Creating Change Culture Shock: Shifting Between Liberal Spaces by Lauren Lopez

I’m no stranger to culture shock. It happened the first months of college when I’d have conversations with my friends and someone would say “pop” as another argued “soda,” or “clicker” versus “remote,” and “bubbler” versus “water fountain.” It happens every time I prepare to order a bagel at Einstein’s, knowing it won’t be the same as one from Long Island. It happens whenever I’m back home with my family and I realize there’s a wide space between us because they’ve spent the last months together while I’ve been somewhere else.

I never expected the culture shock that happened to me at the beginning of the spring semester though. I was fortunate enough to attend the 2017 Creating Change Conference in Philadelphia with EAGLE (Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone). Creating Change is a national LGBTQ+ conference held in a different city every year where LGBTQ+ people and organizations gather to network and build leadership and social justice skills with other members of the community.

The conference was a bit of a shock in general because it was held January 17th through the 22nd. I had only had a day and a half of classes this semester before we flew off to a city I’ve never been to. It all seemed so formal to me, having to construct emails that said something along the lines of, “I’ll be out of town this week because I’ll be attending a conference.” Those are the kinds of emails business people in suits send from their iPhones, not a queer college kid from their sticker-covered laptop.

We missed a day of the conference for traveling, but on Thursday we were able to choose from day-long institutes ranging from topics including Latinx, Trans/non-binary, HIV/AIDS, racial justice, and many more. I picked one called “Intersectionally Trans: Building a Truly Inclusive Trans/GNC Movement” and panicked slightly when I realized I would have to completely separate from the group for the first time since leaving Emerson.

I found where I was supposed to go and struck up a conversation with a person who worked for the conference. She looked at me and said, “I’m Joanna, she/her/hers.” I was taken aback for a moment before responding, “Lauren, they/them/their.” Most of the introductions that week went like that. All of the public bathrooms in the hotel had signs posted over them that read “gender-inclusive restroom.” There were tables lining the hotel for organizations from GLSEN to ACLU and other social justice organizations. Free HIV/AIDS testing was available for the duration of the conference.

At the end of the conference, I was excited to get back to Emerson and get started with the semester. I remember telling a friend, “I feel bad for the people who have to go back to conservative schools and deal with being misgendered.” I never thought to think about what it would be like for us to go back.

Sure, Emerson is a progressive college and we’re ahead of a lot of schools on certain issues. However, I think the dangerous thing about going to a more progressive college is that people tend to get more comfortable. Since we seem to be “ahead” it’s easy to stop where we are and take a rest. Other schools never stop working to get better on certain issues because they see how far they have to go. I think Emerson can get complacent on issues of social justice because we regard ourselves as “progressive.” What more can we do? A lot.

I said I felt bad for the students who have to deal with being misgendered after this conference, but I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock I felt upon returning to Emerson. Introductions don’t include pronouns by default. I missed the first day of most of my classes so now I have to face the anxiety-inducing dilemma of whether I should correct people on my pronouns or just sit back and take it for the whole semester.

I’m aware that by attending a fairly progressive school we are granted many privileges that other students aren’t, but I also find it strange that by moving between two fairly liberal spaces, from Emerson to the conference and back again, I was able to see how far we still have to go. Progress can always be made, no matter where you are.

Lauren Lopez