‘Genderf***’: from Timmy to Kyra

“Genderf***,” currently on display at the Ezra Stiles College Art Gallery, asks why drag culture makes people uncomfortable.
“Genderf***,” currently on display at the Ezra Stiles College Art Gallery, asks why drag culture makes people uncomfortable. Photo by Stephanie Tomasson.

In “Genderf***,” a series of powerful and vibrant photographs showing Timmy Pham’s ’13 transformation into drag, viewers are confronted with questions about gender fluidity and sexuality.

Pham and Paulina Haduong’s ’13 collaboration is on display in the Ezra Stiles College Art Gallery through this Friday, concurrent with last weekend’s IvyQ Conference, which celebrated LGBTQ students across the Ivy League. Their project helps expose drag in a dimension other than drag shows, making it more accessible to Yale students, Haduong said. She added that the 16 photographs are meant to ask why drag culture makes people uncomfortable.

Most photos focus on individual portraits of Pham as his drag counterpart Kyra Fey to engage the viewer directly, though two photos juxtapose Fey’s interaction with a heterosexual male and female respectively.

“If Timmy can pass as a girl then what does that mean for me as a girl? What is a girl?” Haduong said. “Photography forces you to stop and consider one moment in time, to try to consider what it is that makes [Timmy] turn into a gender that he biologically is not.”

Pham, who has been dressing in drag since last spring, said he found drag queens shocking his freshman year since he did not understand the purpose of their “overt display of flamboyancy and sexuality.”

Haduong has no particular relationship to drag, never having dressed in it herself. But she said she is fascinated by gender performance and norms. She particularly likes one piece portraying Kyra in the bathroom with a biological female, Hannah.

“It’s violating the norm,” she said. “If Timmy is a girl that day, why can’t Kyra Fey use the bathroom with Hannah? These are the questions we need to be asking.”

Pham makes the very conscious decision not to perform in a hyper-feminine way.

“[I want to] show how gender is a social construct: you define it yourself, but it has also been so imprinted [on you] by culture.”

Pham is a member of the Bad Romantics, a queer cabaret troupe. Cody Hooks ’14, the group’s co-director, said the troupe hopes to create a space for students to explore their bodies in “a multi-cultural, multi-gendered and body-positive environment.” Haduong and Pham have similar aspirations for their project — they are both Vietnamese, which they considered a definite factor in deciding to make art together. Haduong said she thinks Asian culture is less accepting of queers than she would like, and she added that queer people of color struggle to find a fully accepting space on campus.

“It’s hard to be an ethnic minority and some sort of queer identity,” Haduong said. “And we’re both of those things, so making art together has been powerful and fun.”

Pham has had a tremendous impact on the queer community, said Hilary O’Connell ’14, who co-chaired last weekend’s IvyQ Conference, where the Bad Romantics performed. In an email, she said Pham has set an example for those interested in drag performance on campus by being so open about his own performance.

“Genderf***” acts as a prelude to a larger show Pham and Haduong will exhibit at the Morse College Art Gallery starting Feb. 18. Pham said the Morse exhibit will feature more recent images, while the pictures in the Stiles show were taken last spring. The two will also include more subjects in this second exhibit.

“Now I have 10 wigs instead of two and a lot more dresses,” Pham said.

The exhibit in Morse will run through Mar. 1.

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