|Photo by Garmin Bao | Unsplash|
From 12-16 April 2021, La Trobe University is celebrating PRIDE week.
PRIDE Week is a fantastic opportunity to show support for our sex, gender, and sexuality diverse community members.
La Trobe University is fortunate to have researchers undertaking innovative LGBTIQA+ scholarship. This week the RED Alert blog will be sharing posts focused on the experiences of our diverse LGBTIQA+ researchers and profile some of the fantastic LGBTIQA+ research that our scholars are contributing to.
Our next post in this series is written by Roz Bellamy, a graduate researcher in the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.
Follow #LTUPRIDE2021 if you are participating online!
I started my PhD at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) at La Trobe in early 2018, drawn to their work around the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people, and other sexually and gender diverse people (LGBTQIA+). I am queer and non-binary and I had been working as a secondary school English teacher. Schools aren’t always the best settings for being out and proud. Being visibly queer had meant students came to me with questions but it had also led to me experiencing queerphobic sentiments.
During my time as a teacher, I had observed many students struggling to connect to the curriculum or to the school environment. Some students didn’t connect to the very white, very straight texts on the school’s text list. One student wanted to be a make-up artist and found school pointless. Another student told me that sex education was awkward and uncomfortable since it was taught by her straight male P.E. teacher. A Pacific Islander student told me she had never encountered anything at high school that connected to her culture, apart from lunchtimes spent with her friends.
I often encountered students with mental and physical health challenges and wanted to help but didn’t always have the resources or capacity to do so. Also, it wasn’t necessarily my place. I referred students to the appropriate counsellors or services, but couldn’t help wondering if there was something more I could do. As a writer and passionate book devourer, I wanted to make it possible for all students to have the experience of enjoying writing and reading. This meant, occasionally, veering away from the curriculum and the set text list.
Being a classroom teacher left me with some big, interdisciplinary questions relating to education, sociology, creative writing, cultural studies and health promotion. One of these was: What needs to change to ensure that marginalised students have positive experiences at school? I didn’t want to limit my research to one faculty or discipline. ARCSHS turned out to be an ideal place to work on exploratory research and search for answers.
As I moved away from teaching, I thought about the ways that life writing (autobiographical writing) offers me important tools. Writing memoir and personal essays helps me make sense of my life experiences and understand myself better. When life gives me lemons, I make lemonade from the circumstances by writing pieces that help me process what is going on.
I wondered if life writing might offer the same for other people. My previous experience had suggested that there isn’t usually much autobiographical writing done in secondary schools.
I worked with my supervisors to design an empirical research study that would let me explore what engaging in life writing might look like for other people and what it might mean to them. We discussed the different communities that could benefit from participating in my research study, which ultimately involved attending a life writing workshop and submitting narratives, and I decided I wanted to work with young LGBTQIA+ people.
This was partly in response to knowing that there was no national or state-based program in schools to promote inclusion of LGBTQIA+ students anymore. It was knowing, from my own school experiences at a religious private school, what it felt like not to be represented in the class texts and not to feel safe writing about my sexuality or gender within institutional settings. It was wanting to make writing safe so that young LGBTQIA+ people felt like they had a space where they could blurt out whatever they wanted, in whatever form they wanted.
Now, in the final year of my PhD, I look back at the last three years with fondness and appreciation, despite my stress levels. ARCSHS, and La Trobe broadly, have been safe spaces for me as a queer researcher. Just as I wanted to offer safety, resources and space for complexity around identity and making sense of experiences to my participants, LTU has offered this to me as a graduate researcher. It is where I have found community with other researchers – from other HDR students, supervisors, my committee, academic staff, the Graduate Researcher Team, the Graduate Research School, the Union (LTSU and NTEU), in online spaces (e.g. the Facebook group for LTU Gender, Sexuality and Diversity students) and in the library (shout out to Clare O’Hanlon – librarian extraordinaire in all areas but especially in this area).
Back when I was a student – at school and other universities – I had no idea that I would one day be able to integrate my own identity into my academic pursuits so fully. I thought I would always have to keep aspects of myself hidden or compartmentalised, separate to my studies. I know that isn’t possible in all fields. Regardless, I hope that this Pride Week offers you a sense of solidarity, pride and celebration, and that it reminds all of us that support is there if we need it.
Archer Magazine. Their writing has appeared in the Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, SBS, Huffington Post, the Big Issue, Overland, and Growing Up Queer in Australia (Black Inc.) You can follow their work on Twitter @Bellarozz.