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JCFS's Program with Bradley West Examines Issues re: Sexual and Gender Identity

by Rhonda Spivak November 19, 2018



About 200 people attended a very interesting lecture given by Bradley West organized by the Jewish Child and Family Services entitled "Can We Talk About... Gender and Sexual Diversity" on November 1.


West, who is a gay Jewish man and a very skilled public speaker spoke about the need to include "all of us not just some of us." West explained that identities are complex."  He noted, "What is your story is your story and no one else's," and "you don't try to put your shoes on someone else's feet."


West emphasized that aspects of our identity may change throughout our lifetime and there is an element of "fluidity in who we are."


 “If we are able to respect a person’s choice of religion, we must respect a person’s choice of gender identity,” West noted.


West spoke about Sexology, the study of human sexuality, which began in the 19th century. " Sexology gave people permission to develop different sexual identities.” But he explained that "Nazis hated sexologists because they gave people the ability to have different identities."With the rise of  the Nazis in the 1930's, liberal ideas regarding sexuality were suppressed  and homosexuality which had been considered a  legitimate form of sexuality by sexologists, was repressed in an extremely severe manner.


West also spoke about  Robert Kinsey’s leading study of human sexuality in the 1950's  which showed that sexuality can be understood as existing on a spectrum running from heterosexuality to homosexuality, with a full range of variations in between. According to West, Kinsey advanced the proposition that 10% of humans are exclusively heterosexual and 10% are exclusively homosexual, with  80% being attracted to both genders on a continuum. West said that scientific research supports this. He explained that if given a free choice, 20-50% of respondents to surveys, will say they’re bisexual when asked where they stand on the spectrum of sexuality. He also said there is a “mythology that men and women are very different”,  with the notion being that ‘men are from Mars and women are from Venus’. However, West said “We are much more alike than we are different." 


West added that “Cultures are complex. It is important to allow people to self-determine.”


West stressed that "your genitals do not create your gender", but "rather your gender identity is in your head." 

He added"Gender identity refers to who you see yourself as."


He noted "It's the brain that creates your gender." He said  that up until the 1920's pink was a colour for boys and  blue was a colour for girls. This changed after World War 11.


West said that in some cultures "Femininity requires you to wear jewelry," while in other cultures, "it is men who wear jewelry." A person can be "attracted to one gender, no gender, or both genders," he stated. 


West noted that "we value that which we make visible." He emphasized "We need to create space and place for all of these stories, not just some of them."  


West said "It's rare for me to be called a faggot" when he holds his husband's hand." But another person can "be called a faggot every hour. Each individual has a different experience. "It's important to allow people to find their own place and space...Your experience is yours; you need to allow other people to find their place and space."


West noted that“Pronouns are important.” If a person is "gender fluid" instead of saying "she " or "he " you could  “call that person ‘they or them’.


West concluded that "We need to make place in our hearts for everyone..." 


During the question period audience members opened up and spoke about their personal struggles.Someone came forward and said  that all their life they had struggled with their gender identification Only in recent years did they come out openly as the gender with which they truly identified. Some younger audience members wanted to know where they could  go  to get help with their identity issues.  In response, West said that unfortunately  resources for younger individuals are very limited. However a handout was given to all the audience members and various resources were listed in it.


West himself  told the audience he has a 25-year-old daughter, in addition to having a a husband. This demonstrated that  West himself  didn’t come out with his own homosexuality until he was well into his adulthood.


West also said that it is important to support "your kid in whatever gender identity they express," as this leads to a decrease in your kid having depression, anxiety, and it decreases the chance that they will commit suicide.


An audience member asked  what, could be done  to support transgendered people? West responded, “talk to them but educate yourself on the internet. Do not look at one specific transgendered person as representing all transgendered people anymore than you would look at a heterosexual person representing all heterosexuals.”



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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.