I'm chunking this week's reading reflections for "Class, Race, & Gender in Engineering Education" based on reading, because my reactions to each one are quite distinct.

The first one is the most lighthearted: the Genderbread Person 2.0, a way to explain (to beginners) various aspects of sexuality and gender that fits on one page and is cute. Like all models, it's limited -- a compromise between simplification for quick communication across diverse contexts and the complexity of the world it's trying to reflect. If you have time and interest, the comments section is a good way to get into respectful dialoguing on a messy topic where we can't simply say "AHA: this is the capital-T TRUTH, and we are DONE."

And that's one of the things I appreciate the most about this resource. It is unashamedly a work in progress, a model that admits that it (and all following models) have and will have imperfections, that we can and will keep trying but that not everything will be accurately described or feel represented by it -- but the trying is the way we keep succeeding. It's not something we succeed at by "finishing up" and putting aside as "done." This is hard. I feel the pull towards the "Engineering Thinking" that the world consists of Problems that are Solved and then are Finished, and you can't Succeed at something until it is Finished -- so this "gender" topic feels like it is constantly within the category of not-success, which means it feels like failure.

My personal "hm, could be improved" notes on Genderbread Person 2.0 are that an individual can feel spread-out on a spectrum (not just confined to a point on it), and that these smears change over time and with context (I perform more masculinity in technical meetings than in family reunions, but I used to perform more masculinity in technical meetings when I was younger). Also, the expression (or "performativity," which is the more academic-sounding theory-word) of each element is independent; one could perform biological sex but not gender identity, and so on. Finally, I agree with comments differentiating sexual from romantic attraction; it's possible to be bisexual (physically attracted to men and women) and homoromantic (romantically/emotionally attracted only to the same gender), or heterosexual and heteroromantic (most people, or at least the "default" setting our society expects), or demisexual and heteroromantic (me, I think; still figuring it out).

However: Genderbread Person == awesome starter resource. It's the sort of thing I could print out and talk about with my parents (conservative Chinese Catholics) over the dinner table with the awkwardness mitigated somewhat by the cuteness of the -- I mean, look at it! Awwww. (And this is my strategy as well: I tackle complex research topics... with cartoons! Without, I hope, pretending that the "real" picture is as complex as the cartoon -- the cartoon is the simple entry-level door into a complicated conversation.)

If you'd like a primer on some of the terms in the Genderbread Person diagram, the APA (American Psychological Association) has good short (Sexual Orientation, Transgender, and Intersex topics. They're not perfect, but hey; they're complex topics discussed in 6 pages, so give 'em a break. They do take the "scientific" voice of "neutral" authority -- by this I mean they say things like "there is no scientific support for..." (as if science were the Legitimizing Force of Truthiness). It's not a criticism of the choice of voicing, by the way -- just an observation that this was the voice that was (likely deliberately) chosen. Sometimes we use the power of Authority to open up a space so people can consider possibilities within it without being buffetted by (quite as many) stormy winds in the meantime.

And in the intersectionality space, the APA Transgender materials sound a lot like arguments I've heard in Disability Land. Is being transgender a mental disorder? "Some contend that the diagnosis inappropriately pathologizes gender noncongruence and should be eliminated," says the APA. "Others argue that it is essential to retain the diagnosis to ensure access to care." Is deafness a disability? If not, how would we ask for resources for things like ASL interpreters?

A lot of times it's easier to just not ask, not rock the boat. So thanks, Genderbread Person and things like that, which do a little bit of gentle boat-nudging in a playful, so-cute-it-makes-you-seem-mean-to-criticize-it-nonconstructively sort of way.

References (for Alice, my professor, who is reading this as a homework assignment):

Killermann, Sam. “The Genderbread Person V2.0.” It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, March 2012. http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/03/the-genderbread-person-v2-0/.

American Psychological Association. (2008). Answers to your questions: For a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality. Washington, DC: Author. [Retrieved from www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/sorientation.pdf.]

American Psychological Association. (2011). Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression. Washington, DC: Author. [Retrieved from www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/transgender.pdf.]

American Psychological Association. (2006). Answers to Your Questions About Individuals with Intersex Conditions. Washington, DC: Author. [Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/intersex.pdf.]