Up Close & Personal: Gender & Sexuality in Scandinavia

Tuesday night, students from the Gender and Sexuality in Scandinavia class gathered in Bøssehuset, the Gay House in Christiania, to turn theory into practice in a way they may have never before. In the front of the room, with all eyes on them, stood two men dressed in drag – blonde wigs, lipstick, high heels, short dresses, jewelry and fantastic makeup. They were there to engage in an honest exchange on why they were dressed in drag. They were there to put gender norms to the test.

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Gender and Sexuality instructor and DIS faculty, Emily Childers Brocks explained, “These men do not feel they are women,” she began, “and they don’t dress in drag every day.” Emily elaborated on the provocative nature of drag, “They are men, who want to play around with gender norms—and they want to turn these norms on their head.”

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Students dove into discussion and relished the opportunity to step out of the classroom to explore the gender spectrum. They each donned a new appearance, and thus, took on new identities. They each acted out the story of their adopted characters, portraying their new life and changing their mannerisms to match. Emily watched with awe and excitement as the students broke out of their shells. The group transformed themselves, and their initial hesitancy dissolved as they stepped out of their comfort zones and rejected gender norms.

SU13 Gender Class Gender Bender (72)This is just one example of the interactive learning style found in Emily’s class. Later in the week, the class met with a guest lecturer, who talked openly about her personal journey (hardships and triumphs) as a transwoman in Sweden. Next week, the students will go on a field study to Sex & Samfund, the Danish Planned Parenthood association, where they will receive a quintessential Danish Sex Education class. At the end of their three week course, the students will conclude with final projects, where they will educate one another on a subtopic within the realm of current discourses on gender and/or sexuality. The students are covering a wide range of themes, including the representation of female athletes, the need for queer space, and parenting laws and social roles in Scandinavia.

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Surprisingly, Scandinavia has always been at the forefront of gender issues. Denmark was the first country, in 1989, to register partnerships for same-sex couples. Couples were allowed to “register” themselves as in a union, but not marry in a church.  As of last year, Denmark furthered 1989’s bill, by allowing same sex marriage within the church.  Additionally, Denmark’s welfare system, a subject of both positive and negative criticism, plays a role in how transgender people have access to surgeries, hormones, and therapy. These key points, among many others, are constructively debated in Emily’s class, and serve the basis for understanding Danish culture and attitudes toward gender throughout the country. But, just remember: signing up for Emily’s class means taking a step beyond lecture and discussion – be prepared to truly interact with the course material!

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