Just a phase: Genderfuck is over

Due to concerns felt by the Swarthmore queer and trans community, we believe that Genderfuck should not be held this year. The initial aim of the party was to celebrate queerness and gender variance through the destabilization of gender in a public setting.

Over the years, the focus of the party has shifted, and it now prioritizes the experiences of straight, cis individuals. 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. Over the years, traditions of dress and behavior have developed under the party’s name: many cisgender men will wear a dress as a dare with their friends, and cis women will equivalently borrow boxers from a hallmate, which they will accompany with a bra. These tropes are not displays of exploration or engagement, but rather costumes like those worn at any other themed event. Genderfuck has essentially become a costume party planned by queer people for straight, cis people.

What was initially intended as a space to celebrate queer identity and to interrogate gender presentation has become one where participants engage in an uncritical costuming, trivializing queer and trans individuals trapped and ridiculed by the rigidity of gender expression in society. It has become a tokenized display of queer presentation. Queerness has been decentered in favor of more privileged groups and expressions to briefly “visit” the queer and trans experiences as a party of mockery and appropriation. Looking beyond the scope of Swarthmore’s campus, we are thinking deeply about the violence that gender non-conforming and trans people face for expressing their genders. Since the start of this year, 10 trans women have been murdered in the United States. It’s February. Gender expression is not a costume to be worn lightly, or a conversation to be centered around an alcohol-fueled party space with a reputation for sexual assault and general perpetuation of rape culture.

Let’s rethink Swarthmore exceptionalism, or take it to its logical conclusion and then reexamine our assumptions. If Swarthmore is a safe and accepting place for queer and trans individuals — ignoring perennial anti-queer chalkings — we shouldn’t need a party space for people to explore their gender expression. In lieu of Genderfuck, and regardless of Genderfuck, we encourage people of all genders to experiment sincerely with their gender presentations on a regular basis — such as in class or at meals — rather than relying on a party to do so.

In parallel with this shift, the party has become a space where sexual assault and harassment have become rampant, due to associations of queerness with sexual promiscuity, and this image is too intrinsically tied to the party to ever be fully separated from it. No matter what alcohol policy we have, it does not address the underlying issues with the party. We do not believe the college’s revamped alcohol regulations have affected any significant positive change in this regard. In short, both safety and the queer experience, tenets of the event, have been lost.

As it currently stands, the organization of the party is left to an unstructured GenderFuck Committee, vaguely linked to the Social Affairs Committee and Student Government. Because only a few, usually queer, individuals sign up for this committee, the responsibility for the event falls primarily on their shoulders, and has taken a huge emotional toll on past organizers. The immense workload and distress caused by the inevitable divergence of the event from the intended purpose are two main factors in this. We do not wish to impose this upon future students, nor do we wish to take on such a responsibility ourselves. We feel that Genderfuck as it currently stands does not effectively shape a safe party space, which is something that queer and trans people want to center — safety for ourselves and safety for others. Genderfuck currently has no training requirements for attendees, and lacks organization for consistent, targeted consent workshops that are crucial given the party’s history.

Below are two statements, the first by Bryan Chen ’15 and the second by Tom Corbani ’17, about their experiences planning the party in the past. They are the only current students who have done so.

“When I planned Genderfuck two years ago, I was starry-eyed imagining what the party could be. The year before, a couple of amazing queer and trans students fought to keep the event alive, diverting its dangerous trajectory by upping security and re-envisioning its scope. I was happy to continue this legacy and to push it further. I had plans of further reform: to shift its focus to a deeper understanding of the vastness of gender identity and gender expression through workshops and atmospheric changes at the party. But despite my dreaming and my drive, I was not able to change much at all. With little administrative support and near nonexistent student energy, there was nothing I could do. Eventually, from all of the inaction amidst countless meetings and the stress of having to plan a party for around 1,000 people essentially by myself, I had to step down. Genderfuck was and is an absolute beast, and those trying to fix it are severely underestimating what they are dealing with.”

“I organized the party last year with a couple of seniors. I got involved for the same reasons I applied to the college: a promise of a queer space, and an opportunity to be actively involved in shaping such a vision. Although it was my freshman spring, I ended up taking on a significant workload, coordinating a performance and workshops, and the limited support from the administration meant that the process took a significant toll on my mental health. My goal, in light of what I’d heard of the event, was to “revamp” it with drag performances and workshops whose aim was to refocus the party around queer identities. Unfortunately, the event itself felt almost like a carnival: the minority of individuals who had put effort into their dress, mostly gay boys looking “fishy,” were gawked at by the other attendees, and the drag queen felt like a professional leader of this bunch. The space was only queer insofar as they were present: I couldn’t help but feel like the space I’d aimed to create had become a spectacle. In light of this, I no longer feel like my vision is foreseeable under the label of Genderfuck.”

