120 A Gender Performance

Rowan Finnegan Cummings

March was an exceptionally unforgettable month for me. In addition to rejoining my classes after an almost two month hiatus (thanks, black ice -_-), I came out to almost everyone in my life. I also started HRT and, the very day I started, also Trans Day of Visibility, I had the incredible opportunity to perform in a fundraiser for Freedom New Hampshire.

Freedom New Hampshire is “a nonpartisan coalition working to educate people about what it means to be transgender and the unique hardships that transgender people face”. Their main campaign is fighting for the passing of #TransBillNH, which would protect transgender “Granite Staters” from discrimination in employment, housing, and public places. One of the best ways they have found to raise this awareness is fundraisers; enter Trans Got Talent. This variety show, held at Teatotaller in Somersworth, NH, was open to any performers who identified as trans/non-binary/genderqueer/etc, and invited them to share whatever talents they wished to. There were seventeen acts in total, ranging from singers and musicians to poets and film makers, and everything in between.

The environment was colorful yet relaxed; the walls were painted as if the color scheme had been named “psychedelic macarons”, and the furniture was thrifted, vintage, and painted every color you could imagine. One barista quietly made drink orders the whole night, while a few more stayed in the kitchen preparing breakfast food and pastries. A small stage sat in one of the back corners next to an aged teal piano (that somehow still functioned), and to the left, a TV hung from the ceiling, continuously playing Pee Wee Herman in between acts. I need you to picture this place vividly because it was the eclectic and vibrant nature of this establishment that solidified everyone’s comfort. Everyone who walked in, no matter if they saw these people often or had never met them in their lives, felt connected and supported by every single person there. There was no pressure to be perfect and no pressure to be anything other than yourself. Every performer stepped onto that dinky little stage and poured their heart out to friends and strangers alike, and, no matter the caliber of their talent, the entire restaurant erupted in thunderous applause every time. It was truly an incredible night.

This whole event, however, made me think back a few weeks to “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution”. Butler says that “there are nuanced and individual ways of doing one’s gender, but that one does it, and that one does it in accord with certain sanctions and proscriptions, is clearly not a fully individual matter” (Butler 525), and many people I met that night defied that to the umpteenth degree. Gender roles and gender performance are often socially-pressured things; we are pressured by society to behave, subscribe to, and never question our assigned-gender-at-birth, or the societal roles that accompany it. We are taught that some things are inherently “feminine” and some are inherently “masculine” and those who defy these guidelines will be seen as almost separate from their gender; a sort of outlier, both belonging and not.

Believe it or not, these same guidelines are sometimes drilled into the heads of trans/non-binary/genderqueer/etc individuals just as intensely (if not more so). More masculine trans women are often ostracized or not taken seriously, and same goes for more feminine trans men, or gender-non-conforming individuals who do not ascribe to the absolutely androgynous aesthetic. We so often exit one unpleasant performance (our assigned-gender-at-birth), hopeful to finally get a break, only to find ourselves going to the opposite extreme, simply to avoid unwelcome questions or comments.

But in this cafe, perhaps for only this night, there were no guidelines, and the only performance that happened was on the stage. No one’s identity or pronouns were put into question, and no one felt the need to look or act a certain way to be seen as a human or taken seriously in their identity.

It was beautiful and accepting. It was safe and kind. It was freeing.


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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Rowan Finnegan Cummings is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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