Life Can Be A Drag: Examining Privilege in the Drag Community 

Life Can Be A Drag: Examining Privilege in the Drag Community

The ways in which people experience the world we live in relies on the overlapping effects of socially constructed categories. Women all across the US are identifying with #MeToo stories shared on social media, the same way that Black and Brown communities collectively mourn every time their lives are targeted by racist police officers. The ways in which people experience the same event can vary wildly depending on the sociocultural position they remain in. It has become important to examine society through an intersectional lens. This term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1991 to recognise that the ways in which race, gender and class interact  and converge have large impacts on the way people experience their lives. However, Crenshaw did not mean for her definition of intersectionality to be extrapolated to the stacking of oppressions like Jenga blocks to compare who has the tallest tower. Intersectionality holds utmost importance today when considering the structural ways in which bodies have been classified historically (segregation, Nazi concentration camp badges, redlining…), and the ways in which these echoes of the past still remain very influential today.

Performance in drag has been used as an outlet for self-expression for people of all genders, races and sexualities since its inception. However,  the freedoms, powers and privileges which drag performers experience varies greatly on these three variants: the gender they identify with (if they choose to identify with one at all), their race and their sexuality. It is not “merely a historical coincidence that the classification of bodies as either “homosexual” or heterosexual” emerged at the same time that the United States was aggressively policing the imaginary boundary between “black” and “white” bodies.”  Early historical discourse that surrounded a non-white “deviance” was not dissimilar to the non-heterosexual deviance. Both were seen as highly unnatural and therefore, perverse. People who exhibited these unusual behaviours or traits were prohibited from taking part in certain aspects of public life and were not afforded the same rights as those deemed to be morally superior — or in other words, white and heterosexual. Myths surrounding deviant behaviour were imagined and popularised, and unfortunately some of these falsehoods still remain heavily influential today. It is no coincidence that transgender people of colour suffer disproportionally high rates of violence (64% in the largest trans community in the Southeast) , as well as a vast range of sociological discriminations. Although often less violent, these same trends of unequal treatments apply to those in the drag community. Although already a marginalised group, there is much inequality to examine within the drag community. Certain drag performers are afforded many privileges based on their appearance, race, gender and sexuality. For those who do not fall into the categories associated with privilege, the road to success can be one paved with many obstacles. Transphobia and racism are two of the most prevalent prejudices seen within drag culture today, both of which have been woven into the rich tapestry of drag history since its beginnings. However, there are ways in which these prejudices are being reinforced and reproduced by popular television show RuPaul’s Drag Race, which serves a large audience of queer and straight people. By considering the histories of these issues within the popular drag narrative, it can be argued that in order to become a beacon of inclusivity within the LGBTQ+ community, drag must become a place where all are considered equal and are allowed the same opportunities to do. However there are many racist and transphobic thought processes that needs to be dismantled before this is possible.

There has been much discussion considering the relationship between the transgender community and the drag community. To the uneducated, both could seem similar, as they both deal with issues of gender expression. Many people are not aware of the differences between these entirely difficult groups of people due to popular narratives associating identical labels (and insults) for both groups. Terms such as “gender-bender” and “she-male” are just some of the offensive terminology which is used interchangeably about drag queens and trans women. However, there is one fundamental difference between the two: drag queens perform as women, and transgender women ARE women. Performance and identity are two wildly different things — a drag queen is a character whilst a trans person is simply that – a person who associates with a gender different than the gender assigned to them at birth. Cultural narratives about gender and sexuality have blurred the lines between art and reality. Although a drag queen and a transgender woman are two separate and different identities, it is possible to be both. Some contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race have come out during the show as transgender women, whilst others have begun their transition following their appearances on the show. Despite the national visibility Drag Race has afforded these transgender narratives, some queens are reluctant to call the show fully inclusive of trans women who also do drag.

In a March 2018 interview with The Guardian, RuPaul Charles, America’s best-known (and most likely, most influential) drag queen was asked a question about whether or not he would allow biological queens or transgender queens compete on the VH1 television show. His comments sparked a fierce debate on not only what it means to be a drag queen but more cuttingly, what doesn’t make a drag queen, at least in the eyes of RuPaul. ““Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture.” Charles remarks. “So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”  These comments and the rest of the following interview reveals the depth of RuPaul’s exclusionary ideas about who and what constitutes real drag. The interview goes onto question the fact that transgender women have competed (and done so successfully) on the show before, most recently with Season 9 contestant Peppermint. Charles notes that “Peppermint didn’t get breast implants until after she left our show; she was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned….You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body. It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing. We’ve had some girls who’ve had some injections in the face and maybe a little bit in the butt here and there, but they haven’t transitioned.” In these casual comments, RuPaul trivialises the entire transgender experience, condensing it to a simple surgical procedure. Many trans people choose not to define themselves and their bodies by surgeries, and others are bound by financial restriction which renders them unable to afford these surgeries. Top and bottom surgeries are a point of privilege in the trans communities, not the standard as RuPaul alludes to in his comments. In her book The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson describes travelling to Florida for her husband Harry Dodge’s top surgery. Nelson particularly chooses to underline the significance of getting a “good surgeon.”  Nelson and Dodge are obviously in positions of privilege to be able to fly cross-country to the surgeon of their choosing, and this luxury is unfortunately not afforded to all trans people seeking such surgeries.

Although RuPaul’s comments about trans women are harmful, they go some way to emphasise the struggles that the transgender and the non-binary drag communities face. These comments are not the only problematic things that Drag Race has become associated with. A segment from Season 6 entitled “Female or Shemale?” asked contestants to identify the “biological woman” from the “psychological woman” by examining close-up photographs of body parts. Additionally, a recurring catchphrase called “You’ve Got She-Mail!” was dropped by the time season 7 aired in 2015, in attempt to put forward a new “trans-friendly” show, although if it were up to the show’s host? “I would not have changed it, but that’s their choice.”  Although the show’s host may have a narrow-minded view on what drag constitutes, former contestants of the show have been outspoken in affirming their support for non-cisgender male drag performers. Carmen Carrera, a contestant on season 3 and transgender woman said “we live in a new world where understanding and acceptance are on the rise. Drag Race should be a little smarter about the terms they use and comprehend the fight for respect trans people are facing every minute of today. They should use their platform to educate their viewers truthfully on all facets of drag performance art.  Carmen’s words, although affirming, become worthless if changes aren’t instituted to make Drag Race more inclusive for trans contestants. Drag Race is widely considered to be the only way to make a decent living out of drag today, and RuPaul, in turn, becomes the spokesperson for modern drag in America. His opinions not only exclude trans queens from competing in the show, but prevent them from having the same chances at fame and fortune as their cisgender counterparts.

Another important intersection which has received a spotlight in recent times concerns drag performers of color. In popular culture, there is an overarching trend to portray gay people as a predominantly white group. “LGBT film-makers, organizations and publications reinforce the idea that gayness equals whiteness.”   LGBT people of color have been shunned out of the spotlight in favour of a whitewashed reality of what it means to be gay. Many gay people of color do not see themselves represented in any types of popular media. Unfortunately, gay people of color were thrust into the national media in 2016 following the Orlando mass shooting. The tragedy of this shooting was doubly so due to the fact that not only a gay safe space was targeted, but one which was hosting its weekly Latinx night when the shooting occurred. In the days following the tragedy, queer Latinx people expressed concerns that they did not have an opportunity to tell their stories to the media. “Even when it’s our community under attack, our community is not allowed to set the tone, and I hate to say it, white people just rush in,” says Paulina Helm-Hernadez, a co-director for Southerners on New Ground, a LGBT run out of Atlanta, Georgia. “I’ve watched it over and over again in recent years. The consolidation of gay white power, even in organisations that say they are committed to doing multiracial LGBT work.” The dominant narrative tends to be a white one in the world of drag too. Although previous seasons of Drag Race have been problematic towards queens of color, Season 10 has opened up conversations about the hardships that drag queens of color face when trying to break into the business. More specifically, it focused on the experiences of The Vixen, a black drag queen from Chicago, and delved deep into black queer trauma. During a recent episode, The Vixen tells her white counterparts about the pain associated with being told that “south-side trash ruined pride.” She also goes on to discuss being painted as the season’s villain, fuelled by the “angry black woman” stereotype. White experiences within the community will always be elevated above black and brown people and their voices and experiences. The intersection of these oppressions leads to double minority stress, especially in the LGBTQ community. While many white LGBTQ people might feel easily welcomed into among other queer people, queer people of color, especially black queer people, often encounter more deep-seated racism within the community at large. Queer spaces like bars, bathhouses or even LGBT centres may not be considered havens at all because of racism. More needs to be done to carve out safe spaces for queer people of color and make sure that their concerns are listened to. To paraphrase the Vixen, it’s hard being a black gay drag queen in America.

It is evident that within the world of drag, some performers automatically have more privilege than others. At its core, drag is meant to toy with notions of gender and has always been a welcoming community to those who struggled with heteronormative behaviours. However, the rise of popularity in RuPaul’s Drag Race has controlled the narrative on what it means to be a drag queen, and therefore has narrowed the definition of a successful queen to that of a white cisgender male one. The show places great emphasis on passing as female or being a “fishy” queen, but whilst in doing so, is careful to leave out those who are considered to be “cheating” by going through surgical procedures to transition as a woman. Although considered one of the most forward-thinking reality TV shows of our time, Drag Race only seeks to reward performances which are “merely a reassertion of stereotypical gender performance.” Similarly, the show’s arc tends to be more favourable to white queens and uses their experience as the baseline to speak for all drag queens. In reality, the ways in which drag queens of color experience the world are vastly different from those of their white counterparts. It is fair to say that the “the limiting scope of the show impedes progress for drag culture.”  In order to move towards a more inclusive drag world, fans of the show ought to support their local queens (and kings!) and consider that there is no one right way to do drag.


Aitkenhead, Decca. “RuPaul: ‘Drag Is a Big F-you to Male-dominated Culture’.” The Guardian. March 03, 2018.

Crenshaw, Kimberle Williams (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review 43 (6):1241-99.

Duffy, Nick. “RuPaul: I Wouldn’t Have Dropped ‘she-mail’ Joke.” PinkNews. June 03, 2015.

Edgar, Eir-Anne. “”Xtravaganza!”: Drag Representation and Articulation in “RuPaul’s Drag Race”.” Studies in Popular Culture 34, no. 1 (2011): 133-46.

Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2016.

O’Halloran, Kate. “RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Reconceptualisation of Queer Communities and Publics.” RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Shifting Visibility of Drag Culture, August 6, 2017, 213-28. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-50618-0_15

Singh, Anneliese A., and Vel S. Mckleroy. ““Just Getting out of Bed Is a Revolutionary Act”: The Resilience of Transgender People of Color Who Have Survived Traumatic Life Events.” Traumatology 17, no. 2 (2011): 34-44.

Somerville, Siobhan “Scientific Racism,” in Queer Studies: A LGBTQ Anthology (New York, NY: NYU Press, 2006), 242.

Thrasher, Steven W. “LGBT People of Color Refuse to Be Erased after Orlando: ‘We Have to Elbow In’.” The Guardian (London), June 15, 2016.

Bisexual, Pansexual, and Queer Identities: Why People Choose Each Term and How They Defy Binaries

Bisexuality is an identity that defies binaries and queers heteronormative spaces. Bisexual people challenge ideas about relationships, gender, and race by just living their authentic lives. When a bisexual gets married to someone of another gender, it can often appear to be a heteronormative relationship, but they do not lose their queerness. On the other hand, when a bisexual marries someone of the same gender, they do not become “gay” or “lesbian.” Bisexuals are not half straight and half gay: they are humans, not fractions. I will explore how bisexuals define their identities, transgress binaries, and redefine what it means to be queer. I will also explore how bisexuality exists in relationship to pansexuality and queerness and how all three terms influence each other.

Defining Bisexuality

Bisexuality can have many definitions, but a broad definition for someone who identifies as bisexual is someone who falls between heterosexuality and homosexuality.[1] This definition positions bisexuality not as its own identity, but something that exists relative to monosexualities, however.[2] The Bisexual Resource Center provides the following definition: “Bisexuality is a diverse sexual orientation, because people within the bi+ community define it in various ways. Some identify as bisexual, while others use pansexual, queer, fluid, or no label at all to describe their attractions to more than one gender.”[3] Bisexual activist Robyn Ochs used to say she liked people “regardless of gender,” but she now recognizes that gender is part of what she is attracted to.[4] The term was originally used in 1892, but bisexuality was not openly discussed until the late 1900s because of cultural stigma.[5]

Some people avoid using the word “bisexual” to describe themselves. Ochs examined this in a column for a queer magazine in 2001. She reached out to women who did not like to use the word “bi” and got responses that the word was just “such a strong word” or that it upheld gender binaries.[6] She also got a response from one woman who wrote, “for many straight men, they only think it’s an opportunity to get two women in bed with them at the same time.”[7] Another woman wrote, “I’m afraid that if I say I’m bisexual people are more likely to make assumptions about me that are really wrong.”[8] The term has both been stigmatized and sexualized in a way that can make it intimidating to claim. But this also makes the term powerful. Using the term increases bi+ visibility and makes bisexual identities part of everyday life. The bi+ community has also used Twitter to promote projects such as #StillBisexual and #BiTwitter to create solidarity, decrease stigma, and increase visibility of the bi+ community and nonmonosexual identities.

Perspectives on The Bisexual Umbrella

Another way bisexuality has been described is as an “umbrella”: it can be used to describe “a range of nonmonosexual identities, behaviors, and forms of attraction.”[9] This includes pansexual, queer, and fluid identities.[10] Flanders writes that grouping these identities under the “bisexual umbrella” can bring together an extremely diverse set of individuals, but not all people who identify as nonmonosexual want to consider themselves under this “umbrella.”[11] One of the big issues is that pansexuals, those who identify as attracted all genders, and bisexuals do not see their identities as interchangeable.[12] Flanders argues:

There are more similarities than differences in the way bisexual, pansexual, and queer people conceptualize their identities. In these cases, it potentially makes sense for our different subcommunities under the umbrella to band together and advocate for recognition and inclusion of non-monosexual people. The finding that so many of us simultaneously embody multiple umbrella identities, such as bisexual and queer, further supports this union.[13]

However, there still remains the issue that bisexuality seems to reinforce a binary, while identities such as pansexuality and queerness “facilitate openness to more genders beyond the binary.”[14] Although people identify in more similar ways than they might think, it all comes down to the word: bisexuality. It has its own implications and histories that some people do not feel connected to or feel they should confront. Research has shown, however, that bisexual people are not more likely to think of gender as a binary than pansexual people are.[15] In a recent study of how bisexual and pansexual people utilize binary language, it was found that bisexual people used more binary language than pansexual people, but this was largely when they discussed their own attractions, and they were just as likely to use nonbinary language as pansexual people were.[16]

Pansexual and Queer Identities: How Do They Differ from Bisexuality?

