At Pride Week, gender roles fluid

She wore a double-breasted suit jacket, a bowtie and a bulging piece of silicone in her pants.

He wore a leopard-skin skirt and gold hoop earrings. The padded bra stuffed with socks was almost concealed beneath a blue chenille bodice, leaving his shaven midriff exposed.

Leading a workshop on drag is a somewhat tricky proposition when the session comes at the end of a week whose message rejects the idea that there’s a right way to be gay.

Turning to his audience with flamboyant delight, Roric Tobin ’01 declared, “We’re not supposed to give ideas of what gender roles are supposed to be. We are not professionals. We just do it more than the rest of you.”

His co-session leader, LGBT Co-op co-coordinator Maya Gideon ’02, grinned.

“Let’s mess with some gender roles,” she said.

The emphasis on the diversity of gay identities — sexual, ethnic or otherwise — marked this year’s Pride Week, held annually by the Lesbian Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Co-op.

The organizers of this year’s Pride Week struggled not only for funding but also for relevance in a campus environment that is already considered highly tolerant.

“I have a very clear feeling that five to 10 years ago, being openly gay was something you needed to be active or defensive about,” said Charles Porter GRD ’60, former chair of the Funds for Lesbian and Gay Studies Committee, a group of professors appointed by the provost who allocate funds for research in gay and lesbian studies. “Now you can be openly gay and no one really gets excited about it, either gays or non-gays.”

The comparative ease of gay life at Yale creates a certain degree of complacency, LGBT Co-op coordinator Laura Horak ’03 said.

“People ask, ‘Can’t I just be me? Why do I have to be a gay poster child?” Horak said.

Horak and her fellow coordinators responded by drawing attention to gay issues outside the University and focusing on elements of campus life they said were less tolerant.

Panels explored the experience of being openly gay in athletics and academia, where being openly gay is often more difficult than in the general population, organizers said. Guest speakers also spoke on being gay in the corporate workplace.

Horak said that this year’s Pride Week reflects overall shifts in the gay movement, moving away from defining a single gay identity toward a recognition of the fluidity of sexual identity.

“Some people find it just as hard to stay within the confines of the box that’s marked ‘gay’ as the box that’s marked ‘straight,’” she said. “Human sexuality and desire is just messy.”

That theme was evident in an advertising campaign in which LGBT Co-op members filled out posters reading “I am,” followed by two blank spaces. Responses included everything from “I am gay and catholic” to “I am gay and so is my sister.”

The ad campaign achieved so many things at once: “it was funny, obscene and relevant to Yale,” Horak said. It also “made people on campus who would never go to any of the events aware that Pride Week was going on.”

Gay activism has now come to include lobbying for public recognition and acceptance of all forms of sex that are safe and consensual, Horak said.

“One of threatening things about gays and lesbians is sex,” Horak said. “Society does not approve of non-reproductive, non-heterosexual, non-marriage-oriented types of sex.”

With Horak’s ideas in mind, the week’s activities included a workshop on bondage dominance and sadomasochism, as well as a play by transgendered performance artist Kate Bornstein.

Although the majority of the attendees were Yale students, the climactic LGBT Co-op dance brought in students from as far away as Harvard and Wesleyan.

East Haven resident Rob Parrett came to campus on Saturday afternoon for what was billed as a “drag race” across Old Campus. Hoa Huynh ’01, in a skirt and high heels, outraced a rival drag queen who made the mistake of wearing shoes without ankle supports.

Huynh, who had attended the previous day’s workshop, said that “wearing a skirt and dress allows you to see your body in a different way.”

His performance inspired Parrett and a friend to come to the Co-op Dance, with Parrett donning a full bridal gown.

“I think it’s just so important to have things like this in New Haven where gay people can go and feel comfortable and be themselves,” he said.

The week’s activities also attempted to address a variety of ethnic identities and demographic groups within the gay community.

A total of 50 people gathered at the Women’s Center earlier in the week for a panel discussion on “Creating a Queer-Friendly Asian-America.”

“You definitely feel, being Asian and queer, that there aren’t many others like you,” said Huynh, who praised the event.

Although events included an inverse minstrel show by performance artist Gigi Otalvaro-Hormillosa about the convergence of racial identity and sexual orientation, some in the LGBT community complained that there was insufficient attention given to gay people of color.

Erica Waples ’02, co-chair of PRISM, a group for gay people of color, said that the emphasis on white gay men in the week’s programming was indicative of larger problems in the gay movement.

“When you think of gay people, based on what you see in popular culture, you’re going to think of Will on ‘Will and Grace’ or Ellen DeGeneres,” said Waples. “Because the face of the LGBT movement is largely white male and affluent, that affects the issues that are put forward.”

People at the Women's Center lead a workshop on drag, one of many Pride Week activities reconsidering gay and lesbian identities. Panels also explored being a gay athlete and diverse other topics.
alyson sudow
People at the Women's Center lead a workshop on drag, one of many Pride Week activities reconsidering gay and lesbian identities. Panels also explored being a gay athlete and diverse other topics.

Comments