Monday, June 23, 2014

Day 1: Gender Play at Barnard

Butchy Professional Judy
This morning I went into the women's bathroom in a Barnard College building wearing a tie, button down shirt, slacks and hefty grey shoes. My hair was flipped to the other side so it was shorter than usual, and I was makeup-less, wearing glasses. Ten minutes later, I came out wearing a black dress, red heels, rings, a large necklace, earrings, makeup, contacts, and my hair flipped to the other side and gelled.

Why was I doing this? you might ask.

For the kids of course! It's my second year teaching a one-week, three hour a day class to high schoolers at Barnard College, "The Psychology of Gender Difference." My central goal for the class is to teach students how to apply gender studies concepts and critiques to psychology research. So almost all of our readings are psych studies on some kind of gender or sex difference, and in class discussion we smash/collide/debate it all together/apart using gender studies concepts.

Last year, as part of the learning experience (and because I enjoy a good genderbend), I wore a different gender expression for each of the five days of the class. I wrote two posts about some of my experiences inside and outside the class--The Joys of Drag and How to Get Accosted by Strangers: Gender Bending in NYC. But because I am terrible at taking full-body selfies, I did not record the whole visual experience very well, and some of you my dear readers said, "we want to see the whole week and head-to-toe photos!" So you shall have it this year! Using my partner's real-not-a-phone camera that has a self-timer, I'll share photos each day this week of what I wore and what I experienced on the subway and in the class.

Femme Color Block Judy
And let me tell you, Day 1 was eventful! On the advice of my fabulous friend Morgan, I actually switched my outfit halfway through class today, so today you get 8am Judy and 2pm Judy. The timing was perfect--I was Butchy Professional Judy for the first half of class in which we did some opening activities, and the psych 101 unit. Then during the 15 minute break, I scrambled down to the bathroom to make some alterations to my gender expression, emerging as Femme Colorblock Judy.

After the break, I walked back into the class and there were loud gasps and a couple "woah"s. I explained to the 14 rising 11th and 12th graders, "Before we move into the gender studies portion of the day, I thought it might be helpful for me to change my gender expression." And it was! Explaining how gender is a set of cultural, temporal and societally developed traits and not a fixed, innate way of being was a cinch. Judith Butler's performance theory went down like honey.

While the students seemed equally comfortable with me in both of my Judyness-es, the same was not true of my fellow subway travelers. I decided that throughout the week, I will make more eye contact with strangers than usual, to see if that encourages more engagement and to hear what they might say or how they might interact with me. This morning, it was not working very well. As my Butchy Professional self, I noticed that more men seemed to look at me questioningly than women. No one spoke to me. I caught a couple men staring at me who darted their eyes away when I looked towards them. This was similar to my experience last year. I was disappointed that few to no women stared at me, in awe of my butchy beauty. (I'll just have to try this outfit again in Northampton and see what happens.)

On the way home, Femme Colorblock Judy was very popular. I got hit on by a man in his late 60s/early 70s who did not appear to have teeth. He stared at me throughout the ride, and as I stepped off the 1 to transfer to the 2, he followed me off and said, "How you doin' girl? You lookin' real good." I murmured some inaudible "Erp/thanks/blarg" response.

As I got off the next train, a woman also in her late 60s or so put her hand on my arm and told me how much she loved my necklace and my earrings, how good they looked together and how beautiful I looked. I said, "That's very kind of you" and she said something like, "oh no, thank you!" She animatedly spoke with me the whole time we walked up the steps. I could not imagine her talking with such familiarity and warmth to my Butchy Professional self.

This morning returned me to some thoughts and feelings I had last year--even without speaking to you, threatening you or touching you, people can make you feel unwelcome and uncomfortable in public spaces. I regularly dress with some androgny, but tend to do so with a tinge of femininity, so times like today when I head more to the masculine/andro spectrum without any feminine signals, it feels markedly different. It helps me better empathize with the experiences of those I love who are always in the androgynous spectrum, though I will never be able to fully or deeply understand their daily and life-long experiences. It helps me recommit to doing the work of educating anyone and everyone about why we can longer no accept the binary gender supremacy we have going on in this society.

So here we go!

You can find the Day 2 post here

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