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“GSA stands for gender-sexuality alliance, but it originally stood for gay-straight alliance,” Axel Mitchell, member of the GSA, shared with the group. “It was changed to be more inclusive to those who identify outside of just gay and straight.”
To kick off the discussion, Zest Director, Natalie Katrenya, gave a heartwarming presentation about the truth of gender identity, discovering yourself, and learning to accept who you are.
Katrenya proceeded to play a video for the group titled “What I Wish I Knew About Being Non-Binary.” The video, starring the cast of the Netflix Original The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, talked about the struggles of having an identity that isn’t commonly known and therefore isn’t commonly accepted. This sparked a discussion about what Katrenya referred to as “gender transcendentalism.”
“We’re looking into the soul, we’re not just looking at people’s exteriors,” Katrenya explained. “It’s when you look at your most important quality. You have to think, what’s your most important quality and why was that quality the first to come to mind?”
Katrenya went on to explain how it is not just about what’s on the outside, it’s also the inside which really defines who you are. Society teaches people to judge the outside and the physical appearance first. As Katrenya describes, the world has gotten very egocentric. The number one concern these days is, “are people looking at me? Do I look good?”
“We’ve all grown to think about ourselves, because everyone thinks about themselves,” Katrenya shared. “It’s really the interactions we have with people and the relationships they make with us that really shape our lives. In short, there’s no wrong way to have a body.”
Society has made everyone think that there are certain standards people need to live up to in order to be labeled as one thing or another, however there is no wrong way to be yourself. There are no rules to how anyone’s life should be lived, and if people live their life in a way that makes them happy, that’s what really matters.
Katrenya continued the conversation by talking about Ellen Degeneres, American talk show icon. Degeneres has been a role model for the LGBT community since coming out to the public in the 90’s.
Her face was on the cover of Time Magazine on April 14th, 1997 with the words “Yep, I’m Gay” in bold on the front. Degeneres was among the first big celebrities to come out to the public and from there on became a big inspiration to people nationwide. The magazine issue was released the same day an episode of her show, self titled Ellen, aired. The episode, titled “The Puppy Episode,” featured Degeneres’ character Ellen Morgan discovering that she was a lesbian and her official coming out.
“She experienced a whole lot of not fun stuff,” Katrenya stated. “She went from a phase of being a teenager where she looked more ‘feminine’ when she first came out and now she’s her comfortable self; short hair, beautiful wife, and wears suits and looks great in them.”
Degeneres’ identity and how she portrayed herself was heavily influenced by her career. How people present themselves to others and the relations people have with others influences how people feel about themselves and how they present themselves, whether they like it or not. People can say, “I don’t care what other people say, you be you!” That is super hard to do, and on a psychological level, almost impossible to do. The best thing to do is be surrounded by good people, people who positively impact personal feelings.
The challenges Degeneres faced did help shape who she is today, which isn’t the most pleasant thing in the world, but those challenges helped her grow more comfortable in her own skin. Without those challenges, the world wouldn’t have the Ellen everyone knows and loves today.
“It’s sad to think about but important to acknowledge,” Katrenya shared. “No country is perfect, a lot of things that are happening shouldn’t be happening. But that’s just the way it is. This Thanksgiving, I am extremely thankful that as a queer individual, I can walk the lands of the country without being thrown off a building, or have rocks thrown at me, or have the fire department cruise up to my house and shoot me with a firehose or something.”
The attitude towards LGBT individuals has changed a lot in the past few decades. Back in the day, being involved in same sex relations could result in being jailed or even worse, killed. According to the video, “What I Wish I Knew About Being Non-Binary”, just in the past three years, acceptance for the LGBT community has gotten so much better. Out of all 197 countries in the world, 27 currently have legalized same sex marriage. That ratio seems small, but it is a huge improvement just looking back at progress from the past decade. It was only just 2015 when all 50 states in the United States legalized same sex marriage under President Barack Obama.
“America is not perfect, but I’m happy that gay marriage is legal, and now there are actual doctors and psychiatrists you can go to to transition, and you can find support groups if you express yourself different than others,” Katrenya said.
Axel Mitchell took a step forward during the meeting to share a story about Degeneres and her impact on the world.
“Everyone loves Ellen. Let’s think about it, in that picture [of her as a teenager] what makes her that much different from us?” Mitchell shared. “Look what she achieved; she found the love of her life, she had a TV show as a gay woman.”
Degeneres did not grow up in the same time as Woodland students, and her journey was very difficult. In her era, being even remotely included in LGBT relationships would have people exiled from society. It wasn’t the “norm” and if people didn’t fit the strict standards of what was normal, then that person was wrong. It was a very close minded system, a system that still exists today in certain parts of the world.
“If Ellen could go on to be famous even under those circumstances, then any one of us could go on to do that. Our standards are better now, so at this point we can achieve anything if we want it bad enough,” Mitchell stated.
In local LGBT news, Woodland’s GSA director Jess Block commented on Connecticut’s recent 10 year anniversary of legalizing same sex marriage on November 13th.
“We were the third state in the union to [legalize same sex marriage] but California backtracked. Later on, a few more states joined and nine of them had state laws before the 2010 Supreme Court decision that legalized it for the country,” Block shared with GSA members.
This discussion led to talking about the acronym LGBT and its evolution. Mitchell shared how he noticed that the acronym has grown from a simple LGBT to LGBTQIA+. The acronym started with just LGBT, but as humanity started to discover the wide spectrum of sexuality, letters were added onto the end. Now, there are so many different sexualities and identities that they put a plus sign on the end to cover the rest.
“It’s so weird, to see that the acronym used to just be LGBT, but now it can go to extents of LGBTQIAP+,” Mitchell said. “Because of how many identities we’ve found and there’s more labels that people can actually feel comfortable using,”
Katrenya ended the meeting with a big toast to the GSA members, saying how grateful she is for the friends she has made through the group and how she hopes that the GSA will only grow larger and stronger until they become an unstoppable force.
Katrenya then got sentimental with the group. “I’ve made some great friends in here, and I am so thankful for each and every one of you that I have met. Even if we have never talked before, I consider you my friend and I will always be here if you need anything,” said Katrenya. “I just want to say thank you all, and have a lovely Thanksgiving. Zest Director Natalie, out.”