Pansexuality is a more ambiguous and fluid identity that evolved out of an “alphabet soup of identities and transgressing identities.”[17] On the conception of pansexuality, Autumn Elizabeth writes:

[Pansexuality] developed as reactions to the binary system—even a system that includes the concept of bisexuality. Such systems confine human experiences in small boxes that are insufficient to contain the reality of those experiences. There are so many experiences that clearly do not fit into these LGB boxes, no matter how satisfying it was to add the B to LG.[18]

The author makes the important point that some experiences could not be expressed with the word bisexual. Another term related to bisexuality and pansexuality is the term “queer,” which is understood as its own kind of umbrella that sometimes refers to “a range of sexual identities that are ‘not straight.’”[19] It is used very differently in academic and political contexts as “a term that calls into question the stability of any such categories of identity based on sexual orientation.”[20]

To “queer” is to “denaturalize” heteronormativity and recognize terms such as “straight,” “heterosexual,” “lesbian,” and “gay” as constructed identities with social and historical contexts.[21] The term queer has been reclaimed from a stigmatizing one to an empowering one; it was especially used during AIDS activism in the 1980s and 1990s.[22] It was “meant to be confrontational- opposed to gay assimilationists and straight oppressors while inclusive of people who have been marginalized by anyone in power.”[23]

Queering Race

Heteronormativity, or the emphasis within society on heterosexuality and normalization of it, is completed constructed.[24] Similarly, race is a social construct that should be looked at alongside heteronormativity. Siobhan Somerville writes:

Heteronormativity itself must be understood, then, as a racialized concept, since “[racially] marginal group members, lacking power and privilege although engaged in heterosexual behavior, have often found themselves defined as outside the norms and values of dominant society”- This insistence on putting questions of race at the center of queer approaches has been vigorously argued most recently in a body of scholarship identified as “queer of color critique.”[25]

Heteronormativity can be understood as racialized, according to Siobhan Somerville, because it reproduces similar power structures, values, and norms that place certain groups outside of society.

In a 2011 study with female college students who identified as both multiracial or biracial and bisexual or pansexual, Alissa R. King writes that literature on multiracial identity blends into literature on socially constructed identities such as bisexuality.[26] Those who identified as multiracial or bisexual went through similar processes related to both identities: “trying on” different versions of self, negotiating different sides to their identities, and finding somewhere they fit, a college campus, for example.

[27]Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe constantly negotiates questions of race, gender, fluidity, sexuality, and identity in her music, and she recently came out. In an interview, she mentioned identifying with both bisexuality and pansexuality, which set both communities off on missions to claim her under their label on Twitter. She never really clarified which she would call herself, although she did refer to herself as a “queer black woman in America.”[28] A Slate article titled “Can Androids Be Pansexual?” recently responded to the question, “So what is she, exactly?”:

Let’s get one thing straight (er, or not)—Janelle is whatever Janelle wants to be. It’s not up to us to categorize her. Haven’t you been listening? She will defy every label! Plus, in the interview, she says she once identified as bisexual, but then also identified with aspects of pansexuality. In her words, “I’m open to learning more about who I am.” It sounds like she’s on a journey that may or may not end at a particular label. But, yeah, she “has been in relationships with both men and women,” so at the very least we can say she’s living under the broad non-monosexual umbrella.

[29]The article then went on to discuss the differences between being “bi” and being “pan,” which they discussed as being somewhat of a personal preference or comfort.[30] Later, the author even dives into the word “queer” and expresses that essentially, all of these terms have become more fluid.[31] This suggests that things may already be starting to change in terms of uniting different identities.

Uniting Bisexual, Pansexual, and Queer Identities

The debate between these terms will continue because terms are important: they have meanings, stigmas, memories, and symbols attached to them. They help people express who they are. Terms are also very unimportant, however. Bisexual, pansexual, queer, whatever: we are human. We do need terms, but sometimes they need to be put aside. The unification of all those in the bi+, pan and queer communities, while each community still identified with its word, would be such a strength in terms of confronting hatred and heteronormative structures. Three non-binary identities united together would create a force that would even help transform the LGBTQ+ community, and it may have already started. The question remains, how can these three identities begin to come together in the future.


[1]Corey E. Flanders, “Defining Bisexuality: Young Bisexual and Pansexual People’s Voices,” Journal of Bisexuality, vol. 17, no. 1 (2017): 40, accessed March 5, 2018,

[2] Ibid.

[3] “What is Bisexuality?”, Bisexual Resource Center, accessed March 5, 2018,

[4] Robyn Ochs, “Why Women Refuse the Label “Bisexual,” In the Family: The Magazine for Queer People and Their Loved Ones (2001): 5,

[5] Miranda Rosenblum, “The U.S. Bisexual+ Movement: A #BiWeek History Lesson,” GLAAD, accessed April 8, 2018,

[6] Ochs, Why Women Refuse the Label “Bisexual.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Corey E. Flanders, “Under the Bisexual Umbrella: Diversity of Identity and Experience,” Journal of Bisexuality, vol. 17, no. 1 (2017): 1,

[10] Flanders, Under the Bisexual Umbrella, 1.

[11] Ibid., 2.

[12] Ibid., 2

[13] Ibid, 3.

[14] Ibid., 3.

[15] Flanders, Defining Bisexuality, 52.

[16] M. Paz Galupo, Johanna L. Ramirez and Lex Pulice-Farrow, “’Regardless of Their Gender’: Descriptions of Sexual Identity among Bisexual, Pansexual, and Queer Identified Individuals,” Journal of Bisexuality, vol. 17, no. 1(2017): 119,

[17] Autumn Elizabeth, “Challenging the Binary: Sexual Identity That Is Not Duality,” Journal of Bisexuality, vol. 13, no. 3 (2013): 332,

[18] Ibid., 334.

[19] Siobhan B. Somerville, “Queer,” “Keywords for American Cultural Studies,” NYU Press (2007), accessed May 10, 2018,

[20] Ibid.

[21] Somerville, Queer.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Alissa R. King, “Environmental Influences on the Development of Female College Students Who Identify as Multiracial/Biracial-Bisexual/Pansexual,” Journal of College Student Development, vol. 52, no. 4 (2011): 440,

[27] Ibid., 446-448.

[28] Lena Wilson, “Can Androids Be Pansexual?”, Slate, April 26, 2018, accessed May 10, 2018,

[29] Ibid.

[30] Wilson, Can Androids Be Pansexual?

[31] Ibid.


Elizabeth, Autumn. “Challenging the Binary: Sexual Identity That Is Not Duality.” Journal of Bisexuality, vol. 13, no. 3 (2013).


Flanders, Corey E. “Defining Bisexuality: Young Bisexual and Pansexual People’s Voices.” Journal of Bisexuality, vol. 17, no. 1 (2017). Accessed March 5, 2018.


Flanders, Corey E. “Under the Bisexual Umbrella: Diversity of Identity and Experience.” Journal of Bisexuality, vol. 17, no. 1 (2017).


Galupo, M. Paz, Johanna L. Ramirez and Lex Pulice-Farrow. “‘Regardless of Their Gender’: Descriptions of Sexual Identity among Bisexual, Pansexual, and Queer Identified Individuals.” Journal of Bisexuality, vol. 17, no. 1(2017).


King, Alissa R. “Environmental Influences on the Development of Female College Students Who Identify as Multiracial/Biracial-Bisexual/Pansexual.” Journal of College Student Development, vol. 52, no. 4 (2011).


Ochs, Robyn. “Why Women Refuse the Label “Bisexual,” In the Family: The Magazine for Queer People and Their Loved Ones (2001).


Rosenblum, Miranda, “The U.S. Bisexual+ Movement: A #BiWeek History Lesson.” GLAAD. Accessed April 8, 2018.


Somerville, Siobhan B. “Queer.” Keywords for American Cultural Studies. NYU Press (2007). Accessed May 10, 2018.


“What is Bisexuality?” Bisexual Resource Center. Accessed March 5, 2018.


Wilson, Lena. “Can Androids Be Pansexual?”. Slate. April 26, 2018. Accessed May 10, 2018.





Fighting for the of Equality Femme Women: A New Attractiveness Algorithm in the World of Online Dating


In America today, women face the gender pay gap, sexual harassment and assault, domestic abuse, the defunding of planned parenthood, prostitution- punishable by law, and for lesbians, stigmas against same-sex marriage and adoption, among other things. With the #MeToo movement shedding light on how large a problem sexual harassment and assault are in America, women come together and fight for this common struggle. Though admirable, the concept of women uniting together have historically left out lesbians and women of color, as they have been deemed deviant and irregular as the traditional women in America. The person who defines what the traditional women is, of course, not a women, it is the traditional man- the heterosexual, white, man – that ultimately has led women to also believe in this idea of what is natural and what is not, what is good and bad, deviant and normal. Today, as technology begins to define our lives more than ever before, the possibility of finding a partner has moved further into the online sector of our lives, making it easier to find someone without ever leaving our bedrooms. Our computer screens are open, and the phone that lives in our pocket is constantly on our minds if not already in our hands. Even the history of online dating beginning with Joan Ball[1], has been ignored with the popular version of its’ origins telling the story of Harvard men with an innovative idea. With that being said, lesbians and members of the LGBTQ community struggle to find partners online, with the attractiveness algorithm[2] coding them as not only unattractive, but altogether unwanted. As if lesbians didn’t already have a hard enough time finding a partner in their limited social spaces, the decline of lesbian bars has made it even harder, and now, as many turn online to find a partner, dating websites such as OkCupid and apps like Tinder, render them helpless in the human struggle to find intimacy. For these reasons, and on the behalf of femme lesbians and the LGBTQ community at large, I believe a new regulation must be installed that demands of dating websites and applications to make the data they collect publically accessible in order for it to be studied and used for academic purposes, and for a new attractiveness algorithm to be designed; one that not only allows for heterosexuals to find partners, but also for members of the LBGTQ community to do so as well.

The challenge that lesbians and LGBTQ community members have in finding partners online stems from heterosexist coding that declares everything outside of heterosexuality as irregular. The apps and websites believe their coding allows for the most people to find the right partner, and more importantly, the people the coders deem matter in American society are able to find partners. This leaves debilitating effects for those who don’t fit the constraints of what the ideal partner is and looks like. This idea of heterosexuality being the natural form of sexuality has been widespread throughout history and pervades everyday life. Our lives have become enthralled in technology and we can see now more than ever before how large a role heterosexism plays in every sector of our lives as it even enters the ever-present online sphere. Adrienne Rich argues that this notion of heterosexuality being natural as one far from the truth, and rather believes it to be imposed upon women and reinforced through various social constraints. Rich talks about heterosexism and how it has affected and hindered the woman throughout history. She talks of compulsory heterosexuality and goes on to talk about how this concept has ultimately led to the erasure of lesbian existence. Moreover, because women have accepted the idea that the natural sexuality is one where women want only men, lesbians have historically been deemed as either deviant, pathological or as emotionally and sensually deprived.[3] Rich’s argument rings just as true today as it did in 1980 when her essay was first published. The invisibility of femme lesbians on dating websites and applications is another testament to Rich’s argument.

The fight for women’s rights and equal opportunities known as feminism rejected the inclusion of lesbians at its beginnings. They were not the type of women that the traditional women wanted to be associated with during the middle of the 20th century. These beliefs, Rich argues, all stem from the reinforcement of heterosexuality, and while feminists may tolerate lesbians, they do not celebrate their existence as one that is inherent, therefore belittling them to less than heterosexual women. In order for women to stand as a united front, heterosexual women must believe that lesbians exist on an equal playing field, that they are not deviant from what is normal, but rather that their sexualities are natural as well. If all women can come together, this may be the answer for actual equality with men.

Eventually, feminists began to include lesbians, and with this new inclusion, lesbian-feminism came to exist but even with the existence of lesbian feminists however, butch and femme lesbian women were excluded from participating because of the assumption that these types of lesbians were reproducing the heterosexual relationship that patriarchy designed and that women were fighting against.[4] The femme lesbian identity is considered as a gender identity that is used to describe lesbians that are traditionally feminine in appearance and behavior. Though Femme women are often feminine presenting lesbians and bisexuals, the gender can include feminine presenting women of other sexualities. Butch lesbians appear to be masculine in their dress and behavior.[5] It is for these reasons that people often think butch-femme relationships are reproducing heterosexual relationships, however it is the feminine women choosing not a man but a masculine women that is an act of fighting heterosexism, not reproducing it.

Lesbian feminism gave lesbians the theoretical sisterhood of all women but lesbians who identified as butch or femme were rejected from this sisterhood of women. The separation of lesbians and femme and butch identifying lesbians often was due to class issues. Femme and butch lesbians were often of lower class status than lesbian feminists.[6] The inclusion of femme and butch women in lesbian feminism eventually came about, but once again, femme women found themselves often invisible in social spaces that included heterosexual women as well. Though as many femme women do offer their gratitude for being able “to pass” as heterosexual in a country that has deplored homosexuality, the invisibility they face leaves them frustrated and further marginalized in an already marginalized community of lesbians.[7] Sometimes butch lesbians and lesbians in general have a difficult time distinguishing between heterosexual women and femme lesbians due to the traditionally feminine performance that femme lesbians take on.[8] Even while in lesbian spaces like lesbian bars, femme lesbians are often questioned for their presence in these spaces, claiming that they are either straight or ridiculed for not being gay enough. When they are thought to be straight, they are left feeling isolated because neither heterosexual women nor lesbian women can figure out whom and what they are. Their identities get lost and misunderstood. Even at the beginning of recorded lesbian history, femmes were unidentified as lesbians until the end of the 1800’s when butch lesbians came into the public sphere.[9] Next to their masculine partners, femme women could be seen as lesbians, too.

