As Pride Month at Swat moves into full swing, let’s take a moment to reflect on the importance of LGBTQ+ events on campus—or, to be more specific, one particular kind of LGBTQ+ event that frequently draws a crowd of heteros and queers alike. That’s right: we’re talking about queer parties. For those unfamiliar with the queer party scene, don’t worry about having to ask for an explanation—we’ve got the SparkNotes version laid out for you right here.
Though it has been two years since Genderfuck’s official end, this controversial gender-bending phenomenon is often still the first thing that comes to mind when the topic of queer parties is brought up. Genderfuck, for those who are unfamiliar with the event, started as an unofficial afterparty for the Sager Symposium in 1988. Designed to “combat homophobia and related forms of discrimination,” the Sager Symposium was founded with the aim to academically explore queer topics and discourse and affirm the importance of the LGBTQ+ community at Swarthmore; one example of a former theme of the symposium is “The Boundaries of Queer,” focusing on the critical examination of the language that defines queer culture and society.
But the founder of the symposium, Richard Sager ‘74, wanted to focus on the L and G aspects of LGBTQ+, whereas the students wanted a more trans- and queer-centric conference. This difference in vision led to Genderfuck eventually breaking away from the symposium to become a standalone event, held in Sharples every spring. Over the years, the number of attendees grew till it was essentially the spring semester’s equivalent of Halloween: the larger crowds led to lower levels of safety, and Genderfuck began to acquire a reputation as a drunken site of sexual assault. It had turned into a mockery of its name, the perpetuation of the unofficial slogan “men wear a dress, girls wear less” detracting from the safe space for experimentation on gender presentation it was intended to be. The target audience, Swarthmore’s LGBTQ+ community, was ostracized at its own party, and those who did embrace the spirit of “genderfuckery” were a lonely minority.
In the words of Bryan Chen ‘15, “It no longer served the community it served to serve… There was no way it was going to survive. You can’t just keep the same thing going for 30 years.”
Chen was one of the students who ultimately advocated for Genderfuck to be abolished in 2015, alongside Tom Corbani ‘17, who was heavily involved in organizing the last incarnation of Genderfuck. The process involved a protracted, heated dispute between the college administration, the student body, and the party planners, though the cancellation of the infamous “DJ fund” helped to sway opinions in favor of abolishing the event. At long last, Genderfuck was cancelled.
But the shadow Genderfuck had cast in its wake was a long one. The necessity for party-throwers to reinvent the image of queer parties on campus was apparent. They’ve succeeded—if the Swarthmore Queer Union’s (SQU) masquerade party last month was anything to judge by. From a glittery pre-party mixer where guests could make their own masks to the impressive selection of boxed wine at the party itself, Masq4Masq provided its guests with a safe space to “fuck with gender” and present whichever way they chose whilst having a good time. Clearly, Genderfuck no longer holds sway over Swat’s queer parties.
“I’m really glad that [Genderfuck is] dead… [and] I love that now we have a rep for being decently queer,” Corbani said of the direction these parties on campus have taken since then.
Margaret Hughes ‘17 concurred, “With recent parties, we managed to make a space that was very different from Genderfuck.”
Notable parties that have thrived in the wake of Genderfuck are the sparkling extravaganza called “Glitter Booty Slap” and “Transgressing Galaxies and Queering Time: Lisa Frank In Space,” which was every bit as “out there” as its name implies. SQU has continued to organize queer parties over the years, and a Queer and Trans Party Committee was founded by a friend group of seniors in 2012, with a focus on organizing parties in non-mainstream spaces on campus.
“We wanted something not on the normal party route for people who wanted specifically to go to a queer party,” Chen explained.
Though the Queer and Trans Party Committee has faded from existence as its members graduated, their efforts were not for naught. Thanks to the students’ dedication, the void of queer party spaces is now much better filled: TriQueer hosts TriCo-wide parties that put a spotlight on marginalized queer people and facilitate safety and consent, and SQU takes the lead in organizing a series of events and activities (including but not limited to queer parties) during Pride Month. Some of the upcoming highlights of this year’s Pride Month (which is currently ongoing until April 15) include a RuPaul’s Drag Race Premiere Screening hosted by Colors, a Black and Pink letter-writing event, a “Gay for Pay: Swat Alums in Queer Careers” panel, and a drag show.
And, of course, there’s the upcoming Sappho Party, which will take place at 10 p.m. this Saturday in Paces. This party will highlight the overlap between Women’s History Month and Pride Month this year, celebrating women who love women in the true spirit of Sappho.
Genderfuck was a good idea, but poorly executed in its final incarnations. The queer parties that followed its demise understandably focused on distancing themselves from it, lest they be held up to the lofty (and questionable) standards of the party. But, as the buzz over Genderfuck’s cancellation died down, the queer party scene has been granted a broader playing field to experiment with party styles and themes, without sacrificing the importance of the community it is meant to represent.