Gender identity complexities
Published: Sunday, October 13, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 13, 2013 22:10
“Aggressive is your strength, your courage,” said Kisha, one of the several women featured in “The Aggressives,” a 2005 documentary by Daniel Peddle that was shown in the Rainbow Center this past Saturday.
The documentary focused on women of color who identified as “aggressive.” This term means different things to different women, but most women in the film used it to describe lesbians who present themselves in a traditionally masculine way.
In order to do this, some women wrap themselves in Ace bandages, cut their hair and take hormones, while other women simply wear stereotypically male clothes.
The documentary presented some lesbian relationships in which aggressive women took on more traditionally masculine roles.
“Being aggressive basically is who wears the pants,” explained Kisha.
Many of these women compete in New York City drag balls. They might dress up as and act like businessmen or construction workers.
“A ball is a get-together of gay people wanting to act like superstars,” said Rjai, an aggressive woman featured in the documentary. “You have to outdo the other person.”
Although these women dress and present themselves in a masculine manner, most of them do not identify as transgender. “I’m not trying to be a man,” said Flo, a self-identified “aggressive butch” who has been chased out of a women’s restroom by police officers. “I know who I am.”
However, some women featured in the documentary did self-identify differently.
“I consider myself to be transgendered,” said Marquise, “but I don’t want to be a man.”
Marquise enlisted in the military with hopes of making money and eventually receiving a college education. Although “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still in place when this documentary was made, Marquise said that there were very few issues.
“They don’t ask you your sexual orientation. That’s not the problem,” said Marquise. “Displaying your sexual orientation, that’s another thing.”
Since “The Aggressives” was shown as a part of the Rainbow Cinema series, which takes places in the Rainbow Center every Saturday at 2 pm, the viewing was followed by a discussion facilitated by staff member Chris Richard, a 7th-semester psychology major.
The discussion focused on how gender roles and stereotypes were involved in the documentary, as well as what sorts of problems gender non-conforming students might face.
“I feel that a ‘real female’ would be different for different people,” said William Barbosa, a 1st-semester biomedical engineering major, referring to comments made in the documentary about the type of women that aggressive women are into.
Students agreed that some of the aggressive women in the documentary were sometimes disrespectful when interacting with more traditionally feminine women.
“Just because you feel more masculine doesn’t mean you have to be a misogynist,” said Barbosa.
Students at the discussion also talked about the problems non-gender-conforming students might face, such as choosing a bathroom to use or even a dorm to live in.
“Universities have all-female dorms and all-male dorms, and say that we have a non-gender-conforming student,” said Richard. “What should that student do?”
UConn does offer gender-neutral housing in Garrigus Suites, but according to Richard, space is very limited and this option is substantially more expensive than non-gender-neutral housing.
Rainbow Cinema has been selecting movies that represent one or more identities within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender spectrum. “The Aggressives” was chosen specifically because it represents a diverse group of people and issues.
“We wanted to show more representations of different cultures,” said staff member Anna Ebora, a 7th-semester psychology and English double major.
“There’s certainly an intersection here between gender, sexuality and race,” said Richards. “We’re trying to establish that these LGBT issues are all-encompassing.”
Next week, the Rainbow Cinema series will continue with the movie-musical “Rent” at 2 p.m., followed by a discussion.