The fight for visibility has been a long one, clearly, for femme lesbians. While this fight began on the streets and in bars, a new, modern struggle has been unleashed on dating websites and applications. The concept of online dating, unknown to most, actually began with Joan Ball in England. Ball took on a job with the “marriage bureau,” a dating service similar to online dating but not online. She found herself to be very successful at the job and saw that instead of asking what people were looking for in a partner, asking what they are not looking for was more beneficial to finding them a good match. Eventually, she opened her own marriage bureau and her business flourished. Her primary customers were divorcees, widowers, and older unmarried people. In 1965 she ran the first commercial dating service and was successful for taking into account strong negative feelings when first determining matches. She went through many name changes such as Eros Friendship Bureau, to St. James Computer Dating Service, and ended up with the name Com-Pat II, shorthand for computerized compatibility. By 1970, Com-Pat II software was using better data and had a larger user pool. Eventually, Ball sold her company and her creation of the first online dating services became erased from the popularized anecdote of the Harvard men creating the first online dating services.

The three Harvard undergraduates, Jeff Tarr, Dave Crump, and Vaughan Morrill, as well as Cornell dropout, Doug Ginsberg, found themselves wishing it were easier to find girls to hookup with at parties. The parties and mixers they attended left them feeling awkward trying to find a girl and often without a girl next to them in the morning. They came to the conclusion that they could make things a bit easier by making a dating service that set them up with girls they had similar desires with. This idea became known as Operation Match and later became public for use by Harvard students the year after Joan Ball’s, Com-Pat was released into the public in England. The four men were asked about the software they initially used for Operation Match and all coincidently failed to remember the name of it- perhaps it was Joan Ball’s software. Ultimately, the dating service was too much work for these men to keep up with and later failed, but luckily for them, the popular story of the Harvard men creating the first online dating did not disappear from history, only Joan Ball’s story did.[10]

The concept of online dating continued to expand and today, apps like Tinder and websites such as OkCupid allow for many to find life-long partners or short -term sexual partners. With that being said however, it wasn’t until recently that dating websites and apps catered to LGBTQ people at all. OkCupid was one of the first to do so, and the company was applauded for their inclusion of a range of genders and the ability to search for a partner based on gender and sexuality identifiers. This addition publically looks inclusive and helpful, but what the public doesn’t see, is that even with the inclusion for more genders and sexualities, the algorithm used to match people, essentially leaves lesbians unable to find partners. This is due to the fact that the algorithm is based on heteronormative concepts. The idea that women naturally desire men, and that these men are white, heterosexual, cisgender males who are healthy and traditionally masculine, leaves women who are not searching for these men to be unable to find the correct partner.

The coding and attractiveness algorithm characteristic of these dating applications and dating websites is ultimately based on the notion of heterosexuality being the intrinsic sexuality for all. Until this notion is deleted from our minds, the invisibility that femme women feel in public spaces with heterosexual women, and even in lesbian spaces such as bars, will continue to occur not only in real life, but also online. A new code must be established, one that perhaps is created by a lesbian woman herself, so that the invisibility lesbians often feel in the public sphere, doesn’t have to occur in the private sector of our online, technology ridden lives. Men fear that women could live lives on their own terms, and therefore disregard men and their needs altogether.[11] The issue of women coming together but not including all women needs to come to an end. Women of color and LGBTQ women are ostracized enough as it is by the men who control our society. Women fighting for their rights and equal opportunities would find themselves a lot stronger if they had all women included in the same fight. As long as any woman of any race or sexual orientation is being oppressed, all women are not equal with men.

The femme identity has faced many problems in finding their space and ultimately finding acceptance not only among men but among women, too. They found their space in bars and beaches[12], but it is not always summer, and lesbian bars began declining in the ‘80s, with previous issues of bar raids in the ‘40s[13]. Additionally, lesbians were often arrested during the beginning of the creation of lesbian bars, as the police often mistook them to be prostitutes.[14] This is just another example of lesbians being known for their deviant sexualities, much like prostitutes. As technology becomes more important in everyday life, more and more people are using it to find short-term sexual encounters, and even long-term partners. The future needs to see all women coming together, and when this happens, lesbians will be accepted and celebrated. One way we can pave the road to equality for all women is by creating a new attractiveness algorithm that allows for lesbians to find partners and allows them to ultimately feel as worthy citizens of America. Though a small step on a long journey, the new code ultimately will fight heterosexism and allow for lesbian existence to be celebrated and reproduced.

[1] Hicks, Marie. “The Mother of All Swipes.” Logic Magazine, Logic Magazine, 29 Jan. 2018,

[2] Gieskeing, Jen Jack. 2017 “Messing with the Attractiveness Algorithm: A Response to Queering Code/Space.” Gender, Place & Culture, September, 1-7.

[3] Rich, Adriene. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” 1980.

[4] Smith, Elizabeth A. “Butches, Femmes, and Feminists: The Politics of Lesbian Sexuality.” NWSA Journal, vol. 1, no. 3, 1989, pp. 398–421. JSTOR, JSTOR,

[5] Kramarae, Cheris, and Dale Spender. “Butch/Femme.” Routledge international encyclopedia of women: global womens issues and knowledge. New York: Routledge, 2000. 131-33.

[6] Smith, Elizabeth A. “Butches, Femmes, and Feminists: The Politics of Lesbian Sexuality.” NWSA Journal, vol. 1, no. 3, 1989, pp. 398–421. JSTOR, JSTOR,

[7] Johnson, Matthew D., and Claude J. Summers. “Gay and Lesbian Bars.” Glbtq, Glbtq, Inc., 2015, pp. 1–7.

[8] Eves, Alison. “Queer Theory, Butch/Femme Identities and Lesbian Space.” Sexualities, SAGE Publications.

[9] Wolfe, Maxine. “Invisible Women in Invisible Places: Lesbians, Lesbian Bars, and the Social Production of People/ Environment Relationships.” Arch. & Comport. / Arch. & Behav., vol. 8, no. 2, 1992, pp. 137–158.

[10] Hicks, Marie. “The Mother of All Swipes.” Logic Magazine, Logic Magazine, 29 Jan. 2018,

[11] Rich, Adriene. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” 1980.

[12] Nestle, Joan. “Restriction and Reclamation.” A Restricted Country, Firebrand Books, 1987, pp. 61–67.

[13] Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky. “The Hidden Voice: Fems in the 1940s and 1950s.” In Femme: Feminists, Lesbians, and Bad Girls.

[14] Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky. “The Hidden Voice: Fems in the 1940s and 1950s.” In Femme: Feminists, Lesbians, and Bad Girls.


Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky. “The Hidden Voice: Fems in the 1940s and 1950s.” In Femme: Feminists, Lesbians, and Bad Girls.

Hicks, Marie. “The Mother of All Swipes.” Logic Magazine, Logic Magazine, 29 Jan. 2018,

Rich, Adriene. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Exsistence.” 1980.

Gieskeing, Jen Jack. 2017 “Messing with the Attractiveness Algorithm: A Response to Queering Code/Space.” Gender, Place & Culture, September, 1-7.

Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky. “The Hidden Voice: Fems in the 1940s and 1950s.” In Femme: Feminists, Lesbians, and Bad Girls. you get this spot right here: butch fem sexuality during the 1940s and 1950s&source=bl&ots=R20iUMhavI&sig=4sQTamvHD0j09HOd73A7UY5iPbs&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjRgt3IgdTZAhUNnFkKHe6_DwcQ6AEILTAB#v=onepage&q=now%20you%20get%20this%20spot%20right%20here%3A%20butch%20fem%20sexuality%20during%20the%201940s%20and%201950s&f=false.

Kramarae, Cheris, and Dale Spender. “Butch/Femme.” Routledge international encyclopedia of women: global womens issues and knowledge. New York: Routledge, 2000. 131-33.

Wolfe, Maxine. “Invisible Women in Invisible Places: Lesbians, Lesbian Bars, and the Social Production of People/ Environment Relationships.” Arch. & Comport. / Arch. & Behav., vol. 8, no. 2, 1992, pp. 137–158.

Smith, Elizabeth A. “Butches, Femmes, and Feminists: The Politics of Lesbian Sexuality.” NWSA Journal, vol. 1, no. 3, 1989, pp. 398–421. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Eves, Alison. “Queer Theory, Butch/Femme Identities and Lesbian Space.” Sexualities, SAGE Publications.



Final Project: The Two-spirit Identity

Some may have heard of this term, some may have not: two-spirit. What are these words, and what do they mean? What significance does this term hold? Does it mean quite literally as it sounds, that a person has ‘two spirits’? To answer these questions, in a sense yes, two-spirit means a person who has ‘two spirits’ or more specifically speaking in American white cultural terms, a person with two or more genders. Two-Spirit is a Native American, umbrella term, derived from the Ojibwe term niizh manidoowag, that identifies the third and fourth genders existent in Indigenous tribes and cultures in North America. Two-spirits contain both the male and female spirit, differentiating themselves from typical, binary classifications of gender, and can be attracted to the same sex or different sex. When looking up the definition in the New Oxford American Dictionary, it is defined as a “gay, lesbian, or transgender” member of Native Americans.[1] But, Native American scholars and two-spirits themselves prefer not to define and categorize the term into any sexuality or gender, but instead focus on the spirit of a person.[2] It is also a term used to distinguish the Native conceptualization of gender and sexuality and make it their own, steering away from typical American, heteronormative, white cultural terms.[3]

For my identity, I argue for the two-spirit amongst Indigenous peoples and the support this identity needs to be publicized so people of American, heteronormative culture can be educated on this unique identity. By doing so, this would inform the informed, ranging from members of the LGBT community to mainstream American popular culture. This could potentially result in less discrimination and overall better awareness of this non-binary, non-conforming identity. Two-spirits, similar to people of non-binary sexualities and genders, are often and have been historically bullied, harassed and in some cases killed for not ‘conforming’ to typical binary gender roles of American culture. In certain cases, they are not even accepted by their own Indigenous people and tribes despite that once two-spirits were looked upon as important, unique members and leaders of their tribes. Thus, by publicizing this identity amongst traditional, heteronormative American culture in effort to educate the uneducated, two-spirits would be more broadly known and, even more importantly, accepted by members of their own tribe and the American public.

Two-spirit is in need of help as an identity due to the oppression they have faced for centuries. Though this identity used to hold prominence amongst natives, it is now looked down upon as tribes have been infiltrated with traditional, binary roles of American culture. But, by looking at the history of the two-spirit, it can lead to enlightenment and change for an identity in need of major assistance.

Though some may believe the history of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender history in America started with the Stonewall riots in 1969, the history started far before then.[4] As Michael Foucault amongst other historians of sexuality argue, “sexual acts between two people of the same sex had been punishable through legal and religious sanctions well before the late nineteenth century.”[5] Non-conforming identities have been around for hundreds of years, but their history remains hidden, unwritten and popularly unknown. This can be attributed to the discrimination and oppression these people faced when performing or displaying their non-binary gender roles.

Since North America was colonized by the Spanish Catholics in the early 16th century, two-spirit figures in various tribes have been discriminated against. This discrimination would eventually result in the enforcement of European gender roles, torture, imprisonment or death. When the Spaniards began to colonize, they came across men dressed like women and women dressed like men. Along with cross-dressing, they witnessed men performing feminine, societal roles and women performing masculine roles. In their eyes, this simply looked wrong as all people were cis-gender, especially in 16th century Spain as the Catholic Church was instituting the Spanish Inquisition. To Spanish standards, certain genders had certain societal roles they were supposed to maintain and reinforce.

The first account of Spanish and two-spirit contact that was recorded came in in 1513 colonial Spain, present-day Panama. Vasco Núñez de Balboa came upon a two-spirit, or in his eyes an effeminate man dressed as a woman. Balboa stripped the two-spirit of her clothes and let the dogs upon her, eating the two-spirit alive and to death.[6] This is one, violent example of traditional Christian beliefs forcefully imposed on Indigenous culture which launched the beginning of the persecution of two-spirits. This only worsened over time as more Natives were converted to Christianity and saw the practice of two-spirits as sinful and wrong. This led to their two-spirit persecution throughout the 16th through 20th century as North America as a continent was Christianized and the diminishing of the two-spirit population as a whole commenced.

In this instance, if the Spaniards, somehow and in some capacity, had been educated or aware of the two-spirit and their unique identity, they may have not been as harsh with their punishments. If the Spaniards had been more aware that different cultures and cultural practices had different gender and sexual beliefs than those of western Europeans, this could have led to a better and potentially kinder treatment of the two-spirits by the Spaniards. With the help of education, the situation could have been radically different and produced radically different results.

Another historical instance of cultural differences leading to misunderstandings are the written accounts of French writer and military member Jean-Bernard Bossu. When he was stationed in colonial New Orleans and as he traveled up the Mississippi River to Illinois, Bossu witnessed two-spirits engaging in typical sexual behaviors. In his 1768 Nouveaux Voyages aux Indes Occidentales, he recorded: “The majority [of the Choctaws] are addicted to sodomy. These corrupt men [the berdache] wear their hair long and a short skirt like the women.”[7] Due to his Western European customs and practices, sodomy and cross-dressing was looked down upon as strange, vile, and unchristian. More importantly, it was misunderstood due to lack of knowledge of other cultures. Since Bossu only knew his European, binary cultural practices and ways, sodomy and cross-dressing was a sin and was even deemed illegal in 18th century France. Thus, with a broader knowledge of cultures, Bossu may have not looked upon this practice as “sodomy” but instead looked upon it as a cultural practice that was normalized by Indigenous tribes and the two-spirit identity.

Another turning point for Indigenous people and two-spirits, especially, was the start of government intervention in the lives and practices of native tribes. Since the Office of Indian Affairs was created in 1806, the American government attempted to enforce Western cultural practices on native peoples.[8] This included cutting men’s hair to shorter lengths, enforcing American government structures on the people, and making all conform to binary gender practices.

Up until the 20th century, two-spirits were celebrated in their tribes and were looked upon as leaders or knowledgeable medicinal figures. An example of a celebrated two-spirit is Osh-Tisch, who was part of the Crow Nation.[9] From a white, American binary perspective, Osh-Tisch looked like a male performing effeminate roles and wearing feminine clothes. She displayed her bravery when she saved a fellow, kidnapped Crow member and killed a Lakota tribesman at the 1876 Battle of Rosebud and was commonly seen amongst the women of the tribe. She led the women in their daily routines and was called even “sister.” Unfortunately, B.I.A agent Briskow came onto Crow Nation lands in the late 1890s, with the intention of conforming all Natives to American, heteronormative culture. “He tried to interfere with Osh-Tisch, who was the most respected badé. The agent incarcerated the badés, cut off their hair, made them wear men’s clothing. He forced them to do manual labor, planting trees that you can see here on the BIA grounds.”[10] Eventually, the Crow leaders convinced Briskow to leave Native lands, but not first without breaking the spirit of Crow two-spirits.

This is one example of a two-spirit’s identity being overlooked and changed due to government intervention and enforcement of mainstream American cultural practices. This would eventually change the cultural practices of natives and how they view the two-spirit identity. If the government had dedicated the time and resources to familiarize themselves with the natives and their practices in the late 1890s and even before then, views of the two-spirit identity would be looked upon with substantial difference. If only the government could have realized that different does not mean bad, but purely just different. If the government had taken on this mentality, the two-spirit identity could have been preserved by native tribes and looked upon with awe, interest and respect in comparison to disgust and puzzlement. This mentality can still be applied to the government today as practices and cultural ways that are deemed different than mainstream, binary American cultural ways are still looked down upon. This condescension can result in the disappearance of certain cultures and practices, which would be a shame. With the help of education, native standings with the government could have been radically different and a culture in itself could have been better preserved.

Another similar example of Indigenous people conforming to binary, gender American ways to the point of exploitation were the Navajo women working at the Fairchild’s Shiprock, New Mexico plant in the 1960s.[11] Fairchild bargained a deal with the Navajo tribe in which the digital company could build a plant on Navajo land and in turn would provide jobs for the native people. This opened up job opportunities, but led to gender imbalances and problems as the women, who showed better skills for building technology, were employed and the men turned toward unemployment and drinking. Even though two-spirits, who possessed both men and women genders, once led tribes and participated in both gender roles, these times had faded with history as American and mainstream gender roles had been imposed and enforced on natives. Thus, this example of gender imbalance would have never existed if the government and American culture in general had not inflicted their cultural practices and forcing them to conform to typical, binary gender ways.

A suggestion for action that would support and help the two-spirit identity and those who identify as two-spirits would be the enforcement of the same-sex marriage law on Indian reservations. Since the same-sex marriage law was passed in June of 2015 with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, LGBTQ members, including two-spirits, of native tribes and those who live on native lands may or may not be able to marry their loved one of the same sex. The decision of Obergefell v. Hodges can only be enforced on reservations if the tribe’s jurisdiction supports and thus passes this law. For all Indigenous LGBTQ members to experience same-sex marriage laws and privileges as the rest of America, the government should intervene and legalize same-sex marriage on reservations. This could result in fewer hate crimes of two-spirits and decrease general oppression and discrimination that two-spirits face by their own tribe members and from people outside of their respective reservations.

Another suggestion that could result in change, more awareness and general knowledge on the two-spirit identity is scholarship and academia coverage of the two-spirit identity. This can be done by writing diverse articles and books that include the two-spirit identity. If scholars who focus on and study LGBTQ scholarship shifts their focus toward two-spirit, more scholars will know about this identity, which in turn could eventually result in the infiltration of American popular culture. Since the rise of LGBTQ awareness and rights in the 21st century, two-spirit identity has potential and a chance at reaching awareness on a grand-scale.

The two-spirit identity represents an important historical figure and identity to Native American culture and history. Due to European and American cultural practices, intervention, and enforcement, the two-spirit identity was altered and changed to fit binary norms. The two-spirit has been on the decline ever since the Spanish crossed the Atlantic and began to colonize the Americas. But, with the aid of two-spirit communities, gatherings and societies that have formed in the last 30 or so years, the two-spirit identity is being revived. Along with these two-spirit communities, the film Two Spirits was released, telling the story of Fred Martinez’s life and murder as a Navajo two-spirit. The film highlights the cultural contexts of two-spirits in Native American life and the hate crime that minorities, especially the LGBTQ community, receive for publically showing their true selves. As two-spirits begins to gain scholarship traction and receive a nod from popular culture, the identity is on its path to better overall awareness by American mainstream culture. But, spreading awareness and educating the uneducated is still necessary for two-spirit to receive public recognition. Eventually, with time, this awareness will lead to a tolerance by American mainstream culture. Hopefully, that tolerance will lead to acceptance and a better understanding of a historic and treasured practice of Indigenous peoples.


[1] New Oxford American Dictionary, s.v. “Two-spirit,”, accessed March 6, 2018.

[2] Margaret Robinson, “Two-Spirit and Bisexual People: Different Umbrella, Same Rain,” Journal of Bisexuality 17, no. 1 (January 13, 2017): accessed March 5, 2018, doi:10.1080/15299716.2016.1261266.

[3] Esther Rothblum, “Native American Two-Spirit People,” Archives of Sexuality and Gender 11, no. 1 (November 1998): ,

[4] Michael Bronski, A Queer History of the United States (Boston, MA: Beacon, 2015), 1.

[5] Siobhan Somerville, “Scientific Racism,” in Queer Studies: A LGBTQ Anthology(New York, NY: NYU Press, 2006), 241.

[6] Leslie Feinberg. Transgender warriors: making history from Joan of Arc to RuPaul. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

[7] Jean-Bernard Bossu. 1768 Nouveaux Voyages aux Indes Occidentales. Vol. 2. Paris. Also from Henry Angelino and Charles L. Shedd, (1955), A Note on Berdache. American Anthropologist, 57: 121-126. doi:10.1525/aa.1955.57.1.02a00130

[8] Carl Waldman. Atlas of the North American Indian. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2009. Google Scholar.

[9] Duane Brayboy, “Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders,” Indian Country Today, September 7, 2017, accessed March 6, 2018,

[10] Walter L. Williams, The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2004), Google Scholar.

[11] Lisa Nakamura, “Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Radicalization of Early Electronic Manufacture,” American Quarterly 66, no. 4 (2014): 922.


Angelino, Henry and Charles L. Shedd, (1955), A Note on Berdache. American Anthropologist, 57: 121-126. doi:10.1525/aa.1955.57.1.02a00130

Brayboy, Duane. “Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders.” Indian Country Today. September 7, 2017. Accessed March 6, 2018.

Bronski, Michael. A Queer History of the United States. Boston, MA: Beacon, 2015.

Bossu, Jean-Bernard. 1768 Nouveaux Voyages aux Indes Occidentales. Vol. 2. Paris.

New Oxford American Dictionary, s.v. “Two-spirit,”, accessed March 6, 2018.

Feinberg, Leslie. Transgender warriors: making history from Joan of Arc to RuPaul. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

Nakamura, Lisa. “Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Radicalization of Early Electronic Manufacture.” American Quarterly 66, no. 4 (2014): 919-41.

Somerville, Siobhan. “Scientific Racism.” In Queer Studies: A LGBTQ Anthology, 241-55. New York, NY: NYU Press, 2006.

Rothblum, Esther. “Native American Two-Spirit People.” Archives of Sexuality and Gender 11, no. 1 (November 1998): 7.

Robinson, Margaret. “Two-Spirit and Bisexual People: Different Umbrella, Same Rain.” Journal of Bisexuality 17, no. 1 (January 13, 2017): 7-29. Accessed March 5, 2018. doi:10.1080/15299716.2016.1261266.

Waldman, Carl. Atlas of the North American Indian. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2009. Google Scholar.

Williams, Walter L. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2004. Google Scholar.

The Power of Silence: How The Aids Epidemic Affects Heterosexuals

The Power of Silence: How The Aids Epidemic Affects Heterosexuals

In the United States as early as 1960 the AIDS epidemic arouse but is not noticed until 1981, after doctors discover Kaposi’s sarcoma and pneumocystis pneumonia in young homosexual men in Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco. HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that attacks the immune system, specifically CD4 or T Cells. The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, anal fluids, and breast milk. Historically, HIV is primarily spread through unprotected sex, sharing of needles for drug use, and through birth. Throughout time, HIV can destroy many CD4 cells that the body is not able to fight off infections and diseases, eventually leading to the most severe form of an HIV infection, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS.[1] An individual with AIDS is vulnerable to cancer as well as other life-threatening infections. Unfortunately, there is no cure for HIV and AIDS, but people can receive treatment and are able to live as long as someone who is not infected with the virus. Originally, AIDS has been framed on the homosexuals and ignored by the most powerful authorities in the United States, while later it is brought to the publics attention that this disease is not just transmitted through homosexuals rather many heterosexuals are suffering from AIDS and doctors, religious leaders, politicians, and advocates must step up to raise awareness to the cause that is consistently silenced throughout history.

Although, HIV arrived in America around 1970, it is not brought to the public’s attention until the early 1980s. In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report about five previously healthy homosexual men who become infected with Pneumocystis pneumonia. A year later, The New York Times publishes a frightening article about the new immune system disorder, which, by that time, has already affected 335 people, killing 136 of them. This disease is mostly blamed on homosexual men, therefore called the gay-related immune deficiency, or GIRD.[2]

During the initial spark of the AIDS crisis, Ronald Reagan is the President of the United States. The Reagan Administration has been known for their lack of response to the AID epidemic in the early and mid-1980s. President Reagan famously does not publicly mention AIDS until 1985, when the disease has already killed more than 5,000 people. The Reagan Administration reacts to the harmful problem in a chilling fashion. Shockingly, not even Reagan’s appointed press secretary, Larry Speakes, has much to say about the crisis. There are audio tapes released from three separate press conferences in 1982, 1983, and 1984, when Lester Kinsolving, a conservative fixture in the White House press corps, consistently scoffed when he posed urgent questions about the AIDS epidemic. With snickering homophobic comments and a disturbing air of the lack of interest, Speakes dismisses Kinsolving’s concerns about the escalating problem. It is beyond infuriating of the Reagan administration’s fatal inaction in tackling a generation-defining tragedy.[3] Notably, Reagan views this disease as the overall decline of American morals rather than a social problem that government could help solve.

Throughout the 1980s, in the minds of many Americans, AIDS is closely associated to homosexuality. This is a result of the disproportionate impact of AIDS on the homosexual community, along with the prevalence of widespread negative attitudes toward homosexuals at the time. The political construction of AIDS and the association between AIDS attitudes and attitudes towards gay people are intensified by the efforts of the gay community itself and opponents in the Christian Right. The initial research for AIDS and prevention of AIDS comes from the gay community, which also, is the primary source for volunteers and monetary donations.[4] The homosexual community works to illustrate an understanding that the HIV infection results from behavior rather than status, with heterosexual and homosexual behaviors both carrying potential risks for transmission.

In the political spectrum, members of the Christian Right and other conservatives continuously invoke AIDS in their antigay political rhetoric. They blame the gay community for starting the AIDS epidemic and portray homosexuals as ongoing dangers to themselves and heterosexuals. Based on this premise, conservatives argue for numerous punitive measures under the notion of fighting AIDS. They propose state sodomy laws, such as tattooing people infected with HIV. Hence, a connection between AIDS and homosexuality is apparent in the public’s perception and attitudes. Empirical evidence throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s reveals that Americans with high levels of sexual prejudice are more likely than others to be poorly informed and excessively fearful concerning AIDS, and more likely to stigmatize people with AIDS.[5] Furthermore, gay men with AIDS and men who contract HIV through male-to male intercourse are more negatively evaluated and blamed than heterosexuals are with AIDS.

The film, How to Survive a Plague further emphasizes how the AIDS epidemic is presented as a male dominant homosexual issue. In the late 1980s, members of Act-Up in addition to other AIDS activists battle to decrease the number of victims who are struggling with the disease and hoping to find a cure. The activists are facing a constant struggle to receive a response from the United States government and a medical establishment in developing effective AIDS and HIV medication. These activists take it upon themselves to convince the FDA to approve drugs, which could slow down the AIDS virus and possible are life-saving treatments. During the time, the only medicine to slow down the disease is AZT and is estimated 10,000 dollars per year in the 1980s. The film examines how AIDS affects heterosexuals. A prominent figure in the film, Peter Staley, is a former closeted Wall Street bond trader with HIV who left his job and helps form the activist group ACT UP. For years, Staley keeps it a secret that he is a homosexual and no one at work is aware, which is why he did not tell anyone he was infected with AIDS. Finally, he tells his colleagues about his secret and the floor’s lead trader responds, “Well, if you ask me they all deserve to dis because they took it up the butt.”[6] As a result, he takes direct action to stop the spread of AIDS.

