On December 10, in the basement of the Duderstadt Library, the College of Engineering Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Student Advisory Board hosted EnginTalks: Gender Identity Monologues. The event featured four monologues focused on aspects of gender identity from both students and professors interspersed in a presentation by Spectrum Center president Will Sherry.
Students gather in Dunderstadt Library on December 10, 2019 for EnginTalks: Gender Identity Monologues. Photo by Michael Tong.
The event began with an interactive survey run by members of the student advisory board who were acting as the MC’s for the event, Andrea Ware and Kathie Wu.
The first monologue was given by undergraduate Aian Cowart on the subject of toxic masculinity in the black community. His talk centered mostly around how his community treated the stereotype surrounding gay men, i.e. men acting flamboyant or feminine, and the damage it causes men who don’t fit the traditional masculine mold. He also detailed how the community’s aversion to being vulnerable and showing emotion leads to a closed dialogue around mental health, which is something he has struggled with himself.
The second monologue, titled “It’s Not About the Clothes” was given by undergraduate Catherine Sullivan on the intersection between gender presentation and identity. Her talk centered around her experience with clothing as a trans woman. Before she came out, wearing her sister’s clothes was a sense of comfort to her. However, after coming out and living publicly as a woman she realized that, while they were nice to have, women’s clothes didn’t hold quite the same sense of comfort. She realized, “It was never about the clothes at all. It was about discovering what it meant to be me.” She went on to talk about the expectation that trans people will stick to the gender binary when transitioning. In order to be perceived or respected as their gender they must stay within the expectations of “male” or “female” presentation. However, this system doesn’t work once nonbinary people are involved, or people who choose not go along with their expected gender presentation. She ended the talk by saying, “It’s not about the clothes, or the hair, or the voice. It’s about moving away from treating people as men or women and towards treating people as people.”
The third monologue, titled “Community,” was given by Shannon Clancy, a PhD student in Mechanical Engineering. She detailed her experience in the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) at UMBC, a program dedicated to increasing the representation of women and minorities in the fields of engineering and technology. She explained that as a gay woman, the support she had from the CWIT community was essential in shaping her undergraduate experience and getting her where she is today. She talked about the difficulty of maintaining an important community such as the one at CWIT, explaining, “Community doesn’t naturally come without the everyday little things that matter in such a big way to students like us. It takes work, courage, and empathy.”
The final monologue, titled “The Experiences of a Genderqueer Professor in Civil Engineering,” was given by Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Dr Ann Jeffers. She explained how as a lesbian twenty years ago she had never quite fit into the dichotomy of butch/femme, and recalled how she was bullied for being a tomboy growing up. She said, “Since then, I have struggled with the fact that I don’t fit the mold of a man or a woman, but in the end I have accepted that I am who I was always meant to be.” She went on to detail how her experiences of being genderqueer have affected her career, explaining that she’s mostly been treated as a woman in an engineering career with the challenges that come with that. She ended the monologue by describing an experience she often has of a woman mistaking her for a man in the women’s bathroom, saying, “For the most part, I don’t think that much about gender identity, but occasionally I am reminded that I’m different.”
Spectrum Center president Will Sherry’s presentation touched on multiple topics. He started by outlining some basic concepts and foundations for talking about gender, including the differences between sex assigned at birth, gender identity, gender expression, and attractionality– what he called a more accurate term for sexual orientation. He explained the different viewpoints everyone brings to their understanding of gender by saying, “There’s a lot of self that goes into knowing.”
Sherry also touched on a topic similar to Clancy’s monologue in which he talked about the importance of communities like the Spectrum Center and the difficulty of creating safe spaces on campus to give students a general sense of belonging. He discussed how allies can take action to make spaces more welcoming, including a discussion on sharing pronouns. He explained the importance of sharing pronouns, and of not signaling people out while doing so. This assumption is built on a foundation of thinking that a person can look at someone and immediately sort them into a category. Sherry points this out as an attitude to move away from.
The event ended with a Q+A with Sherry answering questions.
This event and similar ones are incredibly important for us as a community. There’s always something to be gained from events like these, whether you’ve never thought about gender before or you’re a veteran of the topic. Following the event, I kept thinking about Sherry’s quote about how much of yourself goes into your understanding. It allowed me to frame a lot of my experiences and feelings I had about my own gender in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. Listening to other people’s stories helps us to understand their lives as much as they help us to understand our own.