By Grayson Barnes
WICHITA - On Mar. 3, I attended the 4th Gender and Sexuality in Kansas Conference at Wichita State University. The conference was sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Shocker SOC Club, the Department of Sociology, and the Elliott School of Communications. Conference subjects included intersectionality, inclusion, gender, gender and minority violence, and sexual experience and education.
I attended this one-day conference previously when it was still in the Marcus Welcome Center on the WSU campus and there were just a few breakout sessions. This year, the conference was in the Rhatigan Student Center, which offered more room for the 11 breakout sessions and the Keynote presentation.
The speaker was Dr. Joey Sprague, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas. Her work focuses on the ways knowledge is shaped by social relations organized around gender, race, and class. In her talk titled “The Academy as a Gendered Institution,” Dr. Sprague examined how academic values favor masculine qualities.
While I attended a number of sessions, I am going to look at those which might be of interest to our readership. When it comes to the breadth of the conference, very little is left out of the discussion. One, “Building a Trans-Inclusive Classroom,” was directed toward educators who want to implement practical, respectful, and inclusive spaces for transgender students and anyone else on the gender or sexuality spectrum.
An Sasala and Alex Cloyd (University of Kansas) discussed pronoun protocols along with when and how to build trust with students. They shared local and state resource materials for both educators and transitioning students.
Support and resources are important to ensure the educational success of minorities, transgender students especially, as noted by Jennifer Pearson (WSU), Lindsey Wilkinson (Portland State University), and Hui Lui (Michigan State University) in their presentation, “Transgender Identity and Educational Attainment.” They examined the correlation between transgender identity milestones (realization, coming out, physical transition) and how successful transgender individuals were in their education.
According to them, it seems that those who identify as transgender in very early childhood or adulthood seem to be more successful in school. This is because they are not subject to the harassment, name-calling, and institutionalized discrimination in schools (such as bathroom/locker room use).
Jakki Forester (Kansas State University) researched the drag community in central Kansas (Junction City, Manhattan, Topeka, and Lawrence). In “Drag Queens of Central Kansas as Social Justice Advocates and Civic Leaders,” she posited that these performers are instrumental in creating safe spaces (temporary as well as permanent) for the queer community.
They are also people who work tenaciously to create social change surrounding issues of AIDS/HIV awareness, same-sex marriage, and inclusive business and city ordinances. Thus, they become civic leaders, although atypical versions.
In “Sexuality in the Age of Social Media,” individuals and groups considered the accessibility of information on the internet and the impact it has on emotions, status or personal beliefs, and what it can tell us about preferences. Tara Terwilliger (Kansas State University – “The Trouble with Tomi: Problematic Rhetoric on Social Media”) analyzed Tomi Lahren’s (a conservative political commentator) arguments against women’s issues. She honed in on the term “snowflake,” in particular, as problematic.
Historically, this was an epithet hurled at someone who was not opposed to slavery and/or who acted “white.” However, through its use on social media, “snowflake” has been reframed to disparage one who is perceived to represent themselves as unique or one supporting liberal ideas. Verbiage such as this along with additional anti-female and heterosexist rhetoric are potentially even more culturally damaging because of the invasiveness of social media.
In that same session, Christopher Jensen and Marciana Vequist, PhD (Emporia State University – “Explicit Media Usage and the Differentiation of Self”) surveyed 356 students at a small Midwestern university to see if there was a correlation between their use (or not) of sexually explicit media (SEM) and their ability to define their own emotional feelings, what kinds of judgment they make about other’s sexual practices, and/or their levels of sexual guilt. It seems that those who use SEM appear to be less judgmental of other’s sexual practices, but the ability to decipher one’s own emotions did not seem to be tied to the use of SEM.
Darin Challacombe (Fort Hays State) followed Jensen and Vequist. He surveyed Reddit users, specifically gay men, about their preferences, such as sexual positions, whether they liked more masculine or feminine men, and other demographics. Within 24 hours, 4,000 people completed the survey. Challacombe was surprised at the response. He is still working through the information and it has created further research topics for him.
For more information on next year’s conference, contact the WSU Department of Sociology at 316-978-3456. l