Project Explores Gender Identity

COURTESY THOMAS LLOYD  The project features altered images of figures, such as University President John J. DeGioia, top, and LGBTQ Resource Director Shiva Subbaraman.

COURTESY THