Trans Awareness Week Transcends
BY LINNEA BUTTERFIELD
This week is Transgender Awareness Week, culminating with Drag Ball this Saturday, an event created to celebrate Oberlin College’s queer community. Transgender events are taking place all week to educate students about the transgender culture working to attain recognition in the final decades of the last century. Events including guest speakers, workshops and group sessions, and this weekend’s festivities, serve to educate and celebrate the campus community.
Lynn Hickman, a coordinator for the week, said, “The basic assumption of transgenderism is the transgressing of gender norms. Whether that means completely passing from one end to the other, or finding a space that combines or defies the binary in our society, it comes down to exploring outside of the norm you were assigned because of the discomfort that you feel in it.”
As Drag Ball nears, students prepare costumes, planning to attend as dominatrixes, thugs and celebrities. Others will attend simply baring their birthday suit. Yet Drag Ball is more than a notable costume party, it is an expressive space for questioning people. Questions about sex and sexuality are inextricably linked in the event.
However, some students are concerned that Drag Ball is losing this political spark. Junior Clara Hatanaka said, “In my past, I’ve been disappointed with Drag Ball because a lot of people don’t recognize what drag is, and there’re a lot of people who come to Drag Ball who are not in drag, and I think that’s disrespectful. I hope that it’s not like that this year.”
Guest speaker Holly Boswell said, “There is no natural sex. Who owns the meanings of the category?” Boswell, OC ’72, has actively worked in the transgender movement since the ’80s. Hir, which is the preferred pronoun for transgender persons that identify with neither sex, talk was entitled “The Spirit of Transgender.” Ze (again: preferred pronoun) said ze began to understand the spirit of hir sexuality through a circle of theater friends in hir 30s. “Community means strength, to meet our strength, to do the [activist] work that needs to be done,” ze said.
The queer community has an unquestionable legacy in theater and the performing arts and Drag Ball is no exception. One of the most flamboyant and artistic campus events is the runway. Androgynous outfits have been spotted at Drag Ball in the past, but for many students who may feel uncomfortable cross-dressing —the idea of a “genderless” costume may be hard to conceive.
“Standing in between genders, or completely rejecting the notion of a fixed gender really asks people to question what is considered status quo from day one. You are completely removing yourself from the gender binary, and that’s a radical act in and of itself,” Hickman said.
The transgender movement raises issues beyond appearance. It can provoke controversy within the queer community as well as outside of it. Keynote speaker Leslie Feinberg spoke about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender/sexual coalitions around the world, asking, “Why does the ‘T’ have to be with “LGBT”? They don’t have to be together. But every one of those initials is like an open door. I want [LGBT] to stay together. Being transgender and lesbian I have one foot in one rowboat and the other foot in another. I don’t want them to separate.”
Feinberg has worked with the queer movement for years. Hir vociferous fight for gay rights has extended itself to sister movements, and ze is heralded as a leader in national grassroots organizing. Ze talked about the need to unite with anti-racist and anti-classist movements to create solidarity and strength. As an example, Feinberg recalled the destructive tactic of hir Plant Supervisor in a Buffalo factory.
“They try to widen the fault lines of oppression between us by splitting us apart. They weaken our confidence in each other. They have made us feel like we can’t trust each other to change the world. All of our fates are interconnected,” ze said. “Not only is a defeat for one a defeat for all, but a victory for one is a victory for all.”
Feinberg also reflected on the history of the queer movement by describing the events of Stonewall to a student. Ze recalled the pandemonium that ensued from what started as a demonstration against police. The police stopped to harass a group of young drag queens in front of Stonewall, a gay bar, in 1969. Eventually the police were forced to retreat into the gay bar, encircled by angry folk who refused to let them out. Feinberg spoke about current opportunities for activism besides the queer movement, as she is also a leading figure in the national socialist movement, and focused her message on some current topics. Ze spoke about hate crime legislation and its possible negative implications, the Free Mumia campaign, and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.
Hickman said, “I would really like to see this [transgender] society change the old institutions, but I know that unless race, class, gender and sexuality are addressed as inter-related and all tied up together, then nothing is really going to change in a constructive and real way.”
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