Boy meets girl

We’ve seen the movie a thousand times. Weird outcast girl gets thrown together with the jock for a maths assignment. Girl helps jock in secret and they become friends, before he’s forced to reckon with the fact he’s in love with her and ruins it all.

Boy meets girl equals happily ever after. We’ve seen this narrative play out in movies, TV shows, ads, and the running commentary from well-meaning extended family. And it’s getting tired.

We’re told from every angle that there’s two genders, and an accepted relationship involves one of each. For a lot of people, this is true and that’s great – there’s nothing wrong with it. But for many others, this story doesn’t reflect who they are, or who they’re into.

Seeing only this story being told feels like watching the same movie over and over again – alienating, isolating and frankly, boring. So to change the script, we need to unlearn the story.

Rachel, a recently out lesbian exploring their gender, finds being a lesbian in a patriarchal society has its share of challenges. “Being a lesbian in a patriarchal society definitely shows its difficulties. Fetishisation and homophobia tend to go hand in hand when it comes to lesbianism.”

Ryan, a cisgender gay man about to commence his studies, suggests that how we understand and categorise gender and sexuality needs to change – for everyone’s benefit. “I think gender needs to be recognised more fully as a spectrum, not a binary, and opposite-sex, monogamous, heterosexuality should be viewed as a common choice of relationship structure, but not the default choice. Normalise every sexual identity as opt-in instead of having one as the presumed default,” he said.

Unlearn It Live talks unlocking gender

Swinburne student Jarryd talks on Unlearn It Live about unlearning the rules of masculinity by thinking outside the two binary genders of men and women.

Unlearning sex, sexual orientation and gender

Let’s start with the basics. A person’s sex refers to the physical characteristics of their body. People are assigned a sex at birth, based entirely on the parts they enter the world with.

Gender refers to how a person feels inside. A person whose gender matches up with the sex they were assigned at birth is described as cisgender (cis for short). A person whose gender doesn’t match up with their assigned sex is described as transgender (or trans). Many people don’t identify with a particular gender and may describe themselves as gender-neutral, non-binary (NB) or gender non-conforming (GNC).

Sexual orientation is all about who you’re into. People may spend their time at uni working this one out. Some know straight up who they’re vibing, while for others it might be fluid and change over time. There are so many ways to identify and you also don’t need to label yourself at all. 

However you identify, the hardest part should be building up the courage to ask out your crush. So let’s work on giving dated gender norms the flick once and for all.

Unlearn It Live featuring Rudy Rigg

Swinburne Alumni Rudy Rigg talks on Unlearn It Live about his experience connecting with others in the LGBTQ+ community.

Why is inclusion important?

Now that we’ve side-stepped the long-held story about gender and sexuality, we can work to change the narrative by expanding it to include many different, but equal, narratives. We can do this through practising inclusion. 

For Chandra, inclusion is "when every person feels like they fit in, contribute and belong; where anyone and everyone feels safe, valued and considered."

Many people don’t care about your gender or sexuality at all and wonder why they should. But there’s a difference between just accepting someone and including them. Acceptance is like inviting someone to a party. Inclusion is not only inviting them, but making sure you say hello, introduce them to your friends and drag them to the dancefloor. Acceptance is passive while inclusion is active. It’s letting the person know their experiences and perspectives are valuable, and that you’re there to listen and support them. 

For Ryan, inclusion is all about real representation, not tokenism. “If an event, club, or social circle lacks representation from a certain group, work must be done to determine what about the design has made a place exclusive,” he said.

Inclusion positively impacts the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ+ people, whereas a lack of inclusion can have long-term negative impacts. Inclusion discourages homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and acts of violence. It’s a simple thing we can practice that has a huge impact. So let’s show up for those around us and do the work to expand the story.

Unlearn It Live talks inclusive communities

For LGBTQ+ people, being included and feeling a sense of belonging is important to ensure positive mental health. Swinburne student Chandra chats on Unlearn It Live about his experience of coming out in South East Asia and the importance of communication with family and friends.

How can I be more inclusive? 

Don’t assume people’s gender or sexuality when you meet them. Try using inclusive language, like the word "partner" instead of boyfriend or girlfriend and use someone’s name where possible, instead of pronouns like he or she. It might take some time to unlearn this and that’s okay. Just keep trying and if you make a mistake, just correct yourself and move on. 

