Discussing Sexuality and Gender Identity – LGBTQ World Cafe Discussions

IMG_2112So this is the first post of the year and I have a little bit of catching up to do.

A little while ago, I posted about an event I hosted titled “LGBTQ World Cafe” where I invited young LGBTQ people, a few of their straight counter parts and a PFLAG mum to come and discuss their experiences, ideas and opinions on gender and sexuality. I promised to post the results of the discussion here and while it took a little longer than I admittedly thought, I’ve now complied it below. I’ve also included some footage of the discussions to give you a taste of the atmosphere. We were a little awkward at first, but by the end of the night we were high with laughter and truly trusting and respecting each other’s opinions. The participants were just that incredible! Hope you enjoy reading and I hope there are plenty of points below that really encourage you to reflect and consider your own ideas on gender identity and sexuality.

There were three major topic areas we discussed (Sex & Gender, Labels & Identifiers, Homophobia). We began by recording several questions to do with each topic area (recorded on a whiteboard) and then separated into smaller groups to discuss these questions. The majority of the ideas were recorded on butcher’s paper covering the tables and some discussions were recorded on video. This is what came up:

The White Board of questions

The Whiteboard of questions


Our first topic was the subject of Sex and Gender.  The main underlining question was – “How do we define our gender?” “What is a man?” “What is a woman?” In our modern society, where our views on gender and sexuality are changing rapidly and gender roles are beginning to be done away with, how much has sexism and stereotyping contributed to our definitions of gender? As one participant asked, “Is a woman someone who is feminine, looks after the kids, stays at home and is a man masculine…?”

So then is gender based on physicality? We decided the answer was no, as transgendered individuals have a gender identity independent of their physical sex. But then it was asked, “Why does it even matter?” “Why do we care if someone’s gender identity is different from how we expect it?” “Why do we find it difficult to comprehend when people bend the lines of gender or sit in the middle of a gender spectrum?” When in actual fact gender is an identity and it doesn’t necessarily have to correlate to your physical sex, and if it does consider yourself lucky. What we found was that western society has difficulty separating the two. Some Asian cultures have up to five genders, two of which correlate to our definitions, one that correlates to Intersex, and two that we just have no equivalent of. And there are many other cultures that have many other pronouns to use to communicate their gender identity. So why do we only have two?

Snapshot of some ideas recorded on butcher's paper

Snapshot of some of the ideas recorded on butcher’s paper

Another interesting concept that surfaced during the course of the discussion was the double standards of gender, specifically when it came to the acceptance of LGBTQ individuals. During the discussion it was suggested that a small section of homophobic behavior could be attributed to the uncomfortable attitude many heterosexual men feel when asked to consider being sexuality attracted to a member of the same-sex. However, the attitude is changed dramatically when a lesbian couple is presented to them, with most men finding it sexuality arousing. Even heterosexual women find the idea exciting, whereas many are severely uncomfortable with a gay couple. Why is there such an intense separation of the two interactions? Perhaps females, being stereotyped as the more nurturing and tender gender, display physical affection towards each other much more frequently and more easily making the leap into lesbianism not as socially unacceptable as male homosexual behaviour (as men are often taught against the sharing of tender physical contact).

What I find the most interesting concept that arose during the discussion was this question: To what extent has sexism contributed to stereotypical views of gender and their roles in society? In a modern progressive society where it is finally becoming acceptable to change the historic expectations of the behaviors of men and women, especially in the light of women’s suffrage, perhaps much of the opposition to transgenderism and homosexuality is the stubborn attempt to stay in possession of what little residue is left of sexist ideals. This would certainly explain the intense homophobia many masculine women, feminine men and transgendered individuals encounter on a daily basis regardless of their sexuality. Ancient traditions such as marriage and sex are no longer solely dedicated to procreation and the survival of a bloodline. Therefore such strict homophobic ideals of heterosexual only relationships are almost irrelevant in today’s society. Yet such traditionalist views are slowly becoming a minority with education and exposure of the fluid and flexible nature of gender, sexuality and behaviour. As one participant said, “It is important to remember that we are on the cusp of a society in change, we’re at the point in history where the gender roles have finally been broken and different sexuality is finally being brought to light. In the future such ideals will be broken and everyone will accept that people love people, and all people are different and unique in their identities.”


Another link in the key chain of ideas was the treatment of labels and identifiers.

IMG_2102The question was asked, why is it necessary to “come out”? “Why is the default setting heterosexual?” Who initiates these assumptions? Is it parents? Do parents subconsciously project a vision of what they hope their child will one day be, unintentionally including the kind of person they will one day marry in the process? Could it be movies and TV? Children pick up on these signals. Is it books, is it music, is it games, is it their school, their teachers, their friends, their neighbors, strangers? But we already know, it’s all of these. And these subliminal messages form a restrictive mental formula on being heterosexual. Which is great if you are heterosexual, but if you’re not this formula programmed into us from a young age has to be changed. And for some, it’s not easy. As annoying as it is we don’t receive a rainbow manual in the mail.

On this topic of labels and identifiers the World Café panelists found that for some, labels provide a kind of stability, a definitive way of knowing where people belong. But labels can be restricting. They often come with assumptions about your beliefs, your ideas, your opinions, your experiences, your behavior, your lifestyle, your character, your personality…. That can create prejudices even within the LGBTQ community against certain labels. And most of the time these assumptions are incorrect.

Throughout the blog I’ve been using the term LGBTQ (which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer). This is to be inclusive to all the labels and identifiers in the community. And it is the correct acronym to use. But as was pointed out at the World Café, the acronym is constantly being added to, gaining more and more letters. And I think it’s great that we are trying to be inclusive and recognize these different identities. But you have to admit; it’s starting to become a bit of a mouthful. The question was, will we cover every possible nuance and combination there is, until eventually we are reciting the entire alphabet? Perhaps what we need is to redefine our definitions of sexuality and gender to recognize all the possibilities (including heterosexuality) and the spectrum that is it. And when you really think, the more we label ourselves the more we segregate ourselves from each other and the more the LGBTQ community continues to be “other”.

Labels often come with assumptions about your beliefs, your ideas, your opinions, your experiences, your behavior, your lifestyle, your character, your personality…. And sometimes it is the misuse and disrespect for labels that promotes “society backlash”. For example, many (including those inside the LGBTQ community and outside) consider bisexuality “invalid”, saying that it does not exist and those who identify as such are confused and need to “choose”. There are many other misconceptions and presumptions when it comes to this label and this concerning “society backlash” was suggested to be caused by the misuse of the label as many lesbian and gay individuals in the process of coming out reveal themselves to be bisexual first as a way to test the waters. Not only that, but also many young girls identify as bisexual to attract men, as many men find the idea of a lesbian couple arousing. Such misuse prompts disrespect and prejudice against those who are genuinely attracted to both genders; hence many who are bisexual choose not to label themselves as so.

This prompted another question for those at the World Café, to what extent are labels chosen for the purpose of communicating and are these labels chosen by society? Or what the individual choses to label themselves? As it was said during the discussion, “Labels…it works, and I’m happy using a label but it shouldn’t be me.”


The last idea that joins the chain is of course homophobia. Not content with just stating that it exists, the participants dived in without any prompting and proceeded to look the lion in the mouth and find out why his teeth were so sharp by uncovering the various reasons behind homophobic behaviour.

Poster advertising the LGBTQ World Cafe event

Original poster advertising the LGBTQ World Cafe event

The question that was the most perplexing to everyone during the event was why coming out changes anything? If the individual has always had the sexuality/gender identity they just came out as having, why do some people suddenly change their opinion or attitude towards the individual once they know? Why does sexuality/gender identity matter so much?

While the extent of homophobia is increasingly becoming less present, it’s very existence presents LGBTQ individuals with the potential for an unpleasant and even dangerous encounter. It is commonly agreed that a broader picture of the possibilities of sexuality and gender identity is required to educate society of the normality of LGBTQ individuals. This means that openness, visibility and discussion are the most effective forms of education. However, a fear of the possibility of rejection and homophobic behavior makes this task difficult to accomplish. Many LGBTQ individuals wish to be open and visible with their identity but don’t want to “shoot themselves in the foot” (as it was said by a participant) by outing themselves in an unaccepting environment. Yet more concerning, is the knowledge that this issue may continue for the rest of an individual’s lifetime (as LGBTQ individuals are constantly having to “out” themselves to individuals) unless homophobia is eradicated.

Below is some footage of the final discussions for the night. We started a little awkward but as you can see, we soon were laughing hysterically. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Thanks for reading! Please comment and add your opinion to the discussion. Let me know what you think!

If you support this project I’d really appreciate it if you would like its page on Facebook. Like it here: https://www.facebook.com/becausewearediverse

A thesis documenting the project’s findings is available for reading so email me at becausewearediverse@gmail.com if you would like to give it a read!

