“Guys wear a dress, girls wear less” may not be the best (albeit informal) slogan for a party with good intentions, even if it has been a pretty accurate description of Genderfucks of years past. And while it even has this year’s planning committee cringing, it is clear Genderfuck is going to have to change more than its slogan if it’s going to f*** anything this year.
At the request of the administration, Swarthmore’s Social Affairs Committee (SAC) moderated a closed meeting Tuesday to discuss the future of Genderfuck – the yearly sex-positive party for gender-bending, gender-fucking, and everything queer. While the group was able to work out numerous ways the party could be better organized to avoid the litany of troubles it’s faced in past years – sexual assault, dangerous intoxication, lewd and violent behavior – the administration is not ready to consent to Genderfuck just yet.
In an e-mail to The Daily Gazette following the meeting, Coordinator of Student Activities Paury Flowers said the administration is not willing to promise Genderfuck will happen until after future discussions between Genderfuck party planners and Swarthmore administrators.
“We fully support a celebration of gender/queer identity. However, whether it will still take the form of this GenderF party remains to be seen, and, as I understand it, without ample members of the planning committee on hand to handle the important collaborative work necessary, it won’t happen,” Flowers wrote.
The necessary collaboration discussed at the meeting includes work with Swarthmore administrators, Party Associates (P.A.s), and student representatives from the Drug and Alcohol Resource Team (DART), Sexual Conduct Advisors & Resource Team (SMART), Swarthmore Queer Union (SQU), and Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) to ensure student safety.
Flowers said she called the meeting to discuss the goals of the event and raise concerns the Dean’s Office has with the party, citing the party’s track record of lewd and crazy behavior along with with reports of sexual assault and property damage. Before she would address whether Genderfuck could happen or not, she wanted to ask what the purpose of the event is.
Genderfuck planner MC Mazzocchi ’12 said last year’s Genderfuck planners were deeply committed to having an open, safe space for students to publicly express queerness and play with conventional ideas of gender. Mazzocchi said some students on campus may still be too shy to enter a closed queer space, fearing it might out them, but can explore gender in a positive way at Genderfuck.
“It’s really tricky waters to navigate for some people. Genderfuck gives everybody an opportunity to explore… It might not mean anything, [or] it might mean the world to you to put on a suit and walk into Genderfuck or to put on a tiny cocktail dress and walk into Genderfuck,” Mazzocchi said.
The term “Genderfuck” was coined in the sixties as a way to describe a person’s gender identity (as in male, female, no gender, queer) or the act of consciously and conspicuously challenging traditional ideas of the gender binary through androgyny, hyperbole, and cross-dressing.
“It’s a provocative word, obviously,” Mazzocchi said. “Anytime the f-bomb is dropped it unsettles a lot of people, and I think that’s part of the party’s nature, which is to challenge people and to think about what’s going on and how they present their own gender.”
Genderfuck Planner Kenneson Chen ’14 said Genderfuck is important to the community because it’s an experience most people may not have again the rest of their lives. It offers a free and safe space for people to explore gender and queer gender.
“It also allows us to enrich our community in terms of what we are presenting and what we condone and what we appreciate in our community,” Chen said.
Flowers said she was not sure the mission of gender identity education and sexual positive messages ever made it into the rhetoric of the event. Genderfuck used to be the after party to the Sager Symposium — the yearly weekend symposium supported by Richard Sager ’73 which draws alumni, faculty, staff, and students together to address current issues in the LGBT community — but the two haven’t been connected for six or seven years. In 2009, The Daily Gazette reported that the Sager Symposium officially separated itself from the Genderfuck party due to its motivations and missions, which it felt diverged from those of the party. Maria Kelly ’10 told The Daily Gazette that the Symposium didn’t feel it had the time to “fix” Genderfuck, which the Sager Symposium committee “didn’t feel was a safe space.”
Since the two split, Flowers said, it has been difficult for her to understand the goals of Genderfuck.
