essential vitamin that helps them become men (which is not really that weird compared to health treatments people have tried in the US in the recent past), you get all in one tidy anecdote that normative practices of health, development, medicine, and sexuality can be wildly different yet rational viewed from within.

Here's a similarly useful anecdote about the four genders of Dou Donggo society, but that's just another talking point that my students (including a disproportionate number of clinical psych majors for curricular reasons) happened to enjoy about other genders / gender roles being accepted as normal.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:39 PM on October 19, 2012

I know of the genderbread person mentioned above as gender gumby, which is the same, except that link has some explanation of how it works in a workshop setting. (It gets called the "four line exercise" too, I think.) Whenever I've done gender gumby, it's been more a group activity than the more individual version described in that link. However, I think it might be fairly hard to get it to work if you are not queer (or can't be out in this context). I've only ever seen this exercise led by at least one trans person and it honestly might not work that well if you have no one in the room who can be out as trans or as being not totally normatively gendered. That said, it seems to be a classic, so perhaps this problem has been overcome.

We had some exercise about privilege that involved drawing a big triangle and decorating it with post-it notes listing ways in which someone might receive privilege. The post-its were meant to be sorted within the triangle somehow, but I've forgotten how that was meant to work (I last did one of these workshops about six years ago), so this is in the 'perhaps you will get some inspiration' category. They should be able to come up with examples of discriminatory situations (if they're hopeless, point out same sex marriage) and you want to prod them round to talking about things that aren't obviously problematic to people who aren't clued in to such things, and hope someone comes up with bathrooms (or ask some leading questions).

You may want consider making a decision to avoid using the word 'cisgender'. 'Not trans' will work for almost everything but the phrase 'cisgender privilege' but you can talk about 'privilege that people who aren't trans get'.

That last paragraph has actually dredged up a memory of what our opening exercise was. We asked people to list any words they could come up with that had to do with gender or sexuality, explicitly saying it was okay for them to suggest a term they knew was offensive. This lets you have the 'tranny is offensive' talk right away or, in other words, give them language to talk about trans people and trans issues when they might be otherwise unwilling because they're afraid of looking stupid or causing offense.

You may want to talk to someone like the Minnesota Trans Health Coalition, who I know have done trainings for health professionals.

I honestly can't tell quite what this project was conceived of to be (something about ensuring equity between men and women in organisations in the EU), but I stumbled across the Gender Toolbox website, which might give you ideas for exercises to get them thinking about gender without talking about trans stuff right away.

Depending on who these people are in their professional lives you might want to have your DSM talk include something about the WPATH Standards of Care and how they're not the sole model for transitioning. This is doubly relevant if you know you have, for instance, a local clinic using an informed consent model for hormones.
posted by hoyland at 7:52 PM on October 19, 2012

Mom, I need to be a girl is a good read.

For your workshop, you might want to pull out the anecdote about Danielle taking a trip with a theater group and the adults in charge wanting to divide them up by gender into two groups (for sleeping arrangements). Then someone points out that if they are trying to prevent sex, there are some non-heterosexuals amongst them. Then they have some other idea (I do not recall what) for dividing up the teens. Finally Danielle explains she is a male to female transgender person who has not yet had her surgery. The adults then threw their hands up and let all the teens sleep together in the middle of the floor in one big group of sleeping bags.

I thought it was a really great anecdote in an all around good book on the topic. The book is such a good read because Danielle got a really remarkable degree of support and thereby got to avoid a lot of the drama you typically see with transgender teens (for whom suicide attempts are pretty common). That alone strikes me as casting a lot of light on how strongly such issues are social constructs.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 8:18 PM on October 19, 2012

another idea, if you don't have a chance to look though the aforementioned "my gender workbook," is an exercise i remember from that reading that book many years ago:

what is a man?
what is a woman?
why do we have to be one or the other?

you can only answer in the form of questions.

