For the first time in nearly 30 years, Genderfuck will not be hosted on campus this year. The party, which has a rich history and has consistently been one of the best-attended events of the school year, has been controversial since its inception in the 1980s.
The existence of Genderfuck has become an almost-annual debate in the last decade. Some students, many of them members of the campus queer and trans communities, felt that the party lost its identity as a chance to question heteronormative assumptions about gender and sexuality to the forefront of students’ minds, at least for a night. The party has also had significant safety concerns, as well as difficulties with planning and funding.
In an op-ed written in the February 26 edition of the Phoenix, four queer students called for an end to Genderfuck. The group circulated a petition for students who agreed that the structure of the party no longer supported its original goals. Over 60 people signed the petition.
“In its current form, Genderfuck has become a space where straight, cis people can displace queerness as the focus of the party, instead wearing it as a costume or mocking it altogether,” wrote Bryan Chen ’15, one of the op-ed’s authors.
Discussions about whether the party should be held involved several administrative offices, including the Office of Student Engagement and the Intercultural Center. The final decision on the status of the party, however, was left to Lili Rodriguez, dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development. She met with students advocating against continuing Genderfuck in its most recent iteration, and agreed that it had lost its original meaning.
“I was moved by their perspective and the over 60 students that signed and supported the petition, so I decided to to put a pause on this party for this year until we could address some of their concerns,” Rodriguez said.
Physical safety and concerns about alcohol abuse also became a serious point of contention for Genderfuck in recent years. Dozens of ideas have been proposed throughout the years to create a more stable climate, including increased security presence, escort programs, consent campaigns leading up to the event, and intercommunal involvement. The most recent editions of the party saw contributions from Public Safety, Worth Health Center, the Sexual Misconduct and Advisory Resource Team, the Drug and Alcohol Resource Team, both fraternities and Kappa Alpha Theta, and multiple administrative offices. However, due in part to its large scale, safety concerns around Genderfuck continued.
These concerns were only a few of the many that Genderfuck planners had to reconcile over the years. The sheer quantity of volunteers necessary to hold the event has been very large — often 50 or more. Finding spaces large and secure enough to hold so many people was a constant negotiation. In the last few years, the party’s home was in Sharples, a popular location, but one that carried major logistical problems.
Only two current students, Bryan Chen ’15 and Tom Corbani ’17, have been significantly involved in the planning of previous Genderfucks.
“Despite my dreaming and my drive, I was not able to change much at all,” Chen wrote in the op-ed. “With little administrative support and near nonexistent student energy, there was nothing I could do. Genderfuck was and is an absolute beast, and those trying to fix it are severely underestimating what they are dealing with.”
Genderfuck began in 1989, when a series of lectures called the Sager Symposium was created by donations from Richard Sager ’74 in order to delve into lesbian and gay issues and address homophobia in modern society. The symposium was followed by a campus-wide after-party, known as Sager, that eventually evolved into an open space for students to experiment with accepted gender norms, leading to the informal term “Genderfuck.” Although the symposium never officially sanctioned the event, it was always associated with Genderfuck until 2009, when the organization formally cut itself off from the party.
Over the years, many of the parties have been themed, and have often promoted a particular issue relating to queer and trans communities. For example, the 2004 version addressed marriage equality with the theme “My Big Fat Fabulous Gay Wedding.” The event has also been unique for bringing a wide array of musical performances and the variety of spaces that it has been held in, including Upper Tarble, the Women’s Resource Center, and most recently Sharples.
One of the more controversial elements of Genderfuck was its unofficial slogan, “Guys wear a dress, girls wear less,” which arose sometime in the 1990s. Many have argued throughout the years that the slogan detracts from the party’s original intention as a few hours where gender identities and cultural norms can be thrown out the window. Planners officially distanced themselves and the party from the line in 2012, noting that “the slogan is heterosexist, and it reinforces the idea of gender binary, which is something this party tries to dismantle,” according to Kenneson Chen ’14, one of the members of the 2012 and 2014 Genderfuck planning committees.
Genderfuck has often been characterized by students’ costumes. Originally, drag clothing was very common as students sought to break down barriers inherent in the commonly accepted gender binary. Over time, however, costumes of any kind became customary; attendees would often forgo a great deal of clothing, giving many the impression that Genderfuck was a place where “people just run around nude in Sharples.” For many queer students, the party became a place where it was acceptable for straight students to make fun of other genders, which some felt undermined the original aims of the event.
“The party has always reinforced gender norms by upholding stereotyped ideas of gendered clothing and ‘crossdressing,’ rather than recognizing a vast range of gender expressions,” the February op-ed read.
Though more than 60 queer and trans students signed the petition to end Genderfuck, not all queer students felt that Genderfuck should be cancelled. Julia Denney ’15, for instance, feels that the issue is complicated. Though she understands the reasoning behind the petition and the op-ed, Denney said that she did not feel included in the conversation about ending the party, adding that she had been excited for this year’s Genderfuck.
“As a queer person who hates going on campus for parties since they’re so intensely hetero, I was looking forward to bringing my own queerness to a public space and celebrating it in any way I wanted to,” Denney said.
Denney also expressed that she wished the replacement party for queer students had taken place at Swarthmore.
“It was alienating to me as a queer party person who just wanted to have fun my senior year,” she said.
Rodriguez emphasized that the cancellation of the 2015 edition is not a death knell for Genderfuck. She is committed to trying to re-define the party and address the concerns that have built up throughout its existence.
“Suspending GenderF for the year allows us the time to reflect on whether we can create the social space it was intended to be,” Rodriguez said. “I hope we can, it’s a fantastic goal to have.”