E. Winter Tashlin

Strange World [PTAS]

Filed By E. Winter Tashlin | March 07, 2015 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: bubbles, Five College Queer Gender & Sexuality Conference, future, gayborhood, Hampshire College, Massachusetts, oppression, Pioneer Valley, PTAS, transitioning

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I'll be at Hampshire College this weekend, teaching at the Five College Queer Gender & Sexuality Conference. Hampshire lies in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, an area that has long been associated with liberalism, academia, and queer people, with one of the highest percentages of LGBTQ residents of any geographic area in the USA.

While the area does have its faults, it is also a bubble, where for LGBTQ people the harsher realities of life in the outside world can be tempered. I spent, what have been thus far, some of the best years of my life there.

These kinds of bubbles are important. They create space for us to explore our identities and figure out who we are as we move through the world. They help create community, and give us the chance to meet and share our lives with other people. And of course, there is safety in numbers. In this way, the Valley is a semi-rural version of a big city gayborhood, or even a small town's solitary gay bar.

But there is a kind of danger to be found in bubbles as well.

It is easy to forget that however much we may wish otherwise, the rest of the world doesn't play by the rules we've created for ourselves in the places we call our own. It isn't possible, or necessarily desirable, for everyone to live solely in those spaces, and for many of us, the intolerance, and even simple unfamiliarity, of the outside world can be a rude culture shock.

One of the workshops I'm teaching is specifically about strategies for making the transition out of a culturally safe area and into the broader world, with its lack of understanding and, at times, outright hostility towards LGBTQ people. It's a class I'm conflicted about teaching.

The usefulness and importance of such a class is clear, but if I'm not careful I could come across as saying that the world in which these students have grown into adults is a lie - which isn't fair or true. Rather, they have been presented with a glimpse into what the outside world could come to look like when it comes to LGBTQ acceptance, but only if they are willing to go and make it happen.

If you've made it this far, you might be wondering what the hell all this has to do with today's photograph. My husband thinks that the photo looks like the surface of a distant planet, while my mother thinks it looks like rolling sand dunes. I live in Maine, so it is of course neither, instead it's snow - the one thing that my state has in abundance right now.

But we see in it what we want to see. It is a landscape made unfamiliar and shaped by the power of our imagination and our desires. I'll be visiting just such a place this weekend.

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