A panel discussion Friday night explored the myriad ways an individual's identities can intersect and affect their lives.
"Does 'musician' come before 'gender-neutral person'?" HCC student, artist, musician, and panelist Ellerie Ballard asked. "It's a holistic picture. All of those things inform each other."
Joining Ballard in a question-and-answer session in the Leslie Phillips Theater were Loretta Ross, co-founder of the SisterStrong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective; HCC senior academic counselor Jossie Valentin; Carlisle Robinson, a deaf, trans-masculine genderqueer creator of comics; and Jenna McClaurin, a Native-American graduate student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
The "Intersecting Identities" event, which also included an art show, book signing and video screening, was organized by Holyoke Community College's American Sign Language club and the Queer-Straight Alliance.
Following the art show in the theater lobby, HCC math professor and panel moderator Aaron Levin asked participants about their multiple identities, from race, sexual orientation and ability to gender identity, job title and culture, and how they affect each other.
After introducing each member of the panel, Levin asked if there were occasions in which one identity took precedence over others.
Valentin, who is also a Holyoke city councilor, responded with her experience as a politician: "In situations when I'm surrounded by men and have to make an important choice or decision, being female comes to the forefront. I have to work harder and prove myself. The expectations are different."
"I am often able to pass as a white, cisgender" -- someone whose gender identity corresponds to their birth physiology -- "straight male," Robinson said. "People treat me differently when they learn I'm deaf. I can see my privilege evaporating before my eyes."
Levin asked the panel what kind of questions they hate hearing.
"I don't think we should be assumed to be educators," McClaurin said. "Ask first if it's appropriate to ask questions. It's worth it not to say something offensive to someone else."
Ross replied, "I hate the assumption that when I'm talking about racism, people feel comfortable deflecting that. Racism is special treatment visited on you before your humanity is recognized."
The panelists enumerated the pressures and outside influences that affect how people identify or present themselves to the outside world. They also celebrated the mosaic created by each individual's identities. A recurring theme of the evening's discussion was respect -- for both the identities of others, and for one's own identities.
"Every person is different," Robinson reminded the audience. "Making assumptions lead us down the wrong path."
Photos by HCC Staff: (Left) HCC student and panelist Ellerie Ballard talks about her exhibit of photographs at the Intersecting Identities event Friday at HCC. (Right) Loretta Ross, co-founder of the SisterStrong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, talks about intersecting identities during a panel discussion at HCC.