Gender and sexuality: Is there an "Inappropriate Question Hour" anywhere?

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Question mark needlepoint kit by Etsy seller MadInEnglandkits
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Let me begin by saying that as a bisexual female married to a male mate, I have ridiculous amounts of passing privilege, and I know it.

My mate has questions and would like to discuss gender and identity with people whose identities and experiences are different from his own. The problem is that he is straight, cisgender, and male.

Ironically, I can "pass for queer," and sit in on such discussions without raising any alarm. My mate, however, is met with open hostility, to the point that he is starting to feel like he can't say anything. He does not want to offend, but he does want to discuss gender and sexuality with people who are willing to share their perspectives.

When I was in college, there was an amazing "Inappropriate Question Hour" where people agreed to leave their privilege and prejudices at the door in order to educate one another. I haven't found anything like it since. Does anyone know of any resources or communities where people can participate in the gender and sexuality conversation without fear? -Josie

I'd love to think that we're one of those safe spaces, but, even if we hired a team of moderators, it can be hard to make sure that it's a completely safe space. So, where can people who have questions about gender and sexuality ask those questions without judgement?

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  1. When I was in college, we had a program called, "Sex in the Dark." A group of strangers filed into an auditorium, the lights were turned off, and people could ask and answer whatever awkward questions they wanted about sex without fear of identification and embarrassment. It was wonderful, and super duper educational. I think something like that would work pretty well for these types of questions, too.

  2. I think this needs to be a Facebook group or something, because I love this idea!

    17 agree
  3. I could have written this, for I too am a bisexual woman married to a white cisgender (straight) male. What we (my male mate and I did) was that *I* be his (somewhat) safe place. He would ask me anything, I would try to explain (I don´t want to stereotype anyone, but my guy works in the police force, and as the (only) son of a firefighter – aka misogynist dad AND misogynist work enviroment – and submissive mom/sisters), my task was two fold: women are valuable (luckily he was already halfway there when I met him), and the LGBT spectrum is NOT full of pervs. Believe me, we´ve fought a bit on the matter, but all in all I think about it as "educating" him. A child will ask ANYTHING ("Do caterpillars fart?") with total innocence, and so I tried to think about THAT: "this is a child (in the body of a man) asking!" and tried to leave everything at door, no matter what he said/asked ("Is your (male) gay bff a man or a woman?")
    It´s not easy, but in my opinion, what safer place could there be for him than *you*? I understand somethings may hurt, but think of your baby niece/nephew/son/preschooler, and try to answer from there.

    9 agree
  4. Has your mate tried Reddit? They have many different subreddits and many are very well moderated. The subreddit "AskLGBT" might be a good place to start.
    The anonymity usually helps people to share openly and honestly.

    16 agree
  5. I wouldn't try it during a gathering that's meant to be a supportive time for people in that group, because then you're an outsider/invader by circumstance. But I've never encountered hostility or anger in 1-on-1 discussions, where I approached with respect and open honesty. My straight, white, cis male brother has had the same experience, so I think it's more about the environment in which you approach people than your default settings.

    6 agree
  6. In my experience, there's a lot of anger and victim-mentality in groups of LBGT folks. The groups I've been a part of have a tendency to attack en masse because, for once, they have the advantage of numbers. If someone in the group tries to defend the person being attacked, then the group turns on that member, because there is no shortage of "you're not different enough." I've been attacked in these groups for being married to a man, for being politically conservative, for not being poly, etc. Obviously this is my experience and may not be everyone else's experience.

    I think your best bet is talking to people one-on-one. Most people, LBGT or straight or cis or whatever label they choose, are lovely in one-on-one conversations. So maybe try to make a couple of friends in those groups and meet them outside of the group for Q&A.

    10 agree
  7. Writer groups are amazing places to ask these questions. Since the minorities (of any facet) do not want their character subjected to prejudices the conversation can be more open than in a normal sense.

    5 agree
  8. I agree with the comment about Reddit above. If you ask people questions on the internet, they don't have to answer if it makes them uncomfortable. You're not putting them on the spot in the same way you are if you ask in person.

    Also, googling stuff. There are some great blogs and youtube channels about this kind of thing. A lot of the frustration with being asked offensive questions comes from the willingness to risk asking something incredibly offensive when you could have done the work to educate yourself, like the rest of us did. Even queer people aren't born knowing this stuff. We all had to figure it out for ourselves and learn from our own community, often on the internet. You can do the same thing.

