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Bradley West
By BERNIE BELLAN
Bradley West is a polished motivational speaker – who happens to be a gay, Jewish man (by conversion). Here is how his website, called “Disruptive Integration”, describes him: “Bradley has developed expertise in human systems management and human sexuality.

Using intersectional approaches he transcends cultural, religious, gender, ethnic and sexual diversity, into an integrated experience of inclusion; for all of us, not just some of us.
“One of Bradley’s gifts is his ability to ‘connect the dots, which many of us don’t see… This allows him to articulate pathways for us to re-write the story of what we thought was possible. Bradley aspires to move beyond best practices, to next practises....where it is we are developing into based on where it is, we have come from!
“Or as Bradley calls….’Living presently ever after…’ ”

West was the guest speaker at the latest in a series that Jewish Child & Family Service has been running for several years now, titled “Can We Talk About”.
West’s talk was billed as “Gender and Sexual Diversity: It’s about all of us, not just some of us.”
The crowd at this event was not as large as ones which had attended the two most recent “Can We Talk About” events – about depression, with Michael Landsberg (in 2016); and anxiety, with Dr. Michelle Warren (in 2017). Those events attracted well over 400 individuals both times. West’s talk drew 212.
Just as Michael Landsberg and Michelle Warren both elicited an opening-up among audience members who spoke candidly about their own personal struggles with depression and anxiety, however, it was what audience members had to say about their own experiences with gender and sexual identification that reverberated most with other audience members.

The very first question after West finished his talk, for instance, came from someone who said they had struggled with their gender identification all their life – and who had only in recent years come out openly as the gender with which they identified.
Other audience members, especially younger ones, wanted to know where they could go for help with their identity issues. A common complaint among individuals who approached the microphone was that there are not enough resources available for young people.
In response, West admitted that resources for younger individuals are sorely limited, but in a handout given to all audience members, various resources were listed.
Bradley West can speak fluidly without needing to pause (The evening emcee, Ismaila Alfa, in introducing West, noted that he had won an award for public speaking when he was only in high school), and exudes such confidence on a podium that it’s hard to imagine him ever having a crisis of confidence. Yet, as he told the audience, he has a 25-year-old daughter, also a husband. That, in itself, signaled that West didn’t come to terms with his being gay until he was well into his adulthood.

Here are some of the observations West made during his 45-minute talk:
“Most of us are walking around making decisions based upon assumptions we made between the ages of 4 and 8.
“Identities are complex – how they operate and how they come together…Your journey is your journey and no one else’s.”
Choices “are not just binary – in terms of this or that; that invalidates the huge complexity of human experience…Aspects of our identity may change throughout out lives; there is an element of fluidity.
“If we are able to respect a person’s choice of religion, we must respect a person’s choice of gender identity.”
A society that is “free, democratic, multicultural, and respectful, is being beaten down in much of the world.”
“Sexology” (the study of human sexuality, which began in the 19th century) “gave people permission to develop different sexual identities.” With the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s, liberal attitudes promoted by sexologists angered the Nazis and homosexuality, which had been recognized as a legitimate form of sexuality by sexologists, was sternly repressed.

It wasn’t until Robert Kinsey’s groundbreaking study of human sexuality in the 1950s that true scientific studies led to the understanding that sexuality can be understood as existing on a spectrum running from heterosexuality to homosexuality, with a great many variations in between.
According to West, Kinsey postulated that 10% of humans are exclusively heterosexual, 10% are exclusively homosexual, and 80% are attracted to both genders.
“Research,” West said, “backs that up.” If given a choice, 40-50% of respondents to surveys, when asked where they stand on the spectrum of sexuality, will say they’re bisexual.
But, because Western social norms have tended to disparage homosexuality, “we took away any opportunity for men to be intimate with other males.” Instead, “we have one emotion we make available to men: anger.”
“We, as human beings, make visible that which we value and we value that which we make visible.”
There is a “mythology that men and women are very different”, e.g., ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’. “We are much more alike than we are different. That is how we develop empathy.”
“We are not psychologically oriented to ‘other’. That is why in order to do heinous things to people we must first ‘other’ them.”

West turned to a discussion of “intersectionality” and how it relates to gender and sexual identity.
Intersectionality seeks to understand how “systems of oppression – such as racism, anti-Semitism, other forms of religious discrimination, gender and sexual discrimination “connect together and overlap.”
“Cultures are complex. It is important to allow people to self-determine.
“Pronouns are important.” If someone wishes to use a gender neutral pronoun in referring to someone in the third person, rather than referring to that person as he or she, “call that person ‘them or they’.”
In addressing someone, rather than assuming their gender by their presentation, “if you want to know what pronoun to use” when referring to that person, “ask them”. “The language of ‘othering’ is the language of oppression.”

During the question and answer session which followed his talk, West was asked what accounted for his giving this particular talk in 2018, as opposed to ten years before?
West answered: “Ten years ago we wouldn’t have had this discussion – especially not in this building (the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue). We stand on the shoulders of others.”
West went on to note that there have been legal changes and a major cultural shift, saying that “everyone is valued” – as we’ve seen with the fundamental changes in attitudes toward special needs children.”
“Collectively, we didn’t care as a society.” And, referring to the climate of fear that has been fostered in other countries, West claimed that “fear is not the only voice in society and it will not be the deciding voice.”

Someone asked what, “as a community, we can do to support transgendered people?”
West said, “Talk to them but educate yourself on the internet. Don’t look at one specific transgendered person as representing all transgendered people” any more than you would look at a heterosexual person as representing all heterosexuals.
West also explained his frequent references to the term “cisternae”, which he had used throughout his talk.
“Cisgender”, he explained, is the “opposite of transgender.” The term came along, he explained because, while transgenedered people have constantly been called upon to name their gender, heterosexuals didn’t “have to name” themselves because they regarded themselves as “normal”.
“Gender”, West explained, “does not cause sexual orientation. They influence and impact one another but they’re not causal.”

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