First Genderqueer Week aims to break down barriers
Just a week after dressing up in drag for Halloween, students will be encouraged to reconsider their gender presentations once again.
Next week, the Student Forum on Sexuality (X-Magazine) and Safe Zones will present Washington University’s first ever Genderqueer Week.
The series, which is co-sponsored by the Alternative Lifestyle Association (ALA), will include T-shirt screenprinting, a film screening and a keynote lecture by queer activist and transsexual woman Riki Wilchins.
Genderqueer Week was created to spread awareness about queerness—a word with a definition that might be unfamiliar to some students.
“It’s a word that even if people know it exists, they can’t really tell you want it means,” said senior Ayla Karamustafa, the co-president of Safe Zones.
According to Alexis Matza, a postdoctoral fellow in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, queer can be a noun, a verb or an adjective. Matza said that as a verb, “to queer” means to break down concepts and see what lies beneath common understandings and assumptions about the world. “To queer” looks at what is known and how it is known.
“Genderqueer, for some people, means they want to destabilize concepts of male and female, and for some people it just sort of feels like an identity that they can inhabit that isn’t about picking a binary,” Matza said.
Karamustafa, who identifies as queer, employs the term as a way to transcend labels and boundaries.
“I think we’re all kind of pressured to put our gender and our sexuality and our sexual orientation into these little boxes for people to understand them or relate to them,” she said. “For me, queer is picking a category that says I don’t really fit into any of those at any one time.”
The week kicks off with a genderqueer party on Saturday night, which calls for guests to dress in a gender different from their everyday presentation. The intention is for students to think about why the way they look might make them a certain gender, or make them perceived as a certain gender.
Senior Candace Girod, the co-president of X-Magazine, cited a recent experience that helped inspire the idea for the party.
“I have a good friend who for Halloween was wearing a dress, and he’s a boy, but he wasn’t being a girl for Halloween, he was just being pretty,” she said. “Basically, everywhere we went people would make stereotypical comments or whatever, so just seeing that says to me that something like this would be beneficial.”
Though Matza agreed that bringing queer issues to light is important, she voiced skepticism with regards to the party and other events of the week.
“Come decorate a queer-themed T-shirt—well what does that even mean?” Matza said. “It gets a little tricky because what if someone who doesn’t identify as queer then makes a T-shirt that is trying to create queer visibility, but then they’re not? Is it okay if it’s false visibility?”
Karamustafa said that aside from those students who actively seek out queer dialogue on the Washington University campus, queer is not something that is often spoken about.
Juniors Matt Konigsberg and Mac Chamberlin both said that they had not heard of Genderqueer Week and did not know what the term “genderqueer” meant.
“I’m guessing it has something to do with the gay community,” Konigsberg said.
Girod hopes that by tabling outside of the DUC and screening a film in the Fun Room, people who may not be actively seeking out the week’s events will also engage in the dialogue.
Girod said that queer theory is something that a lot of people should be thinking about because it deals with day-to-day experiences. Wilchins’s lecture will focus on putting some of these concepts, which may seem abstract and inaccessible, into layman’s terms.
Matza said that the value of learning about queer extends to all members of the Wash. U. community, not just to those who have spent time studying gender and sexuality.
“The students at Wash. U., I think, would all benefit from figuring out the ways that the world around us is shifting,” she said. “Difference doesn’t have to be tokenized as something exotic or a way to dress up on Halloween. It can also be accepted and understood as beneficial to understanding our lives.”