Language: Empowerment and Oppression

I’ve been looking closely at myself recently because we spent so much time as a group assessing our individual strengths, trying to be as effective as I can be in my personal life and through my activism. Language has always been a powerful tool for me to do this, it has the ability to empower me in my achievements but at times I’ve felt trapped by it. When I was young, I was always expected to be an extrovert. I was a particularly troublesome child, breaking several household appliances before I made it out of elementary school. I was labelled as a social butterfly until I entered middle school where we voted on who fit which role the best. I won the title of Class Clown all three years. In group projects, public speaking, and competition, I was never the shy one so being called an extrovert seemed to fit my bubbly personality.

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At first it didn’t bother me; I had always associated introversion with quiet, ill-adjusted people who had no social competency. It took me a long time, until after I came to college, to realize how much the word extrovert kept me from focusing on my greatest skills. Being seen as an extrovert outshone many of my early achievements. I was accepted into the gifted and accelerated program when I was in the fourth grade, I competed in the State Science Fair twice, and, with almost no effort, had a fairly impressive GPA in high school. I didn’t want to accept myself as an introvert but once I did I was able to flourish in areas that accentuated my strengths. I could focus on the more philosophical side of myself and indulge in as much reading as my busy schedule allows me without having the guilt of feeling anti-social. The classes I picked were fitting my style of learning so not only was I getting the most out of each lecture intellectually, my grades skyrocketed!

There is another way in which claiming an identity can be both terrifying but necessary in my life. For several years I thought there were only two sexual orientations; gay and straight. I certainly wasn’t straight, but I wasn’t about to give up on boys anytime soon. Then I found this magical beacon of the English language called bisexuality. Suddenly I was allowed to claim a sexual orientation and feel as though I wasn’t just a fluke or a mixed up kid. I could say to people ‘this is a real thing’ and ‘other people are like this too!’ Confidence hit me like a shock wave and suddenly I had a place to stand. I even got my own pride flag and a letter in the LGBTQ community. For a time, this seemed perfect but, as Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies has shown me, it’s never that simple. Bisexuality implies sexual attraction to men and women, leaving no room for anyone else. The same word that liberated me marginalized others. I feel as though I can’t claim pansexuality, being ‘gender-blind’, because gender performance has a lot to do with my attraction to others. Pansexuality seems too broad to fit me, like an uncomfortably large coat. After much more of that introvert thinking of mine I decided to stay with the label that brought me so much peace of mind before; I am a bisexual. I’m attracted to men, women, trans*-identified, and those in which gender doesn’t describe. I’m Dori and in the end if I can be satisfied with that I can rest easy.

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As liberating as it is to find a proper term to identify with, it will not always withhold the knowledge we gain or the changes we experience. It’s important to remember that we give definitions to our own identities; they don’t give definition to us. I have a community I belong to; there are other bisexuals out there ready and able to understand my plight. I just must keep in mind that what I experience is unique to myself and even within in this group I have something new to bring. We must remember the power behind language, what it can provide for each other through words; a place to feel content in our own hearts, some much needed-comfort, or perhaps a dramatic lecture on how Super Bowl commercials perpetuate sexism. It carries the strength to change our ideologies, which we all know has the strength to change our word.

Dori Kehl is a junior Psychology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies double-major. She is in her first year in WILL.

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