Growing up in a small town located in southern Indiana, I really wasn’t given the opportunity to experience or question anything outside of hegemony or heteronormative living (not that most people asked in my town would actually know what any of those terms meant, they just follow the philosophy of them). Although my town has a low crime rate and a good school, I felt and still feel suffocated there. The people of my town have a provincial way of looking at the world; many of them have never even ventured outside of the state of Indiana or even to our state capital, Indianapolis. The members of my town are proud of their caucasion, catholic, German heritage and if anyone comes to live there who doesn’t fit any of these criteria, life for them is made extremely difficult. There was only one African American student who attended school with me, and if it weren’t for the fact that he was adopted by a caucasion family, he would never have lived in out town. There is a small hispanic population that is growing, but the racism they face on a daily basis by realtors, store owners, etc is sickening. As far as sexuality goes, kids who identified as homosexual usually didn’t come out until their senior years so that they would only have to suffer a year or so of ridicule instead of a much longer time. Differences aren’t really cherished or discussed by the members of my town; the “undesirable” ones are swept under the rug in hopes to never be heard from again. Thus, my exposure to the differences of others and culture by my teachers, peers, and friends was limited.
Thankfully, I have extremely cool parents who have always taught my little sister and I to embrace differences and explore not only our country and culture, but the country and cultures of others. They always made sure that we traveled around the country on vacations and really discussed the new things that we discovered there. I have studied abroad in Spain and England and both times my parents have been very supportive and have encouraged me to follow my dreams even when their friends in town have advised against it.
Yet, when it comes to discussion about sexuality within American society and other societies across the globe, my parents have remained kind of silent. They both have said to me on a few occasions that they’re tolerant of others’ sexualities and how they choose to express them. However, I often get the sense that my parents are comfortable discussing homosexuality or transsexuality with me because they don’t fully understand them.
Thus, when I came to Bloomington to go to IU, I was so excited at the openness of culture and sexualities that I have found here. For being in the middle of Indiana, a very conservative state, I have found Bloomington very open and accepting. Location in this sense is everything because I have heard other students complaining that they wished that Bloomington was more tolerant at times. I’m not saying that Bloomington couldn’t improve its policies or awareness towards other cultures and other sexualities. However, considered where it’s located, Bloomington is progressive to me. We have the Kinsey Institute that IU sponsors and is proud of and we have a Gender Studies department that many universities lack. I am so excited that I have the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures and their views on sexuality.
In conclusion, I ‘ve used the tools and knowledge I’ve gained through taking Gender Studies courses to have discussions with my parents and friends from my hometown in order to raise awareness to them. For the most part, they’ve been pretty open to hearing what I have to say. Although living in a small, ignorant town isn’t always easy, I know one day I won’t have to live here. Yet, if I can educate even just one person on transsexuality and gender variance, I’ll consider it a victory. I just always remember that I have Bloomington to go back to.