We appreciate the eagerness expressed by various members of the administration and students to “fix” or “salvage” the event, but it is not feasible to detach Genderfuck from its murky history at this time. There have been previous attempts with the best of intentions and strong leadership to reform Genderfuck, but to no avail. These efforts have only resulted in mistakes that still marginalize queer and trans people, even though they are “in charge” of Genderfuck. Hitting our metaphorical heads against the wall will only result in more injury. We will not endorse, support, or help plan any event related to Genderfuck. It will be equally problematic to hand over the party to straight cisgender people, for reasons that seem apparent given the initial aim.

Over the past three years, various queer student leaders have tried to reform Genderfuck, to bring it back to its roots: a party that celebrates queerness and gender variance. But this has not been possible, since 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. Genderfuck exists within a false collective consciousness, carrying baggage from over a decade ago into the present day. While the exhausting labor of these queer and trans students have undoubtedly made Genderfuck better, the party’s premise still dehumanizes queer and trans individuals and still silences the students that it is supposed to support and celebrate. With new support from students and administration, we can continue to slowly change Genderfuck, but in doing so, we simply continue its harmful legacy, further pushing queer and trans students into the margins. It remains that the very concept and core of Genderfuck actually supports a system that it is trying to break down. Trying to fix Genderfuck is simply self-defeating.

We do not wish to place specific blame, and demand no apology or retribution; we simply do not feel comfortable seeing and supporting this event any longer. We hope that you respect these considerations.

If you wish to sign onto this piece as a petition, please fill out the following form:

http://goo.gl/forms/fkF3tSzpvM

Bryan Chen ’15, Nora Kerrich ’16, Tom Corbani ’17, Gretchen Trupp ’18

5 comments

    1. 0
      Nora Kerrich '16 says:

      Julia, I’m not sure where you’re finding a proposition of excluding folks who don’t explicitly/publicly identify as queer or trans. The op-ed is explicitly proposing canceling Genderfuck entirely, for everyone, this year instead of spending six frantic weeks planning an event that has proven to be unsafe for many people.

  1. 0
    Jon says:

    Genderfuck had noble intentions, but was more or less poisoned by the pervasive phrase “guys wear a dress, girls wear less.” Every freshman hears this “motto” and thus has an excuse to ignore what Genderfuck is meant to be and instead treat the event as a bacchanal.

  2. 0
    Respectfully Disagreeing Queer Person says:

    Fortunately, there are other queer individuals on this campus (my self included) who don’t share your sentiments and will happily continue to plan and help in the continuation of Genderfuck. While you raise some valid concerns about the appropriation and costuming of queer culture at Genderfuck, I think it’s unfair to just throw out the entire party because of your disapproval. Many queer individuals enjoy the party and find it liberating to feel comfortable expressing their queerness alongside their straight and/or cis-gendered friends. I agree that it is not okay for non-queer individuals to “costumize” queer culture or make Genderfuck an unsafe space, but that does not constitute grounds for the party’s cancellation. As long as the party is still managed and organized by queer students, and clear rules/programs to encourage sensitivity are in place, then you are by all means welcome to not attend. But to deny us queers who still value and enjoy Genderfuck because of your negative perception of it is not ideal. Also, telling straight or cis-people that their outfit for the night isn’t “queer” enough (i.e. ” cis women will equivalently borrow boxers from a hallmate, which they will accompany with a bra.”) Who says that this isn’t the cis-women’s version of exploring her gender identity for the evening? Are we now going to tell cis-people that they didn’t push their boundaries far enough in terms of dress? Most people in this world are straight and cis. Genderfuck is a night where they are welcome to learn more about our identities and celebrate queerness with us. To deny them this chance because of a few bad apples is kind of ridiculous. Thank you for your input. Hopefully this year’s Genderfuck can be improved, rather than eliminated.

    1. 0
      Nora Kerrich '16 says:

      If Genderfuck is important to many queer folks across campus, and seen as a boon to the larger campus they ought to be actively engaging in the preparation and planning of the event. As our op-ed states, there are only two people on campus now who have spent any time directly involved in the creation of the event, and there have been at best three core organizers of a massive party in the past two years. Only one person signed up to be a part of the Genderfuck committee this year and received no information about working on the event with OSE.

      Feel free to volunteer yourself as an organizer and coordinator, but don’t come for us!

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