Rory Starkman grew up with the understanding that a person was born male or female, gay or straight.
For a few years, Starkman took on the label “lesbian”, but after reading and learning more about the term “non-binary”, the now 28-year-old said that label made the most sense and identifies as such.
It was language that helped Starkman self-identify.
Language in the LGBTQ2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, 2-spirit) communities is ever-changing and evolving, and it can be difficult to know which terms are to be used and which are outdated.
Starkman believes the best way for everyone to understand the language is by having a conversation about it, and that’s precisely what they plan to do at a conference today.
ShOUT! P.E.I.’s fifth annual Gender Sexuality Awareness (GSA) conference takes place at UPEI on April 21 and will feature a number of presenters and workshops.
“The conference itself is sort of an awareness-building campaign, as well as an educating entity of sorts,” Starkman said. “There’s a lot of linguistic shifting going on.”
The day-long event will feature hands-on workshops on drag make-up and zine-making, presentations and discussion panels around LGBTQ2S+ issues faced by Islanders.
Treena Smith, director of student affairs at UPEI, will also speak on the topic of language.
Smith, who is a part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, said even within the community the issue around terminology and language arises.
“We have to educate even within our own community in terms of what language is appropriate, what language is being used,” she said. “Often times people will look to us to help them navigate the language, and sometimes we don’t know.”
Smith said a lot of the issues around language stem from the fact people are uncomfortable asking questions for fear of offending someone, and rather than engaging, they walk away.
“They don’t know how to approach somebody who may look different, or their gender’s different because they don’t want to offend,” she said.
“In my heart, I don't believe it’s because people are sexist or homophobic or racist. It’s that they just don’t have the language, they don’t know what to say, so they often just don’t say anything.”
Starkman said there’s one way to know how a person self-identifies.
“Ask, don’t assume.”
For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/PEIGSA/.