Check out the interview with Bunny Bennett from Steam Powered Giraffe! https://becausewearediverse.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/lgbtq-interview-with-bunny-from-steam-powered-giraffe/

Read Joseph Harwood’s interview here! https://becausewearediverse.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/a-chat-with-joseph-harwood-3/


LGBTQ World Cafe Recap

poster_from_postermywall4It’s been a few weeks since I hosted the LGBTQ World Cafe where I invited young LGBTQ people to come and discuss their experiences while we had some food and dinner. It was an extremely fun night and everyone was thoughtful, open and respectful. It started off a little awkward but by the end we were all chatting openly and laughing hysterically. We all left the event high on laughter and feeling pretty positive about the way things went.

We started the night with an ice breaker game to get us all off on the right foot while we waited for a few more people to arrive. When everyone was present and we were all feeling a little more comfortable with each other, I filled everyone in on what my project is about and what I hoped to gain from the event. Then we got stuck into dinner. Sausage rolls, sushi, salad, spinach & feta rolls, bread, dips and other delicious nibbles. After dinner, we began brainstorming topics to discuss later in smaller groups. The topics were organised into three main groups containing smaller prompting questions. It was then time to discuss the topics. We formed small groups of three and began to discuss the topics while writing our ideas on butcher’s paper. We switched groups, each time a different group of people and a different topic. To finish, we gathered together again to share the most interesting ideas and issues that arose and all gave a sentence or two about what struck us personally.

Watch this space as I’ll be posting the main points of the discussions soon!

Everyone blah blah

Everyone in discussion. They were so thoughtful, open and respectful!

Thank you to Cheryl Nekvapil for helping me organise everything and Jane Watson for being such an amazing supervisor and friend.

Thank you to Stars Of Hope for their support and sponsorship for this event. Check out their website: http://starsofhope.com.au/

A Chat With Joseph Harwood

Makeup Artist and Model, Joseph Harwood

Makeup Artist, Model and YouTuber: Joseph Harwood

Another interview! I talked with Joseph Harwood on his experiences with LGBTQ issues.

Joseph Harwood is an extraordinary makeup artist and former androgynous model based in the UK. His clever male to female makeup transformations have won him competitions including Simon Cowell’s You Generation competition to find the best makeup artist in the world! A successful YouTuber with plenty of tutorials and advice videos, he has a large following of over 35, 000 subscribers to his channel. This year Joseph relaunched the YouTube channel Perfect Androgyny, where androgynous personalities discuss their views and opinions. It has already reached over 10,000 subscribers.



How do you define yourself in gender, sexuality and appearance? (Could you please define androgyny for our audience here too.)

Well let’s start with gender. I really believe there are 3 components to this and a simple and erudite way of calculating it is by combining the identity of our mind, body and soul. I think humans are very spiritual beings, if it’s energy or something else, whatever your personal belief system is I think we have an energy core which is indefinite. As an adult I’ve been surrounded by trans people, drag queens, androgyny, gender benders… every non-cis being on the gender spectrum you can possibly attribute, yet for me, I don’t find much familiarity. There’s this concept that’s as old as dust that’s even present now within many indigenous cultures and that’s the idea that you can be ‘two spirited.’ The idea that your essence is actually two souls of both genders, or one soul which is a combination of the two, whatever it is. This is something that’s been around before gender reassignment, without any modern organized religions dictating gender norms or exposure to modern day trans ideas, these people have historically shown attributes or both genders either in their anatomy or their behavior within their culture. For me that’s the only thing I’ve been able to identify as, I grew up organically as someone who looked ambiguous, who displayed qualities of both genders, yet I wasn’t exposed to the idea that I was trans or let anyone dictate to me what gender I was or should be, I just accepted that my ‘soul’ or essence consisted of both male and female energy and I embrace it. If we look at the body we’re born as, I’m completely male, yet I have very ambiguous qualities. I don’t have an adams apple or brow ridging, my features aren’t naturally very masculine in proportion, yet I’m 6’2 and I’m quite well built. The last component for me is our minds and I genuinely believe this is the most malleable factor when it comes to gender, because we subconsciously decide what gender we are. If I was born in a different upbringing where I was surrounded by stringent transphobic culture, or even the opposite where someone in support would suggest that I could be trans, I know I would have a very different perspective. I honestly believe our minds are a product of what we’re taught. So taking all three attributes in to consideration I consider my gender to be male. My soul is two spirited, my body is male, my mind is neither, and for that reason I identify as a male. If my soul was female and my body was male, then I’d maybe consider adopting with gender reassignment but I’m simply not, I don’t see any benefit of changing physically.