Another group known for the art and activism, Gran Fury, uses a combination of bold graphic design, guerrilla dissemination tactics, and art institution support to communicate the urgency of the AIDS epidemic in light of the government and political inaction. The New York based group is known for the SILENCE = DEATH graphic that defines AIDS and HIV activist movement in the 1980s and early 1990s. The graphic is illustrated as an installation in the window of the New Museum, then in a storefront on lower Broadway in Soho, consisting of both a neon version of the SILENCE = Death graphic and photos of some of the people responsible for aggravating the AIDS crisis. Over the next eight years, Gran Fury would become famous for many other pieces of visually striking confrontational works throughout New York City.[7]

By the same token, the film United In Anger informs the public that the AIDS epidemic is not just a homosexual disease but it emphasizes how AIDS is affecting heterosexual women and is the leading cause of death for women in New York City. The documentary aims to educate people rather than agitate them. It provides a historical context on how the government neglects the idea of the AIDS crisis and calls for nothing less than a scorched-earth public-relations policy. Between 1981 and 1987 40,000 Americans died from HIV-related causes. Politicians, such as New Yorks Mayor Ed Koch completely disregard the current situation.[8]

“Act up! Fight back! Fight AIDS! Screamed approximately seven thousand protestors marching along the sidewalks and lying in the streets surrounding St. Patrick Cathedral in November of 1989. Inside the church, men and women lay down in the aisles silently for a “die-in” accompanied by the screams of fellow protestors. One activist even stands on a pew yelling, “We’re not going to take it anymore! You’re killing us! Stop it!” Days earlier Cardinal O’Connor, the Archbishop of New York, condemns the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. O’Connor also attacks state abortion laws. The Catholic Church, which is wielded significant political and financial power in New York at this time, endorses the death of thousands of Americans and the spread of AIDS through its statements. The interest of women’s rights groups and AIDS activists overlap, bringing both gay and straight men and women of diverse backgrounds together in solidarity to protest church policies. The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (Act UP) and Women’s Health Action and Mobilization (WHAM) organize the largest picketing and protest action that the Catholic Church in New York City has ever experienced. Disgustingly, O’Connor sat at the altar and waits while police pick up the passive and limp bodies of the “dead” demonstrators from the floor and arrest them. This documents an oral history of the AIDS epidemic by minimizing the use of mainstream media portrays and identifies the “democratic” and “self-selected” nature of the ACT UP group and its very specific demands as part of ACT UP’s success.[9]

The narratives of men and women involved in the movement are diverse, but part of a collective memory of struggle that involves memories of fear as well as community and strength in defiance of a dismissive or hostile power structure. Their fears are not only part of their personal experience but because of the reality of the spreading global AIDS pandemic.[10] With a sense of urgency, the men and women of ACT UP combat ignorance on the part of the public government regarding the nature of HIV and AIDS, its transmission, and who is at risk, being everyone. At first the coalition focuses on getting drugs into bodies. Later, they expand their horizons to include minorities, women, and the poor, supporting broad and more inclusive initiatives for equal services and social justice.

Moreover, doctors quickly discover that AIDS affects both sexes. Knowledge that the infection could be spread trough heterosexual contact first came from doctors at Montefiore Hospital and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. They reported in 1983 that AIDS has developed among seven female sexual partners of male intravenous drug users who have AIDS.[11] In every year since 1999, most new diagnoses of HIV are through heterosexual contact. National HIV surveillance statistics show that heterosexuals account for forty-eight percent of individuals seen for care in 2004, an increase from twenty-six percent in 1998. A main increase in the number of individuals diagnosed with HIV between 1998 and 2004 is mainly caused by the increase diagnoses of individuals who are infected through heterosexual sex, which more than tripled between 1998 and 2000 to over 4,000. Since 1999, the number of new HIV diagnoses among heterosexual individuals exceeds the number of new diagnoses among homosexual men.[12] To put in perspective, 16,000 people worldwide are infected with HIV every single day. In the United States, HIV infection rates hold steady at 40,000 per year, but recent preliminary data suggests those rates are on the rise. Of course, whites and people with higher incomes and insurance in the United States are gaining greater access to HIV therapies and there is a decrease in AIDS-related deaths. However, African-American, Hispanic and young white women are being exposed to HIV through sex with male partners. As a result, HIV rates are increasing at a disproportionate rate among these populations in American, and these women often do not have access to effective medical care. In Africa, Asia, and India, HIV has always been and still remains an overwhelmingly heterosexual disease.[13]

In opposition to the republican Reagan Administration the liberal Clinton Administration responds aggressively towards the significant threat posed by HIV and AIDS with increased attention to research, prevention, and treatment. Importantly, the Clinton Administration publically speaks how AIDS affects heterosexuals of all minorities nationwide. The Administration created a permanent Office of AIDS Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). On May 10, 2000 Clinton signs an Executive Order, which assists sub-Saharan African governments and medical technologies. This order will give Sub-Saharan governments the ability to bring life-saving drugs and medical technologies to affect populations.[14] This reflects the greatly improved treatments for those living with HIV. President Clinton declares HIV and AIDS to be a severe and ongoing health crisis.

Importantly, the spread of AIDS through heterosexuals heightens because of sexual affairs. A man, who is in a loving relationship with his female partner, is having promiscuous relationships with other men. The behavior is not just harmful to a relationship, but it can also be life-threatening to an individual and their partner of the opposite sex. In 2004, Oprah Winfrey’s show depicts how AIDS is the leading cause of death for African-Americans ages twenty-five to forty-four and women, college students, and people over the age of fifty are at greater risk than ever before because of these men who are living on the “down low.” This shows how there are both women and men who desire to interact with members of their own sex because most sexual behavior is private. The concept of the private sphere links back to Sodomy laws that establish acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the United States culture, and the structural society itself, because gender and sexuality are often the prime axis by which society distinguishes between “purity” and “danger.” The dangers are extremely high when one is living on the down low.[15] A man’s risky lifestyle can be deadly to himself and his sexual partners. Phil Wilson, the director of the Black AIDS Institute, says living on the down low is a new label for a behavior that has been going on for a long time. However, now more than ever the issue is occurring more often. Observers say that the increase in the number of HIV cases involving heterosexual sex among African American women is directly linked with these men on the “down low.”[16]

Worldwide, heterosexual transmission is the most common route of the HIV and AIDS infection. Given the importance of sexual transmission in the AIDS epidemic, many HIV and AIDS prevention strategies focus on identifying and promoting safer-sex practices. These practices are thought to be “safer” than other sexual practices in that they help reduce, but not eliminate the risk of transmitting HIV from one sexual partner to another. Importantly, epidemiologic evidence proves that male-to-male, male-to-female, and female-to-male sexual transmission of AIDS is abundant. This suggests that to promote health in respect to HIV and AIDS it is necessary to advocate precautionary behavior, such as using condom, especially with adolescents.[17]

The importance of developing AIDS risk reduction messages is the response to the societal gender roles, norms, and scripts that guide heterosexual interactions and influence sexual behavior. Gender roles are emphasized in heterosexual relationships because although the female condom is now available, the widespread acceptance and use of this device in the United States general population remains uncertain. Male condom use remains the most common HIV prevention method among heterosexuals. Additionally, within many heterosexually relationships, traditional gender roles and power inequalities give men greater or absolute power over safer sex decision-making.[18] Hence, heterosexual men indicate that they are well aware of traditional sexual scripts depicting men as the sexual initiators and aggressors. At the same time, men feel they are encouraged to engage in risky sexual behaviors to demonstrate their virility and sexual expertise. The male identity is attached to bravery, strength and security and may feel as if risking his life is a sign of sexual prowess. Women on the other hand are socialized to be feminine in gender. Femininity is associated with being submissive, nurturing, cooperative, and agreeable.[19] Thus, women are expected to take a passive seductive role in sexual situations and to defer and submit to their male partner’s wishes, which affects the sexually transmitted spread of AIDS.

All in all, the HIV and AIDS panic propels the study of sexuality, framing people’s sexual relationships as an important strategy for discovering information that will minimize risk of the disease. Underlining sexual attitudes and behaviors centrally concern around issues of desire, pleasure and power, and the degree to which individuals can challenge it with heterosexual relationships. It wasn’t till the 1980s that AIDS is recognized in the United States, being labeled as a “gay cancer.” Inequalities fuel the spread AIDS on many different levels and the stigma around the disease results in the vulnerable remain marginalized and most at risk. Once it becomes publically known that the disease is silently affecting heterosexuals, there is much more fear and action taken worldwide. The slogan “safer sex” is promoted throughout the nation and is all about protecting yourself and your partners from sexually transmitted infections, which helps one stay healthy. The emphasis on modern day practice of safer sex influences gender-roles on safe-sex behaviors. Sex and gender-role are two constructs that are related but not the same. Sex refers to being male or a female, while gender refers to culturally defined characteristics of being a male or a female. Hence, masculinity is associated with being independent, dominating and assertive and chose whether they engage in protected sex. Similar to other communicable diseases, AIDS can strike anyone and is not confined to a few high-risk groups. Currently, AIDS takes the lead in disseminating education about the disease with large-scale public awareness to avoid this lethal infection for both homosexuals and heterosexuals.



[1] Staff, “History of AIDS,” History. 2017.

[2] “A Timeline of HIV and AIDS,” HIV Gov, 2016,

[3] Caitlin Gibson, “A disturbing new glimpse at the Reagan administration’s indifference to AIDS,” The Washington Post, December 1, 2015,

[4] Gregory M. Herek and John P. Capitanio, “AIDS Stigma and Sexual Prejudice,” 42, no. 7 (April 1999): 1131,

[5] Herek and Capitanio, 1132.

[6] How to Survive a Plague, DVD, directed by David France (2012; United States, Public Square Films).

[7] John d’Addario, “AIDS, ART and Activism: Remembering Gran Fury,” Hyperallergic, December 1, 2011,

[8] United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, DVD, directed by Jim Hubbard (2012; United States: ACT UP Oral History Project and Film Collaborative).

[9] United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, DVD, directed by Jim Hubbard (2012; United States: ACT UP Oral History Project and Film Collaborative).

[10] United in Anger: A History of ACT UP.

[11] Lawrence K. Altman, “Heterosexuals and AIDS: New Data Examined,” The New York Times, January 22, 1985,

[12] Timothy R. Chadborn, Valerie C. Delpech, Caroline A. Sabin, Katy Sinka, and Barry G. Evans, “The late diagnosis and consequent short-term mortality of HIV-infected heterosexuals,” AIDS 20, no. 18 (November 2006): 2372, file:///Users/laurensaperstein/Downloads/The_late_diagnosis_and_consequent_short_term.14.pdf.

[13] David Salyer, “Getting it Straight: HIV as a Gay Disease Is a Myth The Refuses to Die,” The Body, March 1999,

[14] Celia W. Dugger, “Clinton Makes Up for Lost Time in Battling AIDS,” The New York Times, August 29, 2006,

[15] Theo G. M. Sandfort and Brian Dodge, “And Then There was the Down Low”: Introduction to Black and Latino Male Bisexualities,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 37, no. 5 (October 2008): 639,

[16] “A Secret Sex World: Living on the Down Low,” Oprahshow, April 16, 2004,

[17] David Wyatt Seal and Anke A. Ehrhardt, “HIV-Prevention-Related Sexual Health Promotion for Heterosexual Men in the United States: Pitfalls and Recommendations,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 33, no. 3 (June 200): 217,

[18] David Wyatt Seal and Anke A. Ehrhardt, “HIV-Prevention-Related Sexual Health Promotion for Heterosexual Men in the United States: Pitfalls and Recommendations,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 33, no. 3 (June 200): 217,

[19] Sulaiman Olanrewaju Adebayo and Tosin Tunrayo Olonisakin, “Influence of Sex and Gender-Role on Safe-Sex Behaviors,” Global Science Research Journal 2, no. 4 (November 2014): 52,


Adebayo, Sulaiman Olanrewaju and Tosin Tunrayo Olonisakin. “Influence of Sex and Gender-Role on Safe-Sex Behaviors.” Global Science Research Journal 2, no. 4 (November 2014): 50-55,

Altman, Lawrence K. “Heterosexuals and AIDS: New Data Examined.” The New York Times, January 22, 1985.

“A Secret Sex World: Living on the Down Low.” Oprahshow. April 16, 2004.

“A Timeline of HIV and AIDS.” HIV Gov. 2016.

Chadborn, Timothy R., Valerie C. Delpech, Caroline A. Sabin, Katy Sinka, and Barry G. Evans. “The late diagnosis and consequent short-term mortality of HIV-infected heterosexuals.” AIDS 20, no. 18 (November 2006): 2371-2379, file:///Users/laurensaperstein/Downloads/The_late_diagnosis_and_consequent_short_term.14.pdf.

d’Addario, John. “AIDS, ART and Activism: Remembering Gran Fury.” Hyperallergic. December 1, 2011.

Dugger, Celia W. “Clinton Makes Up for Lost Time in Battling AIDS.” The New York Times, August 29, 2006.

Gibson, Caitlin. “A disturbing new glimpse at the Reagan administration’s indifference to AIDS.” The Washington Post, December 1, 2015.

Herek, Gregory M. and John P. Capitanio, “AIDS Stigma and Sexual Prejudice.” 42, no. 7 (April 1999): 1131-1147, Staff, “History of AIDS,” History. 2017.

Salyer, David. “Getting it Straight: HIV as a Gay Disease Is a Myth The Refuses to Die.” The Body. March 1999.

Sandfort, Theo G. M. and Brian Dodge, “And Then There was the Down Low”: Introduction to Black and Latino Male Bisexualities.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 37, no. 5 (October 2008): 639-682,

Seal, David Wyatt and Anke A. Ehrhardt. “HIV-Prevention-Related Sexual Health Promotion for Heterosexual Men in the United States: Pitfalls and Recommendations.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 33, no. 3 (June 200): 211-222,

United in Anger: A History of ACT UP. DVD. Directed by Jim Hubbard. 2012; United States: ACT UP Oral History Project and Film Collaborative.

Urban versus Rural: How Will Location Affect Acceptance Moving Forward?

Urban versus Rural: How Will Location Affect Acceptance Moving Forward?

I’d like to think that Sex and the City popularized not only the pink cosmopolitan, but also helped show the rest of the world an accurate depiction of what life in the big city was like. However, in the world of academia we know that this is not true. Cities have been discussed and studied much longer, and more in depth, than just this white-washed, glamorous HBO series that mainly focuses on cisgender, heterosexual relationships, with the occasional gay best friend thrown into the mix. Today in 2018, we know that the cisgender, heterosexual relationships portrayed in this idealized urban show are not the only genders or identities in the world. Throughout this paper I will focus on the history and growth of the transgender identity and how it is accepted, or not accepted based on geography. By looking at spaces across the country that help mold and define our identities, I argue that with better technologies and more communication between urban and rural communities, sexual minorities, such as transgender, will be more widely accepted by all geographic communities.

How we understand and view the trans-community in 2018 has not always been the same in the past. Even the term “transgender” itself is relatively new, the history and definition of the identity has come a long way. In the beginning of the 20th century Magnus Hirschfeld, a German physician, lead the charge in how to understand gender in terms of cross dressing. Cross dressing and other transgender practices have been practiced throughout time, from the Middle Ages, in Elizabethan theater, and to drag queens and kings today. As a gay man himself, Hirschfeld was always fascinated about sexual orientation and how people that were outside the sexual norm functioned in society. In 1910 Hirschfeld found that there was a difference between sexual orientation, gender representation, and your biological make up, and coined these premature trans practices as “transvestite.” In his essay, The Transvestites: An Investigation of the Erotic Drive to Cross Dress, Hirschfeld wrote, “In the apparel of their own sex they feel confined, bound up, oppressed; they perceive them as something strange, something that does not fit them, does not belong to them; on the other hand, they cannot find enough words to describe the feeling of peace, security and exaltation, happiness and well-being that overcomes them when in the clothing of the other sex.”[1] Hirschfeld’s words have subtle hints of the modern definition transgender in them, but as we will learn later on, the definition of transgender has, and probably always will be changing. Transvestites and cross dressing would then turn into a bigger conversation about how the transgender community would move beyond just wearing the other sex’s clothes, but now how they would transition into another other gender.

