University of Manitoba recreational studies professor Dr. Fenton Litwiller researches youth engaging in gender play performances. Their Oct. 31, 2018, seminar began by defining terms such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and Two-Spirited.

In 2011, two scholars from Manitoba published the first Canadian school climate survey on homophobia. They used in-class surveys of students who were queer and those who were not for an entire school population. 57% of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment one or more times for their expression of gender. However, a quarter of non-queer students were also harassed for gender expression. In the end, verbal and physical harassment affects all students who are not heteronormative.

Recent studies have found that queer people have trouble accessing recreation. Public leisure spaces are perceived as unsafe and queer people will tailor their actions to avoid harm, thus not expressing their true selves. There are very few spaces where queer people can act freely and express their gender, and this is why gender play performances are so important for young queer people.

These gender play performances are similar to drag performances. “Drag illuminates that sex assigned at birth and gender identity are differentiated,” Litwiller said. Gender play workshops allow youth to perform for a small group where they feel comfortable.

There has been some resistance to approving this research. More specifically, there has been push-back around the issue of promoting these performances to youth because of their sexualized nature.

However, Litwiller believes these workshops are critical for youth and that the lack of such programming may cut off youth from potential mentors with whom they could identify. These performance workshops could allow youth to explore their sexual identity in a safe environment.



When does childhood shift into adulthood in terms of allowing youth to express their gender and sexuality?

It seems to be a trend that 18 is the age. By this time, they are perceived as being able to consent for themselves.

What kind of measures could be implemented in research studies to give minors more power to make a decision?

Keep talking about it, consent is ongoing. A participant can always ask for their comments to be removed from the research. Youth who don’t want to participate in interviews can still participate in the rest of the workshop.

Are you currently doing the research now? Have you received approval for these studies?

No, I’m still waiting for approval to conduct my research.

Listen to podcasts from seminars in this series.