Take a deep dive into the world of pronouns! You’ll have grown up using pronouns like he/him/his and she/her/hers. But many people use gender-neutral pronouns like they/them/theirs or ve/ver/vis. Across the world there are thousands of pronouns that gender diverse people identify with.

Ever noticed how often you say "hey guys/you guys"? Try some gender-neutral alternatives like "hey everyone/gang/folks/pals". Get creative and challenge yourself!

Let people know which pronouns you use. That way you’re raising a flag to any trans or non-binary people you may be talking to that they’re welcome and allow them to feel safe to share their pronouns. You’re also helping educate others about the many gender expressions out there and reduce the likelihood of misgendering somebody.

Identify yourself as an ally. Stand up for LGBTIQ+ rights and issues.

Get involved in the LGBTIQ+ community at Swinburne. There’s so many things happening for LGBTIQ+ students and allies, like the Queer Collective, which is part of the Student Union, and Gender Agenda, a support group to improve the student experience for transgender and gender diverse students.

Words to know

Agender – a person who does not identify with any gender.

Ally – someone who actively supports the LGBTIQ+ community. This also applies to LGBTIQ+ people, who can be allies to the trans and gender-diverse community, or the QTPOC (Queer and Transgender People of Colour) community.

Asexual – an asexual person doesn’t experience sexual attraction but may have romantic attraction towards others.

Bisexual – someone who is romantically or sexually attracted to people of their own gender and other genders.

Brotherboy – an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander transgender man.

Cisgender – cisgender (or cis for short) describes people whose gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth.

Gay – a gay person is romantically or sexually attracted to people of the same sex or gender as themselves. While often used to describe gay men, many people in the LGBTIQ+ community identify with this term.

Gender – this is how someone feels inside; how they identify, present themselves and are recognised in the world. This can match their assigned sex at birth (cisgender) or differ. There are many genders that include (but aren’t limited to): non-binary, cisgender, genderfluid, transgender and agender. Intersex people have a diverse range of gender identities as well as non-intersex people.

Gender diverse – describes the diverse ways in which genders are expressed.

Gender fluid – a gender identity that varies over time.

Gender-nonconforming – someone whose gender expression doesn’t conform to what is expected of their gender, based on gender roles or norms.

Heterosexual – a heterosexual or straight person is someone who is sexually and romantically attracted to people of the opposite gender to themselves.

Intersex – a person born with variations to physical or biological sex characteristics. Intersex traits are a natural part of human body diversity and not all intersex people identify with this term. Intersex people have diverse bodies, genders and sexualities.

Lesbian – a woman who is romantically or sexually attracted to other women.

LGBTIQ+ – stands for "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Gender Non-Binary, Intersex, Queer" (sometimes Questioning). The ‘+’ is for all identities not included here.

Misgendering – this is using language that doesn’t align with how someone identifies with their gender or body. For example – using he/him pronouns for someone who identifies as she/her.

Non-binary – someone whose gender identity exists outside traditional categories of male or female.

Pansexual – a person who is attracted to people of all genders, binary or non-binary.

Pronoun – the way that people refer to each other and themselves. For example, he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs.

QTPOC – queer and transgender people of colour

Sistergirl – an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander transgender woman.

Sex – a person’s sex is assigned at birth based on the body parts they’re born with, usually either male or female and sometimes intersex if they are born with varying sex characteristics.

Sexual orientation/sexuality – describes a person’s romantic and/or sexual attraction towards others.

Transgender – a transgender person (or trans for short) is someone whose gender identity does not align with their assigned sex at birth.            

Queer – this is an overarching term for diverse genders and sexualities within the LGBTIQ+ community. It’s also a way to describe one’s sexuality and/or gender when other terms may not feel right.


Support at Swinburne

LGBTIQ+ Community Support

Includes support services and initiatives at Swinburne, including gender neutral bathrooms, safe spaces and LGBTIQ+ events, as well as extensive resources outside Swinburne. Find out more.

Swinburne Queer Collective

Provides a safe space for LGBTIQ+ students to meet on campus and hosts events throughout the year to support the Swinburne queer community. Find out more.

Safer Community

Provides advice, support, intervention and risk management for students who experience or witness concerning behaviours on or off campus, including gender-based violence. Find out more.

Wellbeing at Swinburne

Offers students medical appointments as well as counselling services that can help if you’re struggling with a personal, emotional or mental health difficulty. Find out more.

Swinburne Out-of-hours Crisis Line

Available to help students on weekdays before 9am and after 5pm, and on weekends and public holidays. Call 1300 854 144 or text 0488 884 145.

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