After Hirschfeld broke ground with his research on transvestites in the beginning of the 20th century, conversations and research surrounding sex and gender shifted again in the 1960s. This shift created the term “transsexual.” It was coined and popularized within the last century based on medical classifications and the desire to create set groups for everyone to fit in based on biology. In the mid 20th century doctors, sociologist and psychologists were trying to make sense of the term transsexual. They understood that transsexual was different from transvestitism, the practice of dressing in the opposite genders clothes. In the 1960s transsexual was defined as, “As access to surgical procedures became more readily accessible during the 1960s, the term ‘transsexual’ became restricted to individuals undergoing surgery, while the concept of transvestism was related to practices of cross-dressing.”[2] According to this definition in order to be considered transgender at this time you had to have undergone sexual reassignment surgery. However, in today’s society, identifying as transgender does not mean you had to have sexual reassignment surgery. We know from the definitions of sex and gender[3] that one can identify with the opposite gender, or fall somewhere on a spectrum, because gender is socially and culturally created. Thus, one does not have to have the biological make up of a certain sex to identify or project as that sex.

Today, we have finally shifted towards a newly modern definition of transgender. This term has only come into conversation within the last few decades and the definition is constantly changing. Susan Stryker defines the term “transgender” on the first page of her book, Transgender History, as, “to refer to people who move away from the gender they were assigned at birth, people who cross over (trans-) the boundaries constructed by their culture to define and contain that gender.”[4] The most important part of her definition is the inclusion of culture and how it is used to construct and maintain gender in our society. She goes on to discuss how the trans community ultimately feels a need to move away from the gender constructed for them at birth, whether that is fully transitioning to another gender, or finding a space in between. How we identify ourselves in relation to others in our society comes from cultural norms and social practices that have been created to label and define gender boundaries.

These cultural norms and social practices that help define our identities are partly constructed based on different locations within the country. The United States can be categorized into two distinct geographic identities, the urban and the rural. The urban consists of cities and their surrounding suburbs. They are typically located on a major body of water, a possible sports team is associated with it, and they are the setting for most major motion pictures or television shows. While the rural becomes an idealized image of an old America. Mary Gray further explains how we see the rural as, “it seems increasingly important to imagine rural places as quaint (and isolated) premodern (traditional) moments frozen in time by local defiance of change while modernity plays itself out in refinement and advancement of urbane, cosmopolitan settings… Rural conditions are cast as inadequacies in need of urban outreach.”[5]  In her definition the urban has always been looked at to save the rural and expose them to modernity and new ways. This can also be applied to how we view sexuality in this country. Location and sexuality are inherently linked, and the urban becomes a platform for breaking away from gender and sexuality norms. There is a sense that within this link the urban also has to teach the rural about new ways to identify and understand oneself. Gray goes on to say:

“The specific symbolization of urban spaces (like modernity itself) as dynamic, forward-thinking, brimming with potential requires a rural (Other) that is static traditional, and inadequate. It is perhaps not surprising then that the stories told of rural sexualities and genders – if talked about at all – tend to tell the tale of repression in the face of tradition and conservatism that oversimplifies a far more complicated picture.” [6]

Further proving that the urban always comes to the aid of the rural. With this idea the rural cannot function on its own, it will always need the support and guidance of a more “dynamic” setting. This more complicated picture can be seen through a homicide that took place in rural Nebraska in the 1990s, the kind of place we think of as frozen in time like Gray outlined above.

We can see the relationship between the trans-community and space come together in the real life example of Brandon Teena, a young transman who was raped and murdered in rural Nebraska in the 1993. Teena is one of the best known examples of how trans people were seen and treated in rural parts of the country because of the major media coverage and Hollywood productions made about his story. How the media covered Brandon’s story told a specific, pointed narrative about the rural community and how people who deviated from the societal norm were treated.

Brandon was born female as Teena Brandon in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1972. He had always struggled with his gender and was considered a tom-boy at a young age. As a teenager he left home and moved to Humboldt, Nebraska to start a new, convincing life as a young man. Here he made a new group of friends, found a girlfriend, and thought his troubles would be over. Until 1993 at a party on Christmas Eve in Humboldt, Nebraska. Brandon’s gender assigned to him at birth, female, would be outed to his new friends and girlfriend. Two of his friends in Humboldt, Tom Nissen and John Lotter, forced Brandon to take off his pants and prove that he was actually a woman after a few days of speculation. The two boys then forced Brandon into a car and drove him away from the party to gang rape him in a field. Forcing him to face the fact that he was born a woman even though he identified as a man for most of his life.

The story took a more violent turn late on the night of December 31, 1993. Brandon was murdered by his once friends Nissen and Lotter after Brandon went to the police about being raped. Brandon was hiding out at Lisa Lambert’s house after the rape, when Tom and John found him. They then shot him and then stabbed him in the chest to make sure he was properly dead. The two also murdered Lambert and Phillip Devine, a handicap black man dating Lana Tisdale’s sister at the time. How this story unfolded and was told to the rest of the world, would paint a very specific and pointed narrative of the American rural and its unique cultural practices.

Brandon’s story was watched by different communities all across the globe, some trying to learn more about a young trans life, or others getting a rare peak into rural America. Too often the American narrative is focused on our growth and expansion through our metropolitan cities. All of our media is produced in cities and most of our entertainment, like Sex and the City, takes place in a metropolitan environment. Judith Halberstam helps us unpack Brandon Teena’s popularity and why his story became a poster child for queer issues in rural communities. She writes, “Brandon also serves as a marker for a particular set of late-twentieth-century cultural anxieties about place, space, locality and metropolitanism… Brandon represents other rural lives undone by fear and loathing, and his story also symbolizes an urban fantasy of homophobic violence as essentially Midwestern.”[7] Halberstam further helps show us the link between geography and sexuality through Brandon’s case. His connection between geography and sexuality led to never being accepted in his community and ending in death. However, this type of connection could be explored and played out differently in another setting, for example a liberal urban environment that might be more accepting of someone identifying as a sexual minority. Halberstam goes on to explain, “The Brandon story but also pins the narrative of violent homophobic and transphobic violence firmly to the landscape of white trash America, and forces modes of strenuous disidentification between the viewer and the landscape.”[8] Therefore, Brandon’s death became not only about a sexual hate crime. But also an inside look at this idea of white trash America and their cultural values. This idea can further be seen in how the media portrayed Brandon’s life story to the world.

In 2000, ABC News produced a special Downtown 20/20 report about Brandon Teena’s life story. Before I analyze how this production told Brandon’s story, it is important to remember that when media organizations, such as the ABC News, tell a story their version is never neutral. How the producers construct different narratives through images, voice-over, sound, and reputation, tells the audience what to feel and how to understand their version of the story. In this special report ABC News painted a story about an uneducated, violent, all white town in rural Nebraska. The language and images they used helped confirm this version of the story and show the rest of the world what life in rural America is like. The 20/20 report opens up with female news anchor, Jami Floyd, talking about Brandon. She says, “Teena wasn’t just a tom-boy. She felt like a boy in a girl’s body. She was increasingly confused and as a teenager began experimenting in unusual ways.”[9] The key word in this quote is unusual, it tells the audience that there is a norm (usual) and a deviant (unusual), and that experimenting with your gender would align you in the latter category. This language and authority helps construct and reinforce a heterosexual, cisgender norm in our society.

Floyd continues to talk about Brandon and how he passed as a boy. She goes on to say, “and with that sock in her pants, a transformation occurred… the bulge in her pants helping to convince them she was a boy.”[10] Here Floyd and her producers define what it means to be a boy. We learned above that sexuality is fluid and that the transgender identity can be thought of as a spectrum, not so binary. However, this news broadcast goes against this idea and gives specific examples and qualities that would make someone a boy. For example, having a bulge in their pants defines you as masculine and male. But, from Stryker’s definition above we know that you do not have to have a bulge in your pants to identify as a boy. These two examples of language and wording show just how constructed this story was and the specific kind of narrative they were trying to construct about sexuality.

This broadcast also defined and outlined what life in rural America looked at this time through images and language. Later on in the broadcast Floyd’s voice-over says, “and to be living in rural America. Living in a place where issues of sexuality can bring out the most primitive reactions in people.” This voice-over was heard across images of trailer parks and broken down cars, two common images regularly attached to the rural identity. This quote tells the audience that issues of sexuality do not exist in rural parts of the country, that they are only prominent in metropolitan communities. By also using the word “primitive,” it goes back to Halberstam’s idea that the rural is less developed and not as modern as the urban. However, Dr. Gavin Brown proves this idea wrong and states, “most gay people do not live in the metropolitan centers where homonormativity has been described, theorized and critiqued (and even many of those who do live in those locations do not live immersed in the spaces and social relations that have come to be described as homonormative).”[11] Debunking the myth that anyone, or anything, that deviates from the “norm” can only be found in cities. Floyd goes on to make one final assumption about life in rural America. When talking about the Golden Globe winning film Boys Don’t Cry, she says, “the movie captures some of the rage that Lotter and Nissen must have felt, two unsophisticated men from a small town.” This final claim about the two men who killed Brandon solidifies the narrative ABC News is trying to tell about rural Nebraska. As a leading media source, this broadcast gave these claims power and authority to their viewers. Making it seem like everything ABC showed and explained on this broadcast was true.

After analyzing the connection between Brandon Teena’s experiences and his life in a rural environment, I think it is imperative moving forward that we bridge the gap between the urban and the rural. With the help of new technologies, social media, and the internet, the rural will not have to solely depend on urban influence anymore. The rural can now gain new knowledge on their own. With this stronger, new boost in communication, both communities can learn about, and from each other. We can also hopefully get rid of this “othering” of both environments that is so often played out in these narratives. Sexual minorities, like the transgender community, will benefit greatly from this shift because they will be able to build a stronger community over the internet.[12] Moving forward I hope that no situations like Brandon’s will ever happen again, a situation where a young man felt like a complete outsider in a conservative, uneducated, small town (phrases taken from the language of ABC News). Brandon Teena’s story gave us a first hand example of how linked gender, space, and sexuality are in the United States and I am hoping to change these negative experiences into positive ones through more communication and connections over the internet. Maybe if Brandon had been born during the time of Twitter and Tumblr he would have found a better support network filled with other, more accepting trans-youth. As my future lays out before me I hope to bridge the gap between the rural and urban in the United States so both groups can learn and benefit from each other.

[1] Brett Beemyn. “Serving the Needs of Transgender College Students.” (Journal of Gay & Lesbian Issues in Education 1, no. 1, 2003).

[2] Sally Hines. “Theorising Transgender.” In TransForming Gender: Transgender Practices of Identity, Intimacy and Care. (Bristol: Policy Press at the University of Bristol, 2007).

[3] Keywords for American Cultural Studies, Second Edition. (NYU Press, 2014).

[4] Susan Stryker. Transgender History. (Seal Studies. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press: Distributed by Publishers Group West, 2008). 1.

[5] Mary L Gray. “From Websites to Wal-Mart: Youth, Identity Work, and the Queering of Boundary Publics in Small Town, USA.” (American Studies 48, no. 2, 2007). 52.

[6] Gray, “From Websites to Wal-Mart,” 53.

[7] Judith Halberstam. “The Brandon Archive,” in In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. Sexual Cultures. (New York: New York University Press, 2005). 25.

[8] Halberstam, “The Brandon Archive,” 26.

[9] ABC News, “Brandon Teena Story on 20/20 Downtown.” Filmed 2000. YouTube Video, 16:40.

[10] ABC News, “Brandon Teena Story on 20/20 Downtown.” Filmed 2000. YouTube Video, 16:40.

[11] Gavin Brown. “Homonormativity: A Metropolitan Concept That Denigrates “Ordinary” Gay Lives.” (Journal of Homosexuality 59, no. 7, 2012). 1068.

[12] Avianne Tan. “#MyVanityFairCover Highlights Diversity of Transgender Community on Tumblr.” (ABC News). 2015.

Work Cited

ABC News, “Brandon Teena Story on 20/20 Downtown.” Filmed 2000. YouTube Video, 16:40.

Beemyn, Brett. “Serving the Needs of Transgender College Students.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Issues in Education 1, no. 1 (2003): 33-50.

Brown, Gavin. “Homonormativity: A Metropolitan Concept That Denigrates “Ordinary” Gay Lives.” Journal of Homosexuality 59, no. 7 (2012): 1065-072.

Dunne, John Gregory. “The Humboldt Murders.” The New Yorker. June 19, 2017. Accessed April 09, 2018.

Gray, Mary L. “From Websites to Wal-Mart: Youth, Identity Work, and the Queering of Boundary Publics in Small Town, USA.” American Studies 48, no. 2 (2007): 49-59.

Halberstam, Judith. “The Brandon Archive,” in In a Queer Time and Place : Transgender  Bodies, Subcultural Lives. Sexual Cultures. New York: New York University Press, 2005

Hines, Sally. “Theorising Transgender.” In TransForming Gender: Transgender  Practices of Identity, Intimacy and Care, 9-34. Bristol: Policy Press at the University of Bristol, 2007.

Keywords for American Cultural Studies, Second Edition. NYU Press, 2014.

Stryker, Susan. Transgender History. Seal Studies. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press: Distributed by Publishers Group West, 2008.

Tan, Avianne. “#MyVanityFairCover Highlights Diversity of Transgender Community on Tumblr.” ABC News. June 05, 2015. Accessed May 08, 2018.



Visibility For Genderqueer!