Sexuality is easy, I’m very fluid and I’m attracted to all people. My appearance is just a reflection of my ideas at that moment, I spent my whole childhood sketching and painting cultures and now I just translate that into my image. It’s like an artform, I don’t take it that seriously.

Androgyny is just a word that means attributes of both genders, we’re all somewhere on that spectrum, we’re all androgynous.

Have you always known your sexuality or was it a later realisation?

I remember coming home from school when I was in reception, which is like kindergarten in England, and announcing that I’d found my husband. I was actually talking about a girl lol, but at the end of the day I was always open to either.

You seem quite sure of yourself in your videos, did you ever give yourself a hard time?

In the videos I’ve done I’m totally a characateur of myself, like Joseph Harwood is a fictional character Joe came up with, sketching concepts as a kid. Whether it was my work as a model, or building my business, I have a professional persona that I wear. I don’t think anyone should take themselves that seriously, I would never be so stupid as to put my entire self out there, it would be too invasive. I’ve dealt with control issues and eating disorders throughout my whole life and I’m very self critical, but I’m just a regular person, I have my insecurities. I think when we focus too much on the bad or the good we lose sight of what’s actually going on so I don’t take it that seriously, but I certainly think my perfectionist attitude fuels the nature of what I do. I wouldn’t be working in makeup had I not been insecure about my appearance.

How was coming out to your parents and friends? 

I honestly didn’t come out to anyone, I never saw why I should have to. My cis, heterosexual sister didn’t so why should I? We’re both on the paths we’re meant to walk and I’ve always been open about who I am. I posted a video recently about a drunk conversation I had with my mum, but there was no moment where I discovered myself and said wow guys, I’m into men and I look like a girl so I wanna wear more ambiguous clothing. I’ve always looked like this and I’ve always been the person I am. My parents are very strange creatures themselves so we all get on with it haha!
Joseph Harwood

Have there been any LGBT people you went to for advice on LGBT related matters, e.g. Other YouTubers/books/friends/family?

This is a difficult one because I’ve always been very outside of the umbrella until really, very recently. I was not brought up around anyone gay or had any gay friends through school, I never frequented the gay scene or had any experience with people of the trans community, I was very organic in my growth. Being a kid born in the 90s I grew up with MySpace and my first encounter with anyone remotely close to what I was, happened through a computer screen, and although I was greeted with a lot of positive support and my horizons opened, the people who I saw the most similarities with were hostile and very volatile towards me. It in truth struck the fear of god into me when it came to interacting with other people who looked androgynous or venture too far into the gay scene. I certainly became aware, and even in some cases in awe of many of the androgynous creatives I stumbled on but I had no direct interaction with them until I became around 19? I had a moment of realization and went through a slight metamorphosis when my family home fell down, my parents parted company and we had two years of tumultuous renovation that honestly felt like a battle field. But in that time I really researched and invested time into finding out all I could about LGBTQ issues, I plucked up the courage to reach out to many of the people that had inspired me and looked into the history. That introduced me to all the references I needed to know about, so I guess that was my late education. In regards to YouTube or other social media I think I’ve been incredibly lucky in the last two years, having many of the people I’ve looked up to show interest or support in my creativity.

How have your experiences been with hosting the channel? What type of feedback have you received from viewers and how have you influenced them?

I think the story of me on YouTube is quite well known by now, I was the ghost creative behind other YouTube projects all the way back til 2007 so I’ve always loved the interaction and the way an idea can be instantly seen all over the world. The negative for me was that moving from the beauty and fashion industry into the YouTube genre, you are immediately placed among 99% of bloggers who have never worked in that industry and unless you have an inordinate amount of online infamy you aren’t taken seriously. That for me was the main point of contention, I definitely felt that at the start I lost a lot of respect from people I had worked with either as a model or a makeup artist because I was on YouTube. I think since I won Simon Cowell and Pixiwoos search for the next makeup talent it really did affirm to people that my talent as an artist is in the highest tier and I’m very proud of where I’ve come to. Personal experiences aside, I have loved meeting all the amazing people I’ve worked with and alongside on Perfect Androgyny, I have certainly built life long friendships. I spoke recently in a blog about homosexuality and the laws across the world, we forget how difficult it is in other places. Not only last week an amazing guy from my audience ran into me at a club event and expressed emotionally how our channels had inspired him and helped him, even though in his country it was illegal to be homosexual. That really negates all the negative aspects I have to deal with, because we can reach people everywhere.

