Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Haiti, Latin America, India... Or Just People?

by Nikhill Bhardwaj, YES Institute Intern 

Before participating in YES Institute education, I thought I had a good grasp of gender and orientation.  From my first Communication Solutions™ to each succeeding course I’ve taken, I’ve been floored with what I’ve learned and the sense of community fostered by YES Institute.  

Most recently, I participated in Gender Continuum.  The question of “What is gender?” quickly travelled down the rabbit hole to “How do notions of biology and bodies frame how we gender ourselves and others?”, “How do ideas around masculinity and femininity influence my behavior?” and a slew of equally complex thoughts.  Brian, a YES Institute volunteer speaker, shared about his gender transition and contextualized these ideas.  Hearing how it seemed impossible to express his authentic self helped me understand how pervasive gender is and how it has a real impact on my own life. 

The fact that this was the first YES Institute course simultaneously translated into both Kreyól and Spanish was especially impactful for me.  The intersections of generational and cultural ideas of gender were given a new depth by the personal experiences shared. For some, these topics are rarely discussed and seen as inappropriate.  To hear about gender first-hand at this course spoke to the diversity of perceptions around this topic.

Being a second generation Indian-American, the discussion of gender roles cross-culturally gave me insight into how they play out in my own family.  I used to feel that my family was confined to very rigid roles and expectations because of gender.  Did I only know my mother as the family-raising matriarch or did I know her as a person?  From this course, I better appreciate that gender is not just a “role” but frames how we relate to one another.  I can understand how my parents’ fear of me acting “too flamboyant” or “feminine” affect how they relate to me.  Now I can relate to my family, not despite their view of gender roles, but with new insights into where these views come from.