“My name is Lola Lorber, I’m a freshman, and my preferred gender pronouns are she, her, and hers.”
This is how we introduce ourselves on the first few days of classes at Oberlin College. To some it may sound weird, funny, or redundant; but at Oberlin, it is the norm.
I am proud to say I believe in sex positivity and freedom of speech. I’m a vegan, and I like to laugh. I’ve recently gotten into stand-up comedy because I like being able to say things into a microphone and make myself loud and heard. I am proud to make people laugh. I am proud to be an LREI alum (Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School).
The first elective course I ever took in high school was a memoir writing class my junior year. In this class, I discovered my voice, my identity, and my love for telling stories. In the fall of 2007, we were an intimate class of ten students consisting of a mix of juniors and seniors, and one teacher, Ileana Jiménez (also known as Feminist Teacher). We met almost every day in a hidden corner of the library–and it was here where our lives were shared and merged with each other’s. My peers would read aloud their pieces to the class revealing their true selves. With assigned readings from published memoirs and writing prompts given to us by Ileana, we were all immersed on a journey of our own words. I quickly became familiar with my humorous and sincere voice and I knew that I would continue to embrace it in my future.
In my senior year, I took another English elective titled Dangerous Language with a different teacher at my high school. We read pieces of literature that were considered in many countries to be “taboo,” “inappropriate,” and in fact, “dangerous.” Who can imagine 17 and 18 year-olds reading The Color Purple and Lolita and having regular debates about race, gender, sex, rape, pedophilia and incest?
In another elective called Gender and Madness with the same teacher who taught Dangerous Language, we explored plays such as Proof, Hedda Gabler, and Hamlet where the female protagonists were perceived as insane. The famous Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet was presumed to have gone mad, but honestly, wouldn’t we all go mad if we were dating someone like Hamlet? In this course, we also read about postpartum depression and how doctors and men often overlook or misdiagnose the hormonal, and often chemical imbalance a female-bodied person may endure after giving birth.
All of these courses—Memoir Writing, Dangerous Language, Gender and Madness—opened my mind to think about feminism, sex, gender, identity, and how they all pertain to me. Now having left the nest of LREI, I’ve taken the tools that I gained there and brought them along with me to college. I took a student-taught sex+sexual health course where we discussed safer-sex, contraceptive methods, the taboos of anal sex, STI’s, transgender identity, birthing options (including orgasmic birth . . . who knew?) and more! I was able to be conscious of my peers and accept other people’s views. I now believe strongly that gender, sex, and identity should be things we continue to talk about. I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to have grown up in such an open and accepting environment as LREI; not only is it okay, but it is encouraged and safe for students to communicate with teachers and one another about their identity, including one’s gender and sexuality.
Nonetheless, I do realize that not everyone grew up with the same values as I had sung to me; but because I know this, I feel it is one of my duties as an alum to share what I have learned, and that which I continue to learn. Don’t worry, I’m not going to force-feed you vegan treats, tell you how to plan the birth of your baby, or throw my sex+gender term flashcards at you; I’m just here to say that I’m Lola Lorber, a to-be college sophomore, and my preferred pronouns are she, her, and hers, and if you want, I’m open to continuing the conversation of sex, gender, and identity with you.
Lola Lorber is entering her sophomore year at Oberlin College. Read her blog, Thoughts From a Vegetable-Lover. Her guest post is a part of an ongoing series on the impact of teaching and learning feminism in high school.