Do you like to be a role model for your viewers?

Absolutely not, I find this so bizarre. I just think it’s totally insane, I cook vegan food for my family and argue with my little sister about perfume. I drink too much rum and say too much. I still get insecure standing in front of a camera or preparing for a big makeup shoot. I’m just a regular person, I can be an idiot at times… like all I do is beat my mug every now and again and have fallen on my feet. I don’t feel like I’ve even started yet. I’m currently working on music and I’ve been working so hard to develop the ideas and what I wanna say that like I think, once that’s out in the open I might take the title a little more. Right now it’s just crazy to me.

As you have both energies of female and male, how have your experiences been with dating?

Wow haha, this is a tricky one. This has really changed for me in the last two years I think. I had my hair cut into a Bowie mullet when I was 16 for a shoot and it was really my signature look growing up. I was this skinny little androgynous punky looking vampire with shocking blue eyes and red hair. I dated a mixture of guys of girls and it was easy going and I was more interested. I think it changed slightly when I first started growing my hair out, I lost all the appeal to straight girls and gay guys because I looked female to them and the majority would settle for the stereotype. I definitely attract a lot of people, but I’m a bit of diva nowadays and when I date, I wanna be with people who offer what I can, I think I’m a lot more mature than my age group so it’s a little bit like sieving gold hahaha… The qualities I’m attracted to are height, confidence and intelligence, whatever the gender.
1900483035-Nose Contour (2)

Have you had any strong experiences with homophobia? (Here I’m referring to both discrimination based on sexuality and based on appearance.)

I think everyone in the world has experienced some kind of stupidity in their life, from a rude person on the bus or at work, or at school. everyone’s met an idiot. I’ve never put this down to homophobia or transphobia, however I guess the more distracting you appear to the mundane the more components there are to critique if you are said idiot. At school I had slight growing pains but more than less I’ve been pretty lucky.

How do you deal with it?

I think that the main reason I’ve flown over a lot of homophobia is because my mum said to me when I was starting to express myself in my image, if you’re going to stand out for the way you look make it look expensive. I think this is why drag queens or rock stars that typically look androgynous get away with a lot, people really get distracted with the glitter that they forget their fears. I also don’t take much seriously. I just think of the way we look as armor and warpaint, once you’ve created your confidence people will embrace you.

Where do you think homophobia stems from?

Fear of the unknown. It turns people feral.

Have you encountered any prejudice within the LGBTQ community?

I would say most of the negative backlash I’ve experienced has come from other LGBTQ people, especially those who are either androgynous or trans who are just catty. The first thing that I noticed integrating into any kind of gay scene is that people assume firstly that you are transsexual or that you are a drag queen, and won’t accept your male name. It’s incredibly tedious but I know a lot of gay people project their insecurities because we have far more to deal with than a straight counterpart, so I accept it and I try and know better haha. I do it sometimes myself, I have to catch myself being defensive and I try and grow to be a better person.

Subscribe to Joseph’s YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/jhmemoires?feature=watch

Check Out Joseph’s Website: http://www.josephharwood.com/


LGBTQ Interview with Bunny from Steam Powered Giraffe!

Here it is! The interview you’ve all been waiting for!!

Bunny Bennett was kind enough to agree to an interview about being transgendered. Bunny plays the character of Rabbit in the musical pantomime band Steam Powered Giraffe. I was joined by my fabulous friend Libby.

I’ll be using this interview in my personal project to make people aware of the different experiences and identities people can have. I’ll be posting more interview soon so stay tuned! Find out more about the project here: https://becausewearediverse.wordpress.com/the-project/

Don’t forget to check out the fabulous band Steam Powered Giraffe!

Steam Powered Giraffe Website: http://www.steampoweredgiraffe.com/
SPG YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/SpineRaptor

Rabbit, Hatchworth and The Spine from Steam Powered Giraffe

Rabbit, Hatchworth and The Spine from Steam Powered Giraffe

Follow my friend Libby on Tumblr: http://towerofpimps.tumblr.com/

Follow me on Tumblr for updates: http://becausewearediverse.tumblr.com/

Hope you enjoyed watching the interview! xx