In celebration of Diversity Week at Quinnipiac, associate professor of psychology William Jellison discussed and explained the many misconceptions surrounding the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, as well as its history of drag.
“I think knowing about gay and lesbian history and gay and lesbian culture is important,” Jellison said. “History courses tend to emphasize mainstream topics. Subcultures within the U.S. tend not to get all the emphasis. Through presentations like this, students can learn history from different perspectives.”
There is a lot of terminology used in the LGBT community that many may not understand, Jellison explained. For example, gender and sex don’t have the same meaning, but are separate from one another. Gender is what someone identifies themselves as, whether that is male or female. This may or may not differ from their sex, which refers to the biological body they were born into. While one may identify themselves as male, they could have the sex organs of a female.
Jellison also discussed the differences between gender expression and gender identity. Gender expression, he explained, is how someone chooses to express their gender characteristics. For example, a man might identify as male, but sometimes his gender expression might be more female in that he is nurturing or flamboyant.
In the past, gender expression and sexual orientation were very closely related, and there were the stereotypical “butch” and “femme” roles in every relationship. In the 1930s and ‘40s, people couldn’t mention being gay without being ostracized or sent away to a mental hospital to be “cured,” Jellison said. As a result, one member of a gay couple would dress in drag so they could go out in public as a straight couple. This is where some people’s idea of drag queens came from.
However, in reality, a drag queen is usually a heterosexual male who gains sexual pleasure from wearing women’s clothing, also known as a “transvestite.” But this is more of a derogatory term. Transvestite, transsexual and transgender often get confused, Jellison said. A transsexual is an outdated term that is used to refer to someone who has had sex reassignment surgery, while a transgender is an umbrella term that could refer to anyone who is simply dressing like the opposite gender, to someone who has had surgery to change his or her sex.
There is often a misconception that transgenders are the same as drag queens, Jellison added. This is not the case. Drag is more of a performance or art. These performers, many times, dress in drag for fun, not because they are facing issues with their identity. Men have dressed as women since the age of Shakespeare when the church forbade the appearance of female actors, but accepted men and boys disguised as them Even in today’s movies, there are actors cross dressing for the purpose of a performance. For example, “White Chicks” or “Hairspray.” These movies portray heterosexual actors performing in drag.
“I learned what the actual definition of drag was,” freshman Rebecca Mortensen said. “I knew it was involved with cross dressing but I never knew the performance aspect of it.”
Jellison also discussed the issue of pronouns in the LGBT community. When someone is performing, they tend to use the pronoun of the sex they are trying to achieve. Pronouns appear to be a big issue in the transgender community. Anyone struggling with gender identity usually wants to be addressed using the pronoun that they identify as. It is important to be aware of this issue, Jellison said.
As our society becomes more diverse and the LGBT community widely accepted, it’s important to be aware of these things, Jellison added.
“It was really interesting because although I do a little drag, I don’t really know the history of it,” senior and resident assistant, Liz Pinzon, said. “As an R.A., I was able to expose a few of my residents to this different culture.”