How it happens: Gender and Sexual Orientation
Blog by Abbie
This week our class was privileged to have a guest speaker. Our topic for the day focused on “Working with Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Clients”. In our class we had a conversation about the importance of language usage. We touched on topics such as the difference between sexual identity and sexual behavior, and why we identify with a particular gender.
We discussed how crucial a concept language use is for us as social workers. Personal identity can be very specific to individuals, and we must respect this. We must not label people, but instead let people assign their own definitions to their identities. In response we must respect their definitions and refer to people, as they want. We reflected that the best way to learn about another person’s identity is to ask!
I believe that our culture is socially taught to place people into boxes. We place certain people into the female box, the male box, the homosexual box, and the list continues. A result of this tendency it is difficult to give people the chance to self-identify. I feel that more attention should be directed towards this area, so we can better diminish these habits. I am aware that I definitely have a draw to place people into boxes when I am interacting with them. Our guest speaker said that when we take the time to question our first reactions we would discover our own biases. He said it is also helpful for us to ask ourselves where we received this information (biases, stereotypes, misconceptions).
The next day we met in class, I felt that we had a great group dialogue. We were challenged to ask ourselves what we thought created hostile environments for GLBTI individuals. Some ideas that were brainstormed included politics, educational aspects taught, elders’ responses, religion, and that legal rights are not equal for all partnerships. The Heterosexual Questionnaire provided a new perspective as to what my life would look like if I were considered to be in a minority group based on my sexual orientation (Marsiglia and Kulis, 2009). This new perspective showed me that it is important for me to advocate if society’s hostile environment is to be changed. I feel that the first step that will be important to take is to become an ally, as we discussed during our section on oppression and identity in January.
As a class, our guest speaker challenged us to identify how we knew our own identities as male or female. A few ideas generated were we know by the way we sit, how we walk, or how our reproductive parts are classified. Our Marsiglia and Kulis (2009) textbook states, “The term ‘gender’ refers to the social and cultural patterns associated with women and men; in other words, gender defines what behaviors are expected from men and women and which behaviors are considered out of bounds” (Marsiglia & Kulis, 2009, p. 136). When working with clients this definition is interesting to keep in mind. We will come into contact with various cultures through our work and most will have different definitions of how a female and a male are supposed to act.
A second question that was proposed caused me to reflect out of class. This question was how do I know what I enjoy as an adult? Have I been socialized to enjoy “female activities”? Have I learned to like these activities through positive reinforcement? An example of this in my own life is that I like to put on make up, do my hair, and wear certain outfits. But maybe the only reason I like these things is because I have received positive reinforcement from my family, my friends, and the opposite sex.
In conclusion, I felt that the classes we had this past week were a great training on the topic of language. I also felt that I received new and better definitions of terms. I was given many concepts to reflect and journal about on my own. As social workers, these are all important areas to keep in mind when working with clients.
Marsiglia, F.F., & Kulis, S. (2009). Diversity, oppression and change: Culturally
grounded social work. Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books, Inc.
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