“My personal concern is that I’m not sure those particular messages ever made it,” Flowers said. “Those messages and those goals didn’t connect or there wasn’t enough opportunity to engage the campus as a whole to those goals. So what people either operated off of or assumed about it is that it was a sort of free love.”
Flowers said this understanding of the event has led to safety issues in terms of how people handle themselves at the event.
“Having six or seven years of that mutation happening, we sit here now with a lot of responsibilities as administrators trying to pull apart the mutated part of it, if you will, and bring it back to the efforts of what it was supposed to be,” Flowers said.
Flowers said the party needs to be able to explain to the community the context of the event in order to prevent the problems caused in years passed. Flowers said the P.A.s as well as DART and SMART members have felt the mutation. One P.A. at the meeting called last year’s Genderfuck “horrific.”
“I think one of the other things that happens is no one really wanted to take the full responsibility of it. They wanted to plan it and say that they planned it, but then they don’t want to take responsibility for what needs to happen on the ground,” Flowers said. “It really needs 10 to 15 people on the ground that day in addition to the P.A.s.”
Those people on the ground would include SMART and DART members as well as sober escorts and volunteers that would help clean up and make sure the party is safe.
Flowers asked if Genderfuck could happen without alcohol or without students from other campuses, since Genderfuck would only have campus-wide education. Currently, only queer BiCo students are officially welcome to attend while all Swatties are welcome. According to Mazzocchi, this was decided following an incident at Genderfuck in 2006, in which the police were called because of violence between attendees and several Villanova students.
“If alcohol complicates it and alcohol is not part of the goals, then do we even need it at this event?” Flowers questioned. Flowers suggested that Genderfuck could be a model for other parties in the community.
Worth Health Center Director Beth Kotarski said banning alcohol from the party might not be the best route.
“Alcohol does complicate the point but then to say ‘okay, let’s not have it’ can send two messages. One is that we’re not big enough to handle alcoholic issues and also that we’re going to shirk from the idea that this could be an opportunity to say, hey we’ve done it here with Genderfuck, with alcohol, and we’re still standing,” Kotarski said.
Mazzocchi said they were concerned the queer community was being held responsible for sexual assault education and prevention on campus. They said sexual assault is a problem that Swarthmore faces year-round, not just at Genderfuck, and that the planners want Genderfuck to be an environment in which people can drink and have a good time. While sexual assault is an important issue to address on campus, Mazzocchi said asking Genderfuck to address issues of sexual assault would be asking the party committee to steer the event away from its original mission.
“The problems with rape culture and abuse culture and party culture here, I don’t want it to be obscured that while there seems to be an extra release around Genderfuck, this is a year-round problem, and even on the smallest and saddest attended parties on campus we’re having assaults,” Mazzocchi said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to punish Genderfuck for the wider student body and problems that we have.”
The group raised the concern that Genderfuck is different from the rest of the parties on campus because it is focused on sex.
Mazzocchi says the party is unabashedly sex-positive and that sexual abuse emerges from a sex-negative culture.
Kotarski suggested having 20 people commit to work at the party. Part of the responsibilities of that group would be to make sure students aren’t drinking too much, to watch out for harassment, and to clean up when the party is over. Mazzocchi said they also wanted to have sober bar tenders who would be trained to make sure they aren’t serving students who have already had too many drinks. The group suggested creating a safe room during the event in which there would be sober people from DART where attendees can go if they need to talk.
DART Representative Phoebe Hansen ’12 said DART could prepare informational posters on the effects of alcohol around campus before the event as well as provide over 1000 water bottles to put at the front of the party.
The group also raised concerns about dissatisfaction from staff last year who had to clean Sharples after Genderfuck.
Flowers said Environmental Services (EVS) has instituted a $600 fee when there is a robust effort on the part of the host to clean up the party and a larger charge if the staff are required to do more work, such as picking up all the garbage and cleaning the floors.
The group hopes to hold future meetings to plan collaboration across student groups, including a dress code (no nudity) which is yet to be specifically defined.
This article was revised on January 28 to reflect the following: The Daily Gazette originally reported all TriCo students would be welcome at Genderfuck. Only queer students in the BiCo would officially be welcome.