safe zone training

Safe Zone Training!!!

So I was really happy and really excited when I found out that this was going to be a thing that was happening at my school.  Like, I feel like I’m knowledgeable enough and understanding enough that I was already a person who could talk to people about LGBTQ issues and even counsel them to some extent, but now it’s official.

Which is why I was really sad to discover that my economics midterm started at the same time as the training.  But it was okay because to me, that class is a joke and I find it really easy!  So I rushed through the midterm in under an hour and I just showed up late to the Safe Zone Training.  I spoke with the…teacher? trainer? I’ll just call her the trainer.  I spoke with her during the break and she said that it was perfectly all right that I was late.  She was very laid-back and she liked that I was very eager to participate and willing to learn.  It didn’t appear to me that I had missed much anyway.  When I had arrived, there were just a couple of those giant post-it note things up on the wall that had several different sexual orientations listed on them (and demisexual was actually featured!  :D ).

When I joined in, we started talking about slurs and words that weren’t appropriate to use when describing people.  And because most people were (unsurprisingly) nervous to actually say terms out loud, I ended up being the one to start us off with “faggot” and “fag.”
I realize how terrible those words are and how harmful they can be.  But much like how Albus Dumbledore always called You-Know-Who by his name of Voldemort, I think that when we are discussing the words themselves, it is actually helpful to use the words instead of saying “the ‘F’ word” or “the ’D’ word.”  Those are words that can be very hurtful, but when you’re discussing them, I think it’s better to actually say them.  I think it removes some of their power.  As long as you aren’t addressing someone or calling someone by that word, I think it should actually be spelled out in full.

Anyway, after that initial awkward moment, people became more willing to supply other words.  Following that, we discussed stereotypes.  What kinds of things typically set off people’s “gaydars”?  What makes us think that someone is a particular orientation or not?  And then for the sake of demonstration, the trainer had us guess her orientation.  Something that you really, REALLY shouldn’t ever do, especially if someone is nervously consulting you about sexual identities.  But for the sake of demonstration, she wanted us to do it.  I gave it a moment, looked around…and of course everyone is too nervous to make a suggestion again.  *sigh* So I raised my hand again and made a guess.  I mean, come on people, she is making us guess, if we want to move on with the training and actually LEARN stuff, we need to get through the awkward parts without sitting here for five minutes because it’s too awkward.  Maybe it’s because I’m part of the queer community that I am able to get past the awkwardness more easily, but seriously, I wanted to learn stuff!  I wanted to get trained, I wanted to participate, I wanted to do all of the things!  I wasn’t about to wait five minutes.  I wasn’t even going to wait five seconds!
Which is why it isn’t surprising that when she afterward made us guess the orientation of her assistant, I was the first volunteer again.  I waited a good three to five seconds, no one else looked like they were going to contribute!  I’m just takin’ all kinds of hits for the team.  (In case you’re curious, I’m not necessarily proud of this, but I guessed correctly both times.)

After that, we did an exercise where we were given orientation cards.  We were supposed to imagine how comfortable we would be in different situations if our entire life was the same except for our sexual orientation.  I think the logic behind it was to put ourselves in the shoes of the people who might come to us for help.  Think about how comfortable or uncomfortable we would be if we were in that situation.

Then we skipped the section of our handout about the Kinsey scale, which didn’t bother me in the least (in fact, I was quite pleased that we skipped it).  I’ll make another post complaining about the Kinsey scale later.

Then we talked about eight different levels of acceptance toward the Queer community.  I looked it up just now to make sure I had all the pieces right, and apparently it’s called the Riddle Scale.
At the bottom was revulsion, which is pretty self-explanatory.  Uber homophobes who think that gays are basically the spawn of satan and that everything about them and their lifestyle is not just wrong, but evil.
Then came pity, which is the thought that gays are just wrong and that being gay is a disorder that needs to be fixed.  These people would be in support of “pray away the gay” and “reparative therapy” (which is aimed at using pseudo-psychology to “correct” people’s sexual orientation and is actually shown to be a very harmful and traumatic process).
After that is tolerance, which is actually not as ideal as most people think.  When you tolerate something, it’s usually with an end in sight.  Like, you can “tolerate the pain” or “tolerate misbehavior.”  It isn’t something that you intend to continue tolerating forever.  These people would consider being queer a “phase” or something to be grown out of, rather than a valid part of a person’s identity.  They wouldn’t be okay with it forever.

Next is acceptance.  It’s surprising that this isn’t higher on the scale, right?  I know I was surprised.  I’ve always been a person who said “We shouldn’t be asking for tolerance, we should be asking for acceptance.  We don’t want people to merely tolerate us, we want to be accepted.”  But the thing with “acceptance” is that it implies that there’s still something that needs to be accepted.  It implies that there’s some work to be done, some internal struggle before people can actually recognize a queer identity.
Then is support, which means that they don’t just accept that someone is queer.  They actively help the person to understand their identity and they help combat homophobia.  If a person just accepts it, they might be silent about it and not very willing to acknowledge it.  A person who supports it creates a much better and more comfortable atmosphere.
After that comes admiration.  These people recognize the difficulty that sometimes comes with being a queer person in todays society and they actually applaud the bravery that comes with being out of the closet.
The second most positive stage is appreciation.  This means that a person really appreciates and values the diversity that queer people bring to the community and to the world.
The most positive category is nurturance.  This means that people think that queer individuals are not just important as a part of human diversity, but that they are indispensable.  And the literal definition is just so quirky and memorable that I can’t help but not directly quote part of it.  "People on this level view [queer individuals] with genuine affection and delight.“  I don’t know, it just seems a little silly to me and almost not like such a good thing.  "Oh boy, look, it’s a gay man!  How delightful!  Let us revel in his fabulousness!”  I don’t know, it almost seems like it treats queers as…clowns or mimes or street performers or something like that.

Following that, we went through multiple examples to help us get comfortable with recognizing what category people might fall into.  It’s valuable to know from the way someone is telling a story whether their father is pitying or accepting.

I tried to keep this at the level of a pretty general outline, yet this post somehow became huge anyway.  I was really excited about this and I was really happy that I could attend and everything, so I’m really not too surprised that I kind of accidentally made it drag on a bit.  Anyway, we basically ended the night with talking about different resources on campus and how we could talk to people about sensitive issues and we all got Safe Zone stickers!

Today I was on a Q&A panel for training University faculty and staff to be LQBTQA allies

It was fucking awesome. There were only three people on the panel including me, but we all represented sexual identities that are harder to define. One girl is a bi-romantic asexual, the guy (who happens to be my boyfriend) is transgender, and then there was me (I’m queer). 

It was really great to show the faculty and staff that these identities aren’t mythical and that there are LGBTQA students on campus.There was one woman who was sitting in the front who looked totally and completely confused/baffled by the whole thing, so when I got the chance to answer a question, I made sure to address the fact that we don’t expect them to completely understand us and our issues, but we just want them to respect us and our feelings. After that, the woman looked much more relaxed and responded more to the discussion. 

It just felt so cool to have a room full of /adults/ who have authority and rank over me in general life sit down and ask ME questions and ask ME what my life is like as a queer student and what my struggles are. It’s not often that my voice is heard and it’s not often that I get to educate others about things that matter to me. 

It was really empowering, and I think I helped make a difference.