This is my first go at actual, real university type-learning. You could argue that distance education, even done with great tutors, is university based learning but I am talking about your bum in the seat of an actual campus. UBC was a good place to start; it’s tucked away on a piece of land that juts into the Pacific. Not only does it boast killer views, it is also home to Canada’s most famous nude beach. Wreck beach is a thigh-cramping walk down a long flight of stairs to a gorgeous sweep of beach, littered with cedar logs rolled up from the ocean. Made slightly less gorgeous (in my jaded opinion) by the large number of brown and leathery men who frequent the beach, proudly airing what nature gave them. Some of them sell hot dogs (really), some sell sarongs, but most just lie, splash, play ball and generally cavort. There are a few women, it’s true, but they are easily overlooked as the wind-swept and sea-salty men strut and display. My first look at Wreck beach happened the same week we started to discuss feminism in class. Our professor talked about feminism without apology, and the oppression of women like it was an established fact. This might sound odd, but I don’t think I have ever been in a room where that has happened. There is usually some sort of outcry, and the usual need to establish that, yes, we know #notallmen and yes, men can be victims of domestic violence and, yes, harassment really does happen even if you haven’t seen it. It was unbelievably refreshing – and don’t get me started on heteronormativity! Wreck beach became a weird kind of analogy to my regular life. Women are in there, but we’re often tucked away to the side. We might be talking, but sometimes it’s hard to hear over the ubiquitous noise of male concerns and the startling sight of all those swinging dicks. The classroom was the anti-beach. The rules were different. It was (and is) incredibly exciting.
Questioning, shaking off established ideas, shifting viewpoints can be really uncomfortable. I have spent a lot of time fretting, pondering and downright panicking. Did I pick the right research idea? I’ve gone from a therapist/educator/radiation therapy leader to a gay/lesbian/queer (nomenclature shifts according to my mood) therapist/educator/radiation therapy leader. I spend a lot of time worrying about that. LGBTQ people spend their lives in a state of what’s been called double consciousness (as do other stigmatised groups). The term was coined by W.E.B Du Bois in the context of black lives. We worry, are we being too gay? Should we say “wife” – or could we be accused of “flaunting”? We look at the world simultaneously as a minority and as the dominant majority, consciously or subconsciously adjusting our behaviour to fit the situation. We often don’t even notice that we’re doing it. Suddenly talking about my sexual orientation (in the context of my research, the gaps I see at work, the policy paper I am writing) feels just as uncomfortable as I imagine I would be if I stripped down and joined the guys on Wreck Beach. But uncomfortable in a “I think this is going to turn out really well in the end” kind of way rather than a “I have burns on a part of my body that should never have seen the sun” kind of way. If you know what I mean.