Thursday, February 4, 2016

Gettin' Queer for Dope: Learning How to Learn about LGBT Identity by Morgan Parker

When I met Sarah on August 28th, 2015, I saw a very shy and sheltered Mormon-raised girl. When I met Josh two weeks later, I saw a very bright and bubbling boundary-breaking guy. I’d never imagine that these two distinct identities and two distinct personalities came from one single person. My roommate is transgender, and while he was in the process of translating his entire identity, I was adjusting my mind to the prospect of not only meeting, but living with, a person entirely new. Despite any initial apprehension, I know that I am among the luckiest freshmen for having been blessed with this life-changing experience. I have been enlightened and I owe it all to a little club on campus and a new friend named Josh. This club, known as the Pride Network, epitomizes a true community that offers the unique opportunity for diversifying, involving, and inspiring our minds within a safe and supportive environment. Hofstra Universitywould surely be a different place if it did not exist.

In her September 11, 2015 Taking Giant Steps blogpost, “Leaping out of the Cave and into the Light,” Deanna Weber discusses her yearning for the diversity and experience that Hofstra University provides. She writes, “Not only did I long for students who did not look so much like me, but I also wanted to encounter people with more experience about different places and points of view” (Weber). However, just because so much diversity surrounds us at a place like Hofstra, that doesn’t mean that we are taking advantage of it. As college freshmen, we are especially in the dark when it comes to challenging and diversifying our minds. However, my roommate Josh Green and his friend Matt Sullivan are one step into the light ahead of everyone else. My interviewees were brave enough to be involved with something outside of their comfort zone and, in return, were met with great reward. This is because The Pride Network embodies a form of diversity that is entirely attainable. Matt says, “It’s all about learning, and it’s very comfortable. The purpose is that everyone is welcome” (Sullivan). This is a deliberate characteristic of the club whose main goal is to better the community through awareness. These are people who invariably know that the more differences you have from the person sitting next to you, the more opportunities you have to learn something new. These are people who know how to make every person they meet into an asset.

Moreover, the Pride Network concerns itself with learning outside of Hofstra University by organizing trips and other opportunities for students to attend. Recently Matt, along with other members of the club, ventured to Vermont to attend a “Translating Identity” conference that explored a number of topics regarding gender and transgender identities, expressions, and communities. The conference featured a keynote speaker prominent in the LGBTQ community and aimed not just to reach students and members of this community, but the entirety of the nation (“Translating Identity Conference”). Enlightening experiences, such as this conference, are available and accessible to all interested club members, and are widely encouraged! The goal is for students to see more and learn more outside of what they are comfortable with by breaking free of any means of restriction. Becoming a member of this club provides the first step in our own “leap out of the cave,” and gives us that first glimpse of light. The Pride Network’s overwhelming desire to educate and interact is what makes it crucial to the infrastructure of our “diversity university.”

Beyond the idea of education as a means of opening ourselves up to diversity, the Pride Network provides an experience for those seeking to “learn how to learn” through involvement. As products of the traditional learning pedagogy, we have been programmed to believe that true learning only exists by the guidance of a teacher within the four walls of a classroom. However, the Pride Network proves that belief is far from true. Opportunities for involvement in club meetings and social interactions offer a greater, more valuable kind of learning. Paulo Freire, author of “The Banking Concept of Education,” provides an explanation of this ideal form of learning in what he calls “problem-posing education.” He writes, “Education as the practice of freedom as opposed to education as the practice of domination denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world” (Freire 8). In other words, knowledge comes mostly from experience and from learning about the people in your world rather than learning about the world apart from them.

Furthering this idea, at a typical Pride Network meeting, members begin by sitting around a table and introducing themselves to everyone before beginning the discussion of that week. When Matt and Josh sat down at their first meeting, their minds were still forced shut by fear and anxiety. However, within the first five minutes, those feelings subsided and their minds were engaged. Matt noted, “When we got into a circle and introduced ourselves, everyone seemed more relatable” (Sullivan). Dissolving formality and opening up to discussion is one of many ways the Pride Network runs parallel with Freire’s ideal learning pedagogy. The club holds weekly discussions of current and pressing social issues that are “fun to talk about” (Sullivan). For instance, they recently ran a meeting for people who were interested in discussing the Democratic Party debate that had aired just a few days prior. Additionally, at most meetings they will break up into smaller discussion groups to consider more specific or personal issues. As Paulo Freire put it, “Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world, by the cognizable objects which in banking education are ‘owned’ by the teacher” (Freire 7). Seldom does one find the opportunity to involve oneself in something that, by nature, gives more than it takes. Simply being there is the greatest thing you can offer the Pride Network, but in return it gives you back something much greater.

One of the most intriguing things Josh ever said to me was that somehow Hofstra felt like a home to him before his own body did. As difficult as it was for me to comprehend such a statement, it was also oddly empowering. I didn’t really understand the true impact it had on me until I attended a meeting of the Pride Network for myself: If ever I could be a real fly on the wall, I certainly would have been at that meeting. My goal was to be an objective observer, so I could focus more on the big picture than on my own involvement. However, there is certainly something to be said about being the only person in the room who is somehow different from everyone else. I didn’t feel anxious or nervous, but I certainly felt out of place. After a few minutes of feeling that way I remembered Josh’s comment, and I started to understand what it really meant to me, as well as everyone else in the club. For those fifteen minutes of feeling outside of my comfort zone, any other person in the room could have spent fifteen years feeling the same way. For one reason or another, not everyone has a comfort zone they can depend on returning to and I realized I had been taking mine for granted. This was a place made for people to belong; a comfort zone for those who may not have their own.

Ultimately, it is the atmosphere at the Pride Network that breathes inspiration and positivity. Everywhere I looked I could see someone inhaling the Pride Network and exhaling with relief and confidence. This is a place where the only thing you might have in common with the person sitting next to you is that you are different. This is a place where everyone feels entirely content to be wholly and unapologetically themselves. Finally, this is a place where everyone can feel a part of something greater. Beyond everything I have written, to say that this club has changed people’s lives would still be an understatement. My roommate, Josh, may never have been confident enough to become himself had the Pride Network not been ready to catch him when his old life came crashing down. As Deanna Weber wrote, “I am big on self-love and self-happiness, and diversity is something that can contribute to both of these things” (Weber).

The Pride Network offered me the kind of enlightenment Deanna Weber spoke so much about. Although I may not yet have made my leap into the light, I feel confident that this experience has equipped me with the means by which to do so. I learned that I have the responsibility to not only observe, but immerse myself in, the diversity that surrounds me. I learned what it means to really learn. Most crucially, I learned that everything around me has something to offer me if I am willing to look hard enough.

Works Cited

Freire, Paulo. "The "Banking" Concept of Education." Plato (2007): n. pag. Web.

Green, Josh. Personal Interview. 14 Oct. 2015.

Sullivan, Matthew. Personal Interview. 14 Oct. 2015.

"The Internet Classics Archive | The Republic by Plato." The Internet Classics Archive | The Republic by Plato . N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

"University of Vermont." Translating Identity Conference. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

Weber, Deanna. “Leaping out of the Cave and into the Light,” Taking Giant Steps. N.p., 11 Sept. 2015. Web.

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