for example,
does a woman have to do certain things certain ways? is there anything i might want to do that would make me not a woman, or not female? is age an element of gender (boy vs man, girl vs woman)? can men take over stereotypically female tasks without having to involve jokes or irony? do men have less latitude to explore gender boundaries than women do? why are fat men desexualized or feminized? how is the category of gender different from a catagory like race? how does society treat acting differently from how it thinks someone of your apparent gender should act, versus acting differently from how it thinks someone of your apparent race should act? what would be different about the world if there were no gender binary? do i consciously present myself as a girl, and if so, how and why? [and on and on and on]

a similar group discussion question involves filling in the blanks:
If Jane _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _, then she is a woman. If Jane is a woman, then _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.
posted by nevers at 9:00 PM on October 19, 2012

I often use "death of a thousand cuts" to describe what it was like being closeted trans. A good exercise could be to talk through a hypothetical average day and identify all of life's little gendered moments that can cause so much anxiety to a trans person. People like to focus just on clothing and The Bathroom Issue, but every day is full of decisions and social interactions that are influenced by gender.
posted by Wossname at 12:26 AM on October 20, 2012

Can you use video? Perhaps you can show part of Sut Jhally's Codes of Gender. It's available free online. It's not for classroom use, though. I'm not sure if this would qualify as classroom use.

Also, I think Sociological Images has a lot of good topics that would be good starting points for discussion about the construction of gender.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 9:24 AM on October 20, 2012

Finally Danielle explains she is a male to female transgender person who has not yet had her surgery.

You need to explain that not all trans people want surgery nor have access to surgery. That's probably in every set of trans 101 materials you've come across, though it's also a lead-in to talking about changing documents, which you may or may not want to do in much detail. It probably suffices to talk about the notion of 'legal sex' not really existing, despite people thinking it does, because, of course, any entity that records a sex or gender for a person has their own rules for how they decide what it is and how it can be changed. (Perhaps a good simple example is that Ohio categorically refuses to change birth certificates, but changing an Ohio driver's license is relatively straightforward. Then you throw in Social Security, the State Department, Selective Service and whoever else. I also think birth certificate rules are different if you were born in New York City vs anywhere else in the state of New York.)
posted by hoyland at 9:57 AM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Every trans101 that I've ever facilitated has included 2 icebreaking-type activities:

1. Definition Matching: Write a series of gender identity/sexual orientation-related terms on index cards (ze/hir, butch, transman, passing, etc.). Write their corresponding definitions on another set of index cards. Distribute these cards to all participants and instruct them to match their terms with the definitions that others hold. Give them 10 minutes. Read through the list of terms, asking them to read the definition that they matched to it. They will have missed someā€”fill in the blanks as they do and correct them when they've mismatched them. The last two terms that you read should be "Man" and "Woman." These had no definition cards, so they cannot have possibly matched them. Discuss how there is no one universal definition of either of these terms.

2. Step Forward, Step Back: Everyone lines up shoulder-to-shoulder across the middle of the room. Read statements regarding privilege or oppression, and instruct participants to step forward for statements if privilege that apply to them ("I can use a public restroom without a second thought.", "My preferred gender pronouns are respected in my workplace.", etc.) and to step back when statements of oppression apply to them ("I have been passed over for a job because of my gender expression.", "My family members have asked me to avoid bringing my partner to family functions because of their gender.", etc.). The diversity in end positions in the room should illustrate the death by 1000 cuts concept and the diversity of personal experiences even within the same peer group.

I have a ton of resources for these sorts of workshops someplace on my computer. Feel free to MeMail me if you want me to dig them up.
posted by cheerwine at 11:20 PM on October 20, 2012

Thanks everyone! You've all given me some great stuff to work with!
posted by whalebreath at 5:49 AM on October 21, 2012

Hey all, the workshop went great! If anyone in the future wants some resources, feel free to get in touch!
posted by whalebreath at 6:22 AM on November 2, 2012

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