Hello, and greetings from Stockholm, Sweden! It’s been a little over a week since my last post where you all got to know a little bit about me and my “bubbly” personality. From here on out, I will be documenting different aspects of my time here as a DIS Stockholm student in the Gender & Sexuality Studies Program as well as an American, among other Americans, surrounded by Swedes.
Here are some thoughts on my mind after returning from our Core Course Week.
**DISCLAIMER: Before I proceed with this piece and my future blog posts, I feel the need to state that I, in no way, wish to offend or belittle any person or persons through my writing. Additionally, I wish to state that I do not intend to trivialize the subject area of gender, equality, and sexuality in Scandinavia. The fact of the matter is, I do not have any previous experience with this topic in an educational setting. Furthermore, I recognize the fact that I will not be able to avoid persecution for my statements in their entirety. However, it is my hope that with this note, I will encourage my readers to educate me where they see fit. I will be checking the comments section associated will all of my posts regularly. Please feel free to identify my (inevitable) mistakes and express any disagreements in this section. I greatly appreciate constructive criticism and hope you all will accept an apology in advance for anything stated as a result of my ignorance.**
I am a heterosexual “cis”-male; a term in which I only recently learned the definition. “Cis” is a term given to an individual whose gender identification aligns with the sex in which they were assigned at birth. I was made aware of this prior to this past week’s study tour; and, to be honest, I could not be more grateful for this. Understanding the ways in which I, as an individual, exist in this space we call society, is undeniably imperative. Furthermore, recognizing the ways in which the former indeed influences the latter, is just as essential.
This week’s theme was “coming out.” Specifically, it was geared toward understanding the circumstances, reasons, and instances for which a person would make those around them aware of their sexuality. With my ability to recognize myself as a heterosexual cis-male, I quickly came to a conclusion at the start of this educational experience.
In today’s world, we constantly address “privilege”- further, the idea that a special right, advantage, or immunity is guaranteed to a specific group based on a particular classification. Through recognition of my gender and sexual identifications, I concluded that I live with a certain type of privilege; one which shelters my life from certain situations and experiences (often regarding discrimination and prejudice) that another individual may indeed be privy to.
The week began with a series of screenings dedicated to the continuous theme of “coming out.” Toward the end of the week, my class of nine students, ventured to Uppsala, Sweden, roughly an hour north of Stockholm, to volunteer at the “Welcome Out” pride festival. It was through these events and experiences that I began to recognize my sense of “self” and the place in which I exist.
Sitting in a classroom, watching a movie, and trying to stay awake… We’ve all been there. However, I must argue that for me, this experience was far more enlightening than any other. As I looked around the room and at the facial expressions of each of my classmates, I began to realize how differently our sense of “self” impacted the way in which each of us interpreted the information. Moreover, the experiences we shared, or did not share, directly influenced our reactions and critiques of the film.
As I look at this from a very basic and topical standpoint, I quickly resort to the excuse that, yeah sure we are all individuals with a variety of personalities and are, all in all, just different people. Nonetheless, although this is a true statement, I began to see how deep these “differences” really go. From there, my thinking diverged. No longer were we people who were just inherently different. We were humans who, based on our sexuality, ethnicity, and (insert other characteristics here), have been shaped into being we are today. So that’s when I began to think- Okay, so I am a cis-male who is heterosexual. How has this affected my perception and interpretation of these works? It is here that I came to a quite rewarding, yet saddening, conclusion.
As I stated above, I am interested in women; and have been since I can remember. I was never ostracized from society or questioned by my parents and family based on this sexuality. I, like many other adolescents, suffered from teenage angst enabled by punk rock songs, and yeah I had my fair share of yearning to escape the firm grasp of my parental figures. However, I was never driven from my home in search of people who matched my sexual orientation. I never feared to express myself because the fact of the matter is, I identify as straight. The disgusting truth- I am seen by society as “normal.” My privilege has provided me comfort and has restricted the sense of empathy I can feel toward the protagonists in each of the works. It is this realization that strikes me at my very core. No matter how badly I would love to understand and feel the way those that identify as gay do in today’s society, it is inherently impossible. My privilege has and will only lead me to sympathy. This is a realization I hold extremely necessary for anyone attempting to study in areas where race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender enter the conversation.
It was important to see this in conjunction with my time at the “Welcome Out” pride festival in Uppsala. Although my volunteer responsibilities were relatively limited to those of a temporary tattoo booth for children (an experience undeniably rewarding in itself), I was fortunate enough to sit in on two lectures given by immigrants to Sweden from Uganda and Afghanistan. In both cases, the speakers attempted to convey what it was like to grow up in a society where homosexuality was, and continues to be, criminalized. Not only were these individuals required to censor their actions in the public sphere, but their lives were governed by fear. It is imperative that I explain this fear was not that of exposure with regards to their sexuality, but fear of death. In many cases, these people were forced to pretend to be something they are not.
Think about how drastic that is… Here I am, a heterosexual cis-male, sitting in classes at Middlebury College (a small, liberal arts school in Vermont), reluctant to raise my hand and express my feelings about a lecture in fear of criticism. My life is simple in this regard. However, there are individuals halfway across the globe who wake up each day needing to dress as well as act in a way that protects them from the abuse instituted by the very society they rely upon to ensure safety.
This week taught me a lot. Not only about Sweden, but about myself. I learned an important thought process regarding how each of us fits into this world, and how it inherently shapes us.