Microaggression is a prevalent problem that has plagued the LGBTQ community for centuries; genderqueer and transgender individuals have struggled especially with rising trends of gender reveal parties. Unfortunately, there has not been a great deal of progress made to represent genderqueer individuals and to minimize microaggressions. The term microaggression is defined as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.”[1] The lack of recognition in literature results in the genderqueer community becoming anonymized and ignored, resulting in further exclusions from their greater narrative in research or literature being done on the queer community. I hope for the future that those who identify as genderqueer, as well as other individuals, receive the deserved recognition and social visibility in scholarly works to give the public a greater knowledge of the various gender identities, which hopefully results in an increased tolerance and decreased microaggressions. Thus, showing that it is okay to stray from normative gender identities through societal acceptance.

The sexual revolution and Gay Liberation Movement of the 1960s and 1970s was a moment in American culture that marked a momentous shift in the nation’s attitudes towards sexual expression and sexual freedom. These movements additionally permitted the creation of new spaces that were specifically tailored to members of the gay community.  These places served as safe spaces for LGBTQ individuals from the heterosexual outside world. The revolution redefined the way Americans thought about sexuality and led to a new culture of sexual experimentation that contributed to new sexual norms that were brought about. Thus, this new liberation also allowed for the rise of sexual and gendered identities that were traditionally repressed, such as transgender, to now become visible. This new visibility allowed for more individuals who identify with these identities to come out and develop new identities and expressions, like genderqueer. Being relatively a new term that is not well known, nor do many know that such a term exists, there has been limited research and scholarly documentation on it. Therefore, due to the lack of documentation of genderqueer individuals, I will look at transgender individuals.

In the mid-1990s the term “genderqueer” underwent developments and, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, this term became widespread throughout United States’ LGBTQ communities. The concrete definition of genderqueer is conflicting, as there is no universally accepted definition for this term. However, the definition that maintained the most traction is “incongruence among biological sex, gender identity and socially prescribed gender, and experiencing one’s gender as outside the gender binary.”[2] Individuals who identify as being genderqueer view their identity as being a term that allows them to challenge preconceived societal norms that an individual can only be one or the other gender and there is no in-between.[3] However, this is exactly what identifying as genderqueer allows them to do, in being the “in-betweeners”. Being an incredibly fluid term allows for many different forms of gender variance to be included. Those who identify as being genderqueer could also be referred to as androgynous, intergender, transgender, transsexual, third gender, and various other identities.[4] Many genderqueer individuals identify as being transgender. One advantage genderqueer individuals have is that the term allows for their identity to transcend gender categories and allow for a wider range of gender identities, making the genderqueer community a melting pot.

Individuals of the LGBTQ community bodies, predominately transgenders and transsexuals have often been characters of “fascination” for the media, while depicted as being the “other” or “wrong”. The way transgenders bodies have been represented throughout historical LGBTQ events and today are microaggressions in themselves, as their bodies are put under assumptions and are discriminated against daily. Today, even though society has become increasingly tolerant, the transgender community still faces these stigmas and prejudices from society, law enforcement, and the media. The Compton Cafeteria Riots exhibits the discrimination against transgender bodies. Transgender women and drag queens were Compton’s main clients, however, one-night matters escalated when a policeman grabbed one of the drag queens in Compton and she threw a cup of coffee in his face; as she was fed-up, and it was a response to the constant harassment and assault from police. Compton’s was one of the only safe spaces they could go at the time to get away from the constant harassment on the streets and live openly.

Members of the transgender community were forced to work on the streets during this period because it was exceedingly difficult for transgender individuals to be employed or protected while at work. This led them to turn to prostitution as their main source of income, which left themselves and their bodies vulnerable to harassment and violence. However, Compton’s management did not receive their customers with open arms and they often called the police on them, as they did not want to be known as a popular hang-out spot for these “deviants”.[5] They were constantly arrested and harassed by law enforcement for being “female impersonators”. Tamara Ching, a transgender woman who lived in San Francisco during the riot said that police could harass individuals at any time and when they asked for their ID’s (which most likely had them labeled as “male” unless they underwent a sex change) they would be groped by the police when they were “patting them down”.[6] These constant microaggressions and not so “micro” and the signs suggest that society views transgender as the “other”, like an alien body that does not belong beside “normal” cisgender bodies. This line of thought allows people to make assumptions on the “worth” of their bodies. Law enforcement and society viewed their bodies as expendable, as they frequently placed violence and harassment upon their bodies with no resistance or repercussions from either the government or mainstream society because their bodies were seen as these “deviant” beings that need to be “taken care of” or else they would cause destruction to society. The pushing of transgender women to the streets, made them more susceptible to harassment and assault “as the lack of regard and respect from official corners paves the way for discrimination and abuse”.[7] This made these individuals feel dispensable themselves and that no one cared for them in being a burden to society.

This portrayal of transgender bodies being “deviant” is consistent throughout other major historical LGBTQ events, like the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn was one of the most popular venues for working class individuals who were a part of the gay community to go to in New York City in the 1960s. Many of Stonewall’s main customers were labeled as more “deviant” clients.[8] These deviants were transgenders and drag queens and if these individuals were a person of color, their “deviance” level rose significantly, in contrast to their white counterparts. Riots began at Stonewall when police raided the bar one night and instead of the crowd disappearing, they stayed and revolted against the police’s brutality on transgender bodies.[9] Transgender bodies were constantly ostracized and unwanted almost everywhere they went because of their “disruptive” exterior, leading to uncontested acts of violence and ridicule on their bodies. These constant microaggressions against their bodies resulted in restrictions on what they were and were not allowed to do with their bodies and sought to gender their bodies in ways society deemed as acceptable. Law enforcement and society attempted to put restrictions on how transgender individuals could present their bodies, strip them of their true identities and make them become invisible entities.

Another microaggressions is the alarming abundance of prevalent psychology and scholarly research that has been done on these two identities. The transgender identity has been changed multiple times in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.). In 1968, it was classified in the category of “sexual deviations”; in 1980 it was classified under “psychosexual disorders”; then, in 1994, under “gender identity disorders.”[10] Now it is commonly known and referred to as “gender dysphoria”. In fact, when I began my research on transgenders, as I typed “transgender” in the search bar and one of the first suggestions was “transgender mental illness”. This speaks volumes in itself on how society and medical professionals view gender identities and solidifies the stigmas and microaggressions held against transgenders and many other identities that argues that has to be something wrong medically if they stray from the norm. Currently, there is great controversy surrounding the fact that transgender identity is linked to the field of mental health. Many “believe that the transgender identity is not a mental disorder and should be a medical, rather than psychiatric diagnosis”[11]  and removing it from the list of mental disorders would be a signal acceptance by society and the health profession. However, others believe that it should be removed from the D.S.M. completely, but note that “retaining some code for transgender identity might be the only way for some to receive medical care.”[12] For example, Chelsea Manning, now well known for the Wikileaks scandal, was able to receive access to hormone treatments partially based on the fact that transgender belonged to a “medical category”.[13] This displays another problem as transgenders often cannot receive medical treatment or hormones unless they can convince their psychologist or medical professional that they are the wrong gender in order to receive proper treatment.

Healthcare and access to it has been a constant reoccurring microaggression for transgenders, as it is a gender classification system and in most states, “Medicaid policies and most health insurance programs exclude from coverage gender-conforming health care for trans people.”[14] Meaning that individuals who are not transgender and request medications, or gender-conforming procedures, such as chest surgery or testosterone, are granted procedures, as opposed to if they were a transgender, their request for these treatments would be denied.  By providing others this care when needed and denying the same treatment and care to a “politically unpopular group”[15] has been constituted as “’diagnosis discrimination.’”[16] Often when transgender individuals are in desperate need of this care and are denied access to it, they can suffer significant physical and mental health consequences. This denial of an unmet treatment or medications can be linked with depression, thoughts of suicide, and anxiety.  However, when transgender individuals do receive medical treatment, as patients, they experience microaggressions from other patients and staff members. “Treatment staff may condone discrimination by other patients by ignoring the harassment and may view patients with gender identity variance as paranoid and delusional, basing their mental wellness and recovery on increased identification of their birth gender.”[17] This microaggression of denying healthcare access to transgender individuals has serious consequences as it is not only detrimental to the physical and mental health of transgender individuals by denying them access to becoming their true selves, but also makes them vulnerable targets to violence. As systems can target the transgender population by managing systems like Medicaid, not allowing them to get surgery or medications permits them from making their transition makes it more likely that they will experience higher rates of discrimination. They do not fully appear as being the gender they would like to be, making them the dreaded “other” and subjecting them to violence by those who do not understand or are afraid of the transgender identity.

There are also many other daily microaggressions that transgenders encounter, such as changing identity documents, gendered spaces, like bathrooms, and gender identification boxes on forms. This management of one’s gender creates significant problems for individuals who are often misclassified or difficult to classify as it too can create violence and damages their opportunities in life, like no allowing for them to get job. Identification documents pose a big problem for trans individuals, as they have to go through an extensive and frustrating process to have their gender marker changed and may well never be changed. Often agencies, organizations, and institutions require proof of some kind of medical care, like surgery, or a doctor’s letter, in order to reclassify them.[18] This requirement is extremely problematic as it excludes those who do not wish to undergo surgery because they do need it or want it or because they cannot afford it. It also creates the stigma that all individuals who identify as being trans want to undergo surgery and becomes an almost “rite of passage” for the transgender community, as they finally got what they wanted. This thought process is also detrimental to minority groups, low-income citizens, and the youth, as they can never receive these changes because they are often even more unlikely to be able to afford surgery and can be denied access to any medical care because they cannot fully identify as being what they think transgender is. By making gender changing on identity documents difficult it makes obtaining identity documents which are crucial for daily survival, increasingly difficult, and can expose them to discrimination, especially when getting or maintaining a job or interacting with law enforcement.

As we have seen, microaggressions, big and small, have enormous impacts and consequences on the lives of the queer community, specifically trans individuals.  Microaggressions like not being able to change documents or obtain essential documents for daily living and survival subjects them to increased levels of discrimination in the workforce, healthcare access, and relations with law enforcement. Disturbingly, there are massive amounts of psychological and medical literature focusing on the subject of transgenders and mental illness. Throughout transgender history, the identity has been seen as a mental illness in some shape or form, even though it has changed over the years in definition, it still today is classified as being a mental illness – signifying that when you deviate from the norm you are classified as being mentally unstable. While many want it to be removed as being classified as a mental illness, others think that removing this classification would result in many being denied access to additional medical treatment as many use, classifying as “mentally ill” in order to possess medication. This does not imply that all transgender individuals do this, as some may require actual mental health care. Transgender bodies, especially in key events like Compton’s Cafeteria Riots and the Stonewall Riots, display how their bodies have been represented and gendered by society. In both of these events their bodies were consistently characterized as being deviant, signaling that society thought that they brought nothing but disorder and were a burden to society. It also signaled that many viewed their bodies as worthless and dispensable, as law enforcement was able to frequently harass and assault transgenders with no repercussions or fight from society. This also allowed for police to gender trans bodies, by arresting them being trans or “impersonators” – indicating that it was not acceptable for men to dress up as women and women as men. Today, we see this microaggression of gendering bodies in a less obvious and violent way with gender reveal parties as it implies and enforces the gender expectations and stereotypes of the a child before it is even born. These parties expect the child to fully identify as being one gender or the other with no possibility of it deciding its own identity for itself. For the future, I hope to see these microaggressions on all identities dissipate, and they are able to live a life where they can fully attain basic and essential rights. I also hope for an increase in visibility for the genderqueer identity through activism and education. Education, especially, would increase society’s knowledge about identities that are different from their own and would allow for an increase in tolerance towards the “other”. Allowing for those who do identify to live a stress free, happy life that is not constantly plagued by discrimination, ignorance and violence.



Belluck, Pam. “W.H.O. Weighs Dropping Transgender Identity From List of Mental Disorders.” New York Times. July 26, 2016, sec. Health.

Carter, David. 2004. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Duggan, Aine. “Nobody Should Ever Feel the Way That I Felt:” A Portrait of Jay Toole and Queer Homelessness.” The Scholar & Feminist Online 10, no. 1–2 (Fall /Spring 2012 2011): 1–7.

Evans, Jennifer .. 2010. “Genderqueer Identity and Self-Perception.” Clinical Dissertation, The California School of Professional Psychology San Francisco Campus: Alliant International University. file:///C:/Users/Kristen/AppData/Local/Packages/Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe/TempState/Downloads/Genderqueer_identity_and_self_.pdf.

Gates, Trevor G. 2010. “Combating Problem and Pathology: A Genderqueer Primer for the Human Service Educator.” Journal of Human Services 30 (1): 54–64.

Kuhn, Betsy. 2011. Gay Power!: The Stonewall Riots and the Gay Rights Movement, 1969. Twenty First Century Books.

“Microaggression.” .Com. Merriam-Webster, n.d.

Mizock, Lauren, and Michael Z. Fleming. “Transgender and Gender Variant Populations With Mental Illness: Implications for Clinical Care.” Professional Psychology Research and Practice 42, no. 2 (2011): 208–13.

Pasulka, Nicole. “Ladies In The Streets: Before Stonewall, Transgender Uprising Changed Lives.” .Org. NPR, May 5, 2015.

Richards, Christina, Walter Pierre Bouman, Leighton Seal, Meg John Barker, Timo O. Nieder, and Guy T’Sjoen. 2016. “Non-Binary or Genderqueer Genders.” INTERNATIONAL REVIEW OF PSYCHIATRY 28 (1): 95–102.

Spade, Dean. “Administrating Gender.” In Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law, 137–69. Brooklyn, NY: South End Press, 2011.


[1] Merriam-Webster

[2] Evans, 1

[3] Gates, 56

[4] Richards et al., 96

[5] Pasulka

[6] Pasulka

[7] Duggan, 5

[8] Carter, 7

[9]Kuhn, 5

[10] Belluck,

[11] Belluck

[12] Belluck

[13] Belluck

[14] Spade, 148

[15] Spade, 149

[16] Spade, 149

[17] Mizock and Fleming, 209

[18] Spade, 142

The Portrayal Heterosexuals In Sitcoms From the 1950s-Present Day


[1] D. F. Roberts, “Adolescents and the mass media: From ‘Leave it to Beaver’ to ‘Beverly Hills 90210,’” 94, no. 3 (1993): 629,

[2] Joanne Morreale, The Donna Reed Show. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2012), EBook edition, chap. 2.