    The blog Everyday Feminism often has posts about different identities and often explains things at a 101 level. Laci Green and Kat Blaque are great youtubers to start with (though they're not perfect, and you have to remember that any one person can't speak for an entire community). The webcomic Robot Hugs often tackles non-binary issues well, and explains things clearly. If you're wondering about trans issues, http://www.transstudent.org/ is a good place to start. They have a resources tab, and if you go under "Graphics" there's some easily-digestible infographics about queer and trans topics.

    If you put the work into looking up resources and educating yourself, you don't have to worry about offending people. If you can't find what you're looking for here, or you're worried about finding bad sources with unreliable info, you can always ask for resources rather than asking the question. That way you show that you're willing to read up on it yourself and don't require non-privileged people to put the time and effort into explaining everything to any privileged person who has a question, but also that you want reliable sources that will provide good information. Instead of straight up asking something you know will offend someone, you can say something like "Hey, I'd like to know more about (topic), do you have any good resources you could share so that I can read up on this?"

    23 agree
    • That's a great suggestion. He actually IS quite well-read and has made a point of educating himself, but unfortunately people tend to scoff at the idea that he COULD educate himself that way. I try to recommend books and articles myself (Julia Serano's books, for example, were extremely helpful with Trans* issues beyond my knowledge. I don't want to presume to speak for people whose queer identities are different from my own. We're a pretty diverse bunch, after all).

      I should also mention that he would like to discuss what he's read with WILLING conversation partners (He doesn't want to invade queer safe spaces, or ask rude and painful questions).

      If people can recommend books or other media that they find compelling, it provides an opening to discuss the book, article, etc. because they themselves suggested it. So that's a really good idea.

      3 agree
      • And yes, I'm still learning and figuring things out my own sexuality and gender identity (bisexual and somewhat non-binary) in the broader context of the community. Reading articles here about others like me has been quite helpful in that regard.

        3 agree
        • Slightly off topic because this is the first time I'm seeing other bi sexual women married to white cis males talking about it! Thank you all for being open!

          It's taken me years to accept my sexual identity and gender identity (yay fluidity!) and then tell my husband. I had just turned 40 and had been reading articles, talking to other women, and re-examining my life. Then accepting who I am. Anyway, when I told my husband – we had just had our 18th wedding anniversary – he was so awesome. He said, "Okay. I love you, I support you. What do you want for dinner?" We celebrated our 19th anniversary last month. It's made us so so much closer. I always struggled with sexual intimacy but telling him everything has really helped me shed some of the things holding me back from true intimacy with him.

          Anyway, I hope your partner finds some answers. I work at a university and closely with the LGBT Affairs office, so I have a lot of resources at hand. Also, the students are amazing to talk to if they feel safe. They have been my biggest encouragement to be honest and open. And they are not at all shocked at any questions I have about people. Usually they tell me before I even ask LOL because it's a topic they are addressing on campus.

          Our office works closely with the community PRIDE office too. There are allies groups who support PRIDE offices where maybe those questions can be answered.

          3 agree
  9. Great idea. When I discuss sexuality in my classroom (with 15 year olds) I try to have a moment for 'weird questions'. They get to write down an anonymous question they have on a piece of paper and then I walk around collecting them in a box/bowl. I then pick these questions at random and answer them or we discuss them together. It gives an open atmosphere and pupils love the anonymity.
    It is not what the writer asked for specifically, but it reminds me of it.

    13 agree
  10. I would think it might depend on the community around you.

    I wouldn't normally have a place to ask these questions other than on the Internet (which Google and Readit were quite helpful when I looked up non-binary a few weeks ago, thanks to a local radio show), but I started attending a UU church a few years ago. When I was attending casually they had a multi session event for being a "welcoming congregation" which was for LGBT understanding, accepting and advocacy. I did not attend any sessions but I think they may have been similar to a course I did take on race and ethnicity. The people leading the course were amazing patient women who were ready for a range of reactions, and generally dealt with everything really well. It was a "nothing leaves this room" type situation, and there were lots of opportunities for questions, and we tried our best to see comments and questions as coming from a place of good intentions.

    I would suspect many communities may have something similar, but perhaps not as convenient as a class. He could go to an advocacy/allie group if he were patient enough to wait for answers (I would think walking into that situation and asking to be educated might not go over well). But if he is clear that he is coming from a place of good intention, maybe even uses techniques like Non-violent communication, or just tries to avoid judgements or a analyzing, that could work too.

  11. Plus 1 for writer's forum. I recommend NaNoWriMo's (National Novel Writing Month) reference desk forum.

    You'll have to create an account; http://nanowrimo.org/forums/reference-desk

    Also there is a series called "You Can't Ask That" which tackles topics people might wonder about but is generally socially unacceptable to ask. It has some on YouTube as well and I know at least one episode is about transgendered people.
    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/you-cant-ask-that/

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