Jen Ivers ’10 doesn’t want to make a statement; she just wants to be Mr. Yale.
But as the first-ever female competitor in the annual talent show sponsored by the Yale College Council, Ivers — who does not involve herself in politics and would not describe herself as an activist — may, however reluctantly, become one.
Students from Ivers’s residential college, Timothy Dwight, voted overwhelmingly to make her their representative in the annual pageant, YCC events coordinator Mathilde Williams ’11 said. After the votes were tallied earlier this month, a YCC rep told Ivers she had been disqualified because of her sex. But the next day, the YCC apologized for what it now calls a miscommunication: She could compete after all.
That leaves Ivers and the YCC busily preparing for February, when she and 11 men will take the stage, hoping to be crowned Mr. Yale 2010.
‘AN ELIGIBLE BACHELOR’
When the competition takes place, Ivers said attendees should not expect to see her wearing a dress.
A Spanish major from Illinois with short-cropped brown hair, Ivers prefers men’s clothing and knew since she was young that she was attracted to women. When she was 8 years old, Ivers said, she stumbled across the word ‘lesbian’ in a magazine, and upon further investigation, she said, she realized the label fit. Shortly thereafter, in her first “coming out” experience, Ivers told a friend she was a lesbian while the two were on a bike ride. Her friend’s response: “Duh.”
Although Ivers is comfortable with her sexuality around friends and family, she said strangers are often confused by her masculinity. Ivers said strangers occasionally make comments to her when she is in the women’s bathroom, asking if she is in the wrong room.
Still, once people get to know her, Ivers said, the ambiguities surrounding her gender identity become unimportant.
“Most people don’t see me as falling within some sort of gender stereotype,” Ivers said. “And you can’t be friends with me if you can’t get past that.”
Ivers said she identifies as neither male nor female, and she said she does not identify as transgender. Ivers said gender is a non-issue in her life and should not hold any influence in the pageant.
Yoshi Shapiro ’11, co-coordinator of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative and a friend of Ivers, said Ivers fits the criteria of Mr. Yale.
“She’s always funny, and she’s always making people laugh,” Shapiro said. “She’s an eligible bachelor.”
But while Ivers is now excitedly making plans for the competition, earlier this month, it seemed she might not be allowed to compete.
When Timothy Dwight YCC representative Sophia Chen ’12 told Williams, the events coordinator, that Ivers had received the most votes, Williams said she was confused. A female candidate had never run for Mr. Yale, so perhaps, Williams thought, a mistake had been made.
Once YCC reps confirmed that Ivers had been selected, conversation turned to the logistical problems that would arise when Ivers competes: shirts depicting a male body had already been printed, for instance, and YCC reps wondered if they would have to be changed.
Williams said YCC reps never questioned Ivers’ eligibility, as no rule expressly prohibits women from Mr. Yale. But amid confusion about logistics, Chen sent Ivers an e-mail Nov. 2 saying the YCC had rejected Ivers’ candidacy.
Ivers was surprised, upset and furious, she remembered. Yale’s environment can seem very politically correct, she said, and she thought her peers would frown upon her exclusion from the competition.
“I thought they were being a bit foolish and they didn’t realize the implications of that decision,” Ivers said. “It made me feel like I wasn’t cool enough to be in Mr. Yale.”
The next day, Williams and Chen drafted a conciliatory e-mail to Ivers informing her she had won the Timothy Dwight nomination for Mr. Yale. The e-mail also said the YCC respected that Ivers defies “conventional standards of gender.”
In an interview Tuesday, Williams expressed continued support for Ivers.
“I feel awful about that miscommunication,” Williams said. “It’ll be really cool and unique to have her compete.”
Williams said she will advise the next events coordinator to make the rules of Mr. Yale much clearer to avoid future confusion. Though such recommendations have not been finalized, Williams said she thinks the new rule should limit the competition to men and people who identify as male because female beauty pageants are often seen as objectifying women. But Ivers disagreed: Because Mr. Yale highlights traits that are not exclusive to men, she said it is unfair to bar women from the competition if there is not an alternative.
“Being funny isn’t a masculine characteristic,” Ivers said. “There’s a lot of hilarious and talented girls that could impress an audience without wearing a bikini.”
Adding women to the competition would also draw a more diverse crowd, Ivers said, adding that friends of hers who have not attended Mr. Yale in the past are planning to attend because of her candidacy.
And if Ivers’ participation proves successful, Williams said she would consider recommending that the competition become co-ed. Ivers, for one, has already been brainstorming for a co-ed pageant.
“I was thinking it should be called Captain Yale instead,” Ivers said, laughing.
JUST FOR FUN
Even if Ivers earns the title of Mr. instead of Captain, she said her reason for competing is simple: having fun.
To Ivers, running for Mr. Yale represents little more than an opportunity to enjoy herself and to exercise her comedic sensibilities. After all, Ivers said, the pageant is not meant to be taken seriously.
“It’s not really a male beauty pageant,” Ivers said. “It’s a male ridiculousness pageant.”
As the manager of the women’s varsity fencing team and a fencer since age 14, Ivers said she plans to incorporate her fencing prowess into the talent portion of the pageant.
Though Ivers maintains that she is not trying to make a political statement by competing, she said she realizes the significance of her participation. Ivers said that had she been banned from the competition, there would have inspired student anger toward the YCC. From both a feminist and a transgender perspective, she said, it would have been discriminatory not to let her to compete.
Coop co-coordinator Rachel Schiff ’10, too, said Ivers’ participation carries meaning beyond its initial appearance of “ridiculousness.”
“It’s significant in assisting us to stretch our minds around preconceived notions of gender and gender identity and pushing us to re-conceptualize what we know about the gender binary,” Schiff said. “It reminds you that masculinity isn’t just contained in a man’s body.”
Still, Ivers maintained that she wants nothing more than to have a good time.
“I acknowledge that it’s significant,” Ivers said. “But I just want to get up on stage and have fun.”
The Mr. Yale competition will be held on the night of Feb. 4 in Sudler Hall.