[3] Marie Lathers, Space Oddities: Women and Outer Space in Popular Film and Culture, 1960-2000. (New York: Continuum, 2010), EBook edition, chap. 3.

[4] Tricia Jenkins, “Get Smart: A Look at the Current Relationship between Hollywood and the CIA,” 29, no. 2 (June 2009): 229-242,

[5] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The Brady Bunch,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, October 6, 2017,

[6] Shervin Malekzadeh, “What ‘The Jeffersons’ Taught Me About Being An American,” The Atlantic, August 7, 2012,

[7] Vanessa Williams, “’The Cosby Show’ and the Black American Dream,” The Washington Post, October 12, 2014,

[8] Richard Butsch, “Five Decades and Three Hundred Sitcoms about Class and Gender,” (2005), 10,

[9] Kristal Brent Zook, Color by Fox the Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), The W.E.B. Du Bois Institute Series, chap. 1.

[10] Katharine E. Heintz-Knowles, “Images of youth: A content analysis of adolescents in prime-time entertainment programming,” Reframing youth issues, April 2000,

[11] Kevin Craft, “The Thing That Made The Office Great Is the Same Thing That Killed It,” The Atlantic, May 16, 2013,
[12] Martin Gitlin, The Greatest Sitcoms of All Time. (Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 20140, EBook edition, chap. 38.

[13] Edwin J. Viera, “Sitcoms Depict Evolution in Sexuality,” The Record, April 17, 2017,

[14] Bill Keveney, “Fox’s ‘New Girl’ Leaps Three Years Into The Future for its Final; Season,” USA Today, January 4, 2018,

[15] Jennifer Reed, “Beleaguered Husbands and Demanding Wives: The New Domestic Sitcom,” American Popular Culture, October, 2003,

[16] Beth Olson and William Douglas, “The Family on Television: Evaluation of Gender Roles in Situation Comedy,” 36, no. 5-6, (March 1997): 409,

[17] Understanding Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication. (Minnesota: University of Minnesota, 2016), University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, chap. 9.

[18] Bonnie J. Dow, review of Lifestyle Feminism, and the Politics of Personal Happiness, by Ally McBeal, The Communication Review, no. 4, 261,

[19] William B. Covey, “Hardboiled & High Heeled: The Woman Detective in Popular Culture,” 51, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 240-41, ttps://

[20] Lisa Respers France, “The Evolution of the TV Family,” CNN Entertainment, September 1, 2010,

[21] Mary Grace Garis, “Evolution of The Television Sitcom, From Studying 1980 To Predicting 2020,” Bustle, February 9, 2015,

[22] Understanding Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication. (Minnesota: University of Minnesota, 2016), University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, chap. 9.

[23] Jonathan Merritt, “From ‘Full House’ to ‘Modern Family’: Ten shows that forced us to reimagine the American family,” Religious News Service, September 10, 2013,

[24] “Heterosexuality,” Merriam-Webster, 1892,

[25] Robert Weiss, “Heterosexual, Homosexual, Bisexual, Gender Dysphoric,” Psychology Today, March 27, 2014,

How The Portrayal Of Heterosexuals Through Sitcoms Influenced The Audience

I chose to display heterosexuals on the Timeline Project by how the term has been shaped, defined, and influenced in America starting from the 1950s through present day. Personally, I felt the most beneficial way to understand how the term heterosexual evolved over the years was through a genre of comedy television shows centered on a fixed set of characters who were carried over from episode to episode. Television had a special way of painting a specific picture that always caught the audience’s eye and skewed ones image of what the norm was in regards to a persons sexual preference. Further, sitcoms have always linked ones sexual passion to stereotyping ones gender. Women have been depicted in a way that they have only been attracted to men and vise versa. By the same token, majority of Americans have been raised on the fact that starting at a young age girls were suppose to be “girly” and “feminine” meaning they played with dolls, wore dresses, were emotional, and had crushes on boys. In contrast, males have been brought up in a way that they must be “masculine” and “powerful,” which meant they played competitive sports, were strong, had to be financially successful, and were attracted to girls since they were young. These stereotypes have been strongly implemented due to the fact this was how genders were portrayed on television and were always tied into young children growing up, falling in love with someone of the opposite gender, and raised by a family whose children would follow the same path as their parents. Americans were not able to see through the lens of sitcoms that identifying as anything else besides heterosexual was acceptable in society and felt they had to follow the sexual caste system that was implemented in preceding years.

Since American life in the 1950s, television has both reflected and nurtured cultural mores and values that have held up a mirror to society. The relationship between social attitudes and television has been reciprocal. I felt it was important to begin my timeline based on heterosexuals in the 1950s because this was when I was able to learn through watching sitcoms that television shows started to portray the conservative values of the idealized American life. The shows focused on White middle-class families with traditional nuclear roles and implied that most domestic problems could be solved relatively quickly and always ended with a strong moral lesson. Then, during a period of optimism and prosperity, families and lifestyles illustrated in domestic comedies were able to tackle controversial issues. This flourished and sitcoms brought the realities of real-world events into people’s living rooms. As a viewer, it was extremely intriguing because myself along with others were able to connect to similar experiences that the television stars were facing. As society began to change, so did television shows in order to reflect the social attitudes that had formed overtime, such as divorce and parenting tactics. In addition to changing family dynamics on sitcoms, shows developed a political awareness that reflected audiences’ growing appetite for social and political commentary. Sitcoms featured a new take on modern family life, with mothers starting to work outside of the home and fathers helping out with housework and parental duties.

Television has not only reflected cultural values but has influenced them. Many viewers have been led to believe certain opinions because of sitcoms and made people less open to opposing political viewpoints. The importance of sitcoms has altered individual’s perception on what the American Dream has been. Television has ingrained in the viewers mind that the goal in life was to fall in love with someone of the opposite gender in order to have a family and reach the ultimate destiny, happiness. Throughout the decades, sitcoms have expanded their audience because they have kept up with real life problems and have shaped the characters based on present day beliefs, such as social, religious, and political matters. Statistically speaking, odds were that the couple one would see on comedy television was more often than not a heterosexual white couple, and an even higher percentage of characters were straight. It has been important to note that sitcoms have defined the word “couple” as any two characters of the opposite gender who kissed, went on a date, had sex, were married, or engaged in a sexual relationship. When depicting traditional heterosexual couples, these power dynamics have been straightforward. Gender roles have been enforced or subverted therefore, the audience was use to seeing heterosexual couples that function with a variety of power dynamics. The portrayal of both females and males has formed many to believe, including myself that gender roles have served as a culturally constructed power dynamic within society.

The Intersection of Bisexuality and Space: Brenda Howard and the First Pride

[1] Corey E. Flanders, “Defining Bisexuality: Young Bisexual and Pansexual People’s Voices,” Journal of Bisexuality, vol. 17, no. 1 (2017): 40, accessed March 5, 2018,

[2] “What is Bisexuality?”, Bisexual Resource Center, accessed March 5, 2018,

[3]Miranda Rosenblum, “The U.S. Bisexual+ Movement: A #BiWeek History Lesson,” GLAAD, accessed April 8, 2018,

[4]Eliel Cruz, “Remembering Brenda: An Ode to the ‘Mother of Pride,'” The Advocate, accessed April 8, 2018,‘mother-pride’.

[5]”Biography,” Robyn Ochs, accessed April 8, 2018,

[6] “A Brief History of the Bisexual Movement,” BiNet USA, accessed March 5, 2018,

[7] Andrew Freedman, “Remembering the Stonewall Riots, 45 Years Later,” Mashable, accessed April 9, 2018,

[8] Yohana Desta, “The Evolution of the Pride Parade, From Somber March to Celebration,” Mashable, 2014, accessed April 9, 2018,

[9]Lena Williams, “200,000 March in Capital to Seek Gay Rights and Money for AIDS,” The New York Times, 1987, accessed April 9, 2018,

[10] “Who We Are,” New York Area Bisexual Network, accessed April 9, 2018,

[11] Trudy Ring, “Bisexual Pioneer Brenda Howard’s Husband Celebrates Her with #StillBisexual Campaign,”, 2015, accessed April 9, 2018,

[12] Zachary Zane, “6 Facts You never Knew About the Bisexual Flag,”, 2016, accessed April 10, 2018,

[13]Miguel Obradors-Campos, “Deconstructing Biphobia,” Journal of Bisexuality, vol. 11, no. 2 (2011): 207, accessed March 6, 2018,

[14] Miranda Rosenblum, “8 Current TV Shows With Bi+ Characters We Love This #BiWeek,” GLADD, September 17, 2017, accessed March 5, 2018,

[15] Nikki Hayfield, Victoria Clarke, Emma Halliwell, and Helen Malson, “Visible lesbians and invisible bisexuals: Appearance and visual identities among bisexual women,” Women’s Studies International Forum (2013): , accessed March 6, 2018,

[16] Trudy Ring, “Bisexual Pioneer Brenda Howard’s Husband Celebrates Her with #StillBisexual Campaign,”, 2015, accessed April 9, 2018,

[17] Chloe Sargeant, “People are sharing stories to create visibility for bisexuality with new hashtag #BiTwitter,” SBS, March 30, 2017, accessed March 5, 2018,

[18]  “Frank Ocean: Coming Out Had to Do With ‘My Own Sanity,’” Rolling Stone, July 21, 2012, accessed March 6, 2018,

[19] “Biography,” Eliel Cruz, accessed April 10, 2018,

History of Transgender: Through the Eyes of Brandon Teena


For the timeline project I chose to focus on not a place, but a person. From the first moment I learned about Brandon Teena, the young transman from Lincoln Nebraska who was brutally murdered, I was fascinated with his short life. Brandon’s story is more than just his life experiences as a transman in the United States, it is unique and specific to the rural town of Humboldt, Nebraska and how this small town understood the trans identity at the time. Brandon’s story touches on the problems of gender, sexuality, rural versus urban, and class issues in the United States. His life story in Nebraska showed me a new culture and group of people I was not familiar with having grown up outside of New York City. His life gave me insight into the differences between urban versus rural cultural practices and how this affects how we see the rest of the world.

In the United States education system, we are taught that the rural parts of the country are idyllic, old versions of the United States. There is a sense of nostalgia taught when we learn about rural parts of the country and how they live their lives. Too often, we focus on the cosmopolitan cities of the world and how culture is produced and recreated in these cultural hubs. But we forget to look at how rural communities are producing and reinforcing their own cultural norms. These rural norms are typically thought of as old-fashioned American heterosexual whiteness. Author Mary Gray writes about rural queer teens and says, “rural communities are not unproblematic, idyllic spaces for queer and questioning youth engaged in identity problems. These publics can be compromised” (Gray, 57).

This was the case for Brandon Teena who escaped to Humboldt to start his new life as a young man. Although he got away with living as a man for a few weeks, once his friends found out that he was actually born with female anatomy, they turned on him because he was different. His two male friends gang raped him and then murdered him a few days later because he deviated from the rural norm they were used to. It begs the question of: would Brandon still be here today if he relocated to a more urban, accepting location? Or were all geographical spaces struggling to understand the idea of transgender in 1993? We can never be sure or know the answer to this question. Brandon Teena’s story touches on the issues of rural verses urban space in the United States and how geography affects what our norm is.

Additionally, my interest Brandon’s story came from having to watch the movie version of his life in one of my classes early on in my college career. His story was transformed into a Hollywood movie in 1999 called Boys Don’t Cry. Hilary Swank played Brandon and won an Academy Award for her performance in 2000. Although this movie was widely popular and accepted by the Academy, it is important to remember that this was a glamorized, Hollywood version of the event.  The director, Kimberly Pierce, wanted to tell the story, but we have to remember this is not an accurate depiction, rather it is told through actors, lighting, and makeup. Brandon’s story was more than just a Hollywood blockbuster. It showed the world how we understood gender and sexuality in the early 1990s in rural America. Brandon was just 21 when he was murdered by people he thought were his friends. It is important to reflect back on Brandon’s story and think if he would be more accepted in 2018. Everyday we learn more and more about the trans identity and how the rest of the world sees it, but have we really moved away from incidents like Brandon’s? This timeline will show the history of Brandon’s story and how laws, legislation, and cultural practices have affected the larger group of the trans community today.

Gray, Mary L. “From Websites to Wal-Mart: Youth, Identity Work, and the Queering of Boundary Publics in Small Town, USA.” American Studies 48, no. 2 (2007): 49-59.

Works Cited

[1] Stryker, Susan. Transgender History. Seal Studies. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press : Distributed by Publishers Group West, 2008.

[2] Beemyn, Brett PhD.  Serving the Needs of Transgender College Students, Journal of Gay & Lesbian Issues in Education, 1:1, 2008. 33-50, DOI: 10.1300/J367v01n01_03

[3] Hines, Sally. “Theorising Transgender.” In TransForming Gender: Transgender Practices of Identity, Intimacy and Care, 9-34. Bristol: Policy Press at the University of Bristol, 2007.

[4] “Hate Crime Laws.” The United States Department of Justice. July 28, 2017. Accessed April 09, 2018.

[5] “Brandon Teena.” Wikipedia. April 09, 2018.

[6]  Dunne, John Gregory. “The Humboldt Murders.” The New Yorker. June 19, 2017. Accessed April 09, 2018.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Minkowitz, Donna. “Love Hurts.” The Village Voice, April 19, 1994.

[9] Duggan, Lisa. “Crossing the Line: The Brandon Teena Case and the Social Psychology of Working-Class Resentment.” New Labor Forum 13, no. 3 (2004): 36-44.

[10] Matthew Shepard Foundation. “About Us.” Matthew Shepard Foundation. 2015. Accessed April 09, 2018.

[11] “B R A N D O N.” B R A N D O N. Accessed April 09, 2018.

[12] “Brandon Teena.” Wikipedia. April 09, 2018. Accessed April 09, 2018.

[13] Ibid.

[14]  Swan, Rachel. “Boys Don’t Cry.” Film Quarterly, vol. 54, no. 3, 2001, pp. 47–52. JSTOR, JSTOR,

[15] Butler, Judith. “Bodies that Matter.” Excerpted in Feminst Theory and the Body, edited by Janet Price and Margrit Shildrik, 235-245. London: Routledge. 1999.

[16]  Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time and Place : Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. Sexual Cultures. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

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