Each person grows up learning from his or her environment and experiences, and therefore, the place and time in which they live are essential to their understanding of the world. Everything we learn is affected by the context in which we live. I grew up in a fairly small, very liberal, college town in upstate New York and am constantly reminded of how my upbringing in that particular place has shaped what I know and the way I see things. I then moved to Bloomington, IN for college, still small college town, not quite as liberal as Ithaca, NY but much more so than most of Indiana. I have grown up around many middle to upper-middle class educated people with quite similar political and social ideals. In learning about trans and gender variant people from around the world in this course, and in general, I have to keep in mind where I come from and how living where I have and currently do has affected my ability to learn about these people and cultures.
Growing up in Ithaca, with the parents that I have, and going to an alternative community school, I was taught to appreciate and celebrate diversity. I was given opportunities in high school to learn about variance in sexualities and genders through our local Planned Parenthood and now go to a school with a great Gender Studies program, which has enhanced that knowledge and understanding.
My parents have always encouraged me to keep an open mind and supported my studies and interests in sexuality and gender. They have also introduced me to different cultures and taught me the value in learning about and embracing cultural variance. My mother is an archeologist and has taken me to live in various parts of Latin America and always insisted I look outside the box of what I was being taught in my social studies text books. These experiences are all related to where I come from, and affect the way I understand and learn about gender variance across the globe.
Studying here in Bloomington, I have been fortunate to take classes, such as this one, that have given me more information about gender variance in other cultures, and even in our own, than just about anyone else I know has. Although in many ways I have been set up quite well for learning about people different from myself, I have to be aware about my own biases and general social and political understandings when I am trying to understand other cultures and ways of thinking and living. I have realized in this class that as an American I am prone to thinking about concepts in certain ways.
For instance leaving the house and family at a certain age and making it on my own has always been assumed in my future, and the futures of most other people in this country. It is what we consider a normal rite of passage and way of living in society, independent and individualized. Not all other countries and cultures have this norm. Understanding that for some people it is more normal to stay connected and close to your family and continue to help each other’s needs and be responsible for one and another is important for understanding individuals in that society. The way gender variant people live and behave in a society will be closely tied to what is socially normal in their culture.
Living in the United States alone influences the way I will perceive gender variance in other countries, and growing up the way I have in this country adds on to that. Without keeping my own experiences and perspective in mind while trying to understand and learn about others, I will miss the ways in which each individual has different experiences and perspectives and run the risk of generalizing too broadly and misunderstanding the various kinds of people that make up this world.