Nov 12, 2007

Appalachian State University residency report

Residency Location: Appalachian State University, Boone NC
Dates: 11/7-9/07
Performance: "Underground Transit"
Sponsors: TransAction, Office of Multicultural Student Development, [MANY OTHERS...]

Residency Schedule and Activities:

11/7: Arrive. 1pm: Class talk to English Composition class. Elizabeth Wilson, instructor.
3pm: Class talk to English Composition class. Elizabeth Wilson, instructor.
5pm: Class talk to English Composition class. Elizabeth Wilson, instructor.

11/8: 11am: Class talk to English Literature class. Elizabeth West, instructor.
1pm: Class talk to English Composition class. Elizabeth West, instructor.
3pm: Class talk to English Composition class. Elizabeth West, instructor.

Class talks stats:
Average attendance: 20 students

Impressions: As usual, some classes were more quiet than others. I regret that I did not perform in one class, I only lectured, and this was a mistake - performance is what hooks them!

One Composition class comprised of Criminal Justice majors who were initially very resistant (snickering, closed body language, text messaging), but who became very engaged when the focus turned to how understanding transgender identity and issues would benefit them as police officers and prison administrators. We discussed the current state of affairs in many jails and prisons (prisoners are not administered hormones, are often victims of abuse and assault) and looked for ways that they could approach this issue when they become a part of the prison system. I encouraged them to focus their research on trans issues in the prison-industrial complex for their upcoming mid-terms.

In the Literature class, I focused on the difference between theory and story: how labels do not create empathy or understanding, but stories do.

In all of my class talks at Appalachian State, I was surprised to find men leading most of the conversation. In most other places, men stay quiet while women ask questions and lead conversation. I noticed that both men and women ask the same questions; however, at App, I will note that the physics of what transpeople do in bed came up every time (this is a rare topic other places)!

"I asked my students the next day what they thought of your presentation. They were pretty uncomfortable -- and that's a good thing! Usually they don't remember anything we covered in the last class. After you, they were still present with the ideas you brought up, because they're still digesting them. I was really pleased to see them working so hard on the concepts you brought up."

11/9/07, 7pm: Community Workshop at Unitarian Universalist Congregation on gender oppression in Boone, NC and Appalachian State.

Attendance: 25. Comprised of TransAction and SAGA members; University administrators, faculty, and staff; UUC members, and Boone residents.

Impressions: A very liberal/radical/progressive crowd. Business owners were invited to discuss ways of making the community safe for people of all genders, but none attended.

I became uncomfortable during the conversation when we started using "they" and "them" to refer to the white, conservative Christians that make up a large part of Boone's community. I asked the participants to consider that "they" often talk about "us" with the same distaste, which usually makes for bad situations. "We are Them, They are Us," I said, and we shifted to discussing positive ways "we" can approach "them" to create a safe community for everybody. My partner, Carey Martin, brought up the Femme Mafia example: this group approached business owners and created visibility by holding regular monthly meetings in different restaurants, cafes, and clubs. They educated the establishments about femme identity by just showing up and patronizing the business. TransAction thought this would be a good idea for their meetings.


"I was glad you brought up the Us/Them thing. We do need to talk about things differently."

"Great facilitation."

11/9: 3:30-5pm: Workshop: Strange Bedfellows - Greeks, Jocks, and Queers.
Location: Grandfather Mountain Ballroom, Student Union Building
Attendance: 100. Comprised mostly of members of the Kappa Alpha fraternity as well as 2 sorority members (didn't record which sororities). TransAction and SAGA members attended in-full. Due to peak football and basketball season, only 3 athletes attended.

Impressions: Tough crowd at first! I feared I might lose all of the many Greeks who showed up as I introduced words and topics about sex, gender, and sexuality. I illustrated examples of how Greeks, Jocks, and Queers 1) each deal with similar (mis)impressions of their groups, 2) are actually all valuable leaders on campus, and 3) have many characteristics in common, and the crowd warmed. Splitting into small groups allowed each sector to interact with groups they might otherwise never connect with and cemented our path to getting to know one another. By the end of the session, plans were in the making for inter-group service projects and fund raising dinners.

"I never had the chance to talk to a gay person before."

"I never thought that I might be part of the problem as a queer person, that I might be causing the tension between Greeks, Jocks, and Queers. I always felt like a victim, but it's true, I have a lot of prejudices myself, and that's just as unfair."

"We can't change the campus climate overnight here. But this was a really good first step. We can bring this back to our chapters and try to make change in small ways. That would be a big thing, actually."

Performance: "Underground Transit"

Date: 11/09/07 (Friday night, 7pm)

Location: Grandfather Mountain Ballroom, Student Union Building

Attendance: 120

Impressions: Excellent crowd! Comprised mostly of people I hadn't seen before, as well as many class and workshop members. I couldn't believe so many people came out on a Friday night to a queer theater show, but that just goes to show that class talks and workshops really bring folks out! The performance went well. The Q&A after was in-depth. My mom and partner attended, which allowed questions about family and relationships to take on a deeper meaning -- their presence "authenticated" my answers.

"Thank you for doing this show. I feel I understand myself better because you said many things I have thought myself."

"I'm gay, and I have a lot of problems with transgender people. I just can't understand how you can be a man, but not a man, or a woman, but not a woman. I struggle with it because I want to be supportive, but I just don't get it. Tonight I understood it. You're a man, there's nothing else to it. And you have breasts and you look good in a skirt, but you're definitely a man. I get it now."

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