Robyn Ochs gets Suffolk beyond the binary

Photo caption: Robyn Ochs (center) and Suffolk’s Rainbow Alliance Executive Board 

Nathan Espinal/ Journal Staff

Photo caption: Robyn Ochs (center) and Suffolk’s Rainbow Alliance Executive Board Nathan Espinal/ Journal Staff

Invited by Suffolk’s very own Rainbow Alliance to be the keynote speaker for International Women’s Day, Robyn Ochs appeared at Suffolk University Wednesday evening to present her interactive workshop Beyond Binaries: Identity and Sexuality.

Ochs’ work has not only brought her across the country, but around the globe where she has strived to impart one lesson to the people she has encountered; to uniquely value each individual’s definition of their identity.

“When someone shares their identity with you it is a doorway to information,” said Ochs. “You can knock on the door and ask if they would like to share what that means to them. I try to remember, the information they share is a gift.”

According to Ochs, the way people are attracted to one another is very different from person to person. Ochs said sexual orientation identities are only one aspect of a person’s identity, and intersectionality is a term that can’t be ignored when understanding what identities mean to individual people.

In order to teach participants about the complexities of gender and sexuality, Ochs’ workshop and subsequently conducted anonymous survey examined identity in regard to sexuality, gender and attraction. Ochs first broke down and explained the common assumptions of sexuality to make sure everyone of the group’s participants were on the same page. From there, participants were able to understand what the data from the survey meant.

Ochs spoke of how, in times before a search engine such as Google, resources were sparse for those with queer identities. In order to understand their sexuality, people needed to work harder to find resources that would give them the tools necessary to understand their sexuality.

The most widely recognized and available measures of sexuality were created by Dr. Alfred Kinsey, Dr. Fritz Klein and Dr. Michael Storms. Each scale invented by these professionals proved to be helpful to understanding sexuality in a binary system. While certain aspects of this research proved beneficial, they were unsuccessful in comprehending the full scope of sexuality.

“These have been three different explanations at three different points in history that have moved us up the staircase of knowledge,” said Ochs. “We have learned that gender and sexuality are not dependent on the binary. We have also learned that gender and [a person’s] sex are not the same thing.”  

For many years, Ochs has been a staunch supporter of queer and transgender rights. She has won multiple awards such as PFLAG’s Brenda Howard Award, the National LGBT Task Force’s Susan J. Hyde Activism Award and the Harvard Gender and Sexuality Caucus’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She has also been credited with coining the definition of bisexuality, being the romantic or sexual attraction to people of similar or different genders.

Ochs has served as the editor of the Bi Women Quarterly, the 42-country anthology, “Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World” and the new anthology “RECOGNIZE: The Voices of Bisexual Men.”