Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Given the recent threats to the continued existence of the Genderfuck Party and the questions surrounding its goals, I have decided to break the normally accepted boundaries of post-Swat life to come to the party’s defense. In doing so, I also want to attempt to set the record straight on the party’s recently fraught history.
In 2008, the Genderfuck Party was pretty much a disaster. Having heard about Sager before arriving at Swarthmore, I joined the planning committee because I loved the idea of Genderfuck and throwing a huge, queer bash. As a first year student, it was difficult to see just how far the party had veered off course. At the time, Genderfuck was still connected to the Queer Issues Symposium (then known as Sager), in name but not spirit. Even though I was technically affiliated with Sager, my responsibilities to the party prevented me from attending more than two of the Symposium’s events. The symposium took place while I was off shopping for chips, throwing tinsel around Olde Club, and unsuccessfully dying fabrics in highlighter fluid. The party had few formal rules and very little oversight. It wasn’t until 2009, when the Symposium announced its formal separation and several of its planners gave accounts of many students’ bad experiences, that I came to fully understand the problems facing the party and how I had been complicit in creating such an unsafe environment. In spite of the formal disassociation and after holding meetings with the Symposium committee, a few of us who had been involved in the Party decided it was still worthwhile to maintain as a separate entity, but only by fully committing ourselves to its original goal as a queer-postive, sex-positive party for creative, non-normative performances of gender.
Fireside chats were held at DU and the WRC (at the time two of the party’s venues) to discuss safety, sex positivity, and the problems of heteronormativity/sexism at Genderfuck. The party became closed to Swatties and queer Tri-Co students to ensure that people got the message of the party and so that we could limit the amount of random, potentially hostile guests. Arrangements were set up with PA’s and SHC’s to provide a safety net for people who felt uncomfortable, and the WRC became a dry space with lots of light and soft drinks and snacks for people who wanted to participate, but in a more low-key atmosphere. Finally, the slogan “Guys wear a dress, girls wear less” was publicly dropped and all descriptions of the party included explanations of what Genderfuck actually is, and the various ways in which one can take part in it.
These changes seemed to positively impact people’s experiences at the party and so they were maintained. In 2011, the administration got much more involved, a more robust relationship was made with the PA’s, and the party was relocated from three separate spaces to Sharples. Again, it appeared as though progress was made towards building a safer, better Genderfuck.
I find administrators now saying that the party has “mutated” over the past 6-7 years and has been run by organizers who never “wanted to take the full responsibility of it” disingenuous and personally offensive. It ignores these past efforts and falsely characterizes the current state of Genderfuck. More importantly, it avoids the difficulty of building a robustly safe and queer party space by simply opting out. At times, this campus-wide party has been organized by as few as two people who worked tirelessly to secure funds, hand out wrist-bands, escort Tri-Co guests, and clean up after the party, not because we “wanted to plan it and say that [we] planned it,” but because we were committed to the party’s original goals. It is especially troubling that these same administrators who profess to care about the goals of Genderfuck refuse to say the word, even after having heard our defenses of the party in a series of meetings and becoming familiar with the meaning of the term.
I am more than willing to admit that the party has had its problems and that the limited manpower has resulted in inefficient planning. The party needs to evolve and concerns over creating a safer Genderfuck always need to be addressed and be taken seriously. I think having more people involved in its organization and better coordinating efforts with DART, the SHC’s, members of ASAP, and PA’s will be a huge step forward. After that, there is only so much party planners can do. Without a serious campus-wide reflection on the purpose of Genderfuck and the impact of marginalization and victimization at social events, these goals will never be fully realized. As I said before to critics of the party, getting rid of Genderfuck doesn’t get rid of the underlying problems. What it does get rid of is a party that is unabashedly queer and sex-positive, a party that aims to liberate Swatties, if only for one night, from the relentless bombardment of messages that say we are defined by our bodies and forever confined to conventional standards of self-presentation. Other opportunities for subverting gender norms, such as the brilliant move in recent years to genderfuck in class a few days before the party, are all part of a concerted effort to make Swarthmore as a school a safer, more accepting place.
For the administration to say that it embraces “a celebration of gender/queer identity,” while placing the Genderfuck Party on the chopping block makes little sense. It unfairly provides all other parties with a free pass, while suggesting that radically queer gestures like genderfucking can only take place in dry environments. I don’t mean to suggest that the administration is actually unsupportive of queer parties, but rather wish to emphasize that targeting Genderfuck while tacitly supporting other large scale events with similar histories of assault and dangerous levels of inebriation (like the Halloween Party) and the diffuse, underlying culture and structures of abuse is logically inconsistent and misplaces the original concern for student safety.
When I graduated last year, I passed on a cherished pair of 6 inch lace-up, patent pleather ankle boots to my only non-Senior roommate. I wore them in a Twiggy inspired outfit, complete with 5 o’clock shadow to accompany the exaggerated Mod maquillage on my eyes. The boots were purchased on eBay from a charming man who photographs elderly drag queens and gender-benders. He assured me upon confirmation of my purchase that the shoes would be shipped discretely in a plain brown box for my safety and warned me to practice walking in them before I wore them out. I share these details to emphasize the truly transgressive potential of Genderfuck. Dressing against normative standards of gender poses a very real risk of exclusion and violence, which is why even this simple exchange of goods took place out of view and established a unique, if only momentary, form of social solidarity. Genderfuck celebrates the courage of those who regularly participate in gender’s subversion and encourages anyone and everyone to take part. It was never about simply taking off one’s clothes or putting on a silly dress (although silly dresses are certainly to be encouraged and jokes can be powerful tools for uncovering the contingency of gender) but about considering how these brief gestures might lead to acceptance and self-love.
My hope is that my former roommate will still be able to wear my heels proudly with the sartorial sophistication that I know he is capable of. Denying him or anyone else that opportunity goes against Swarthmore’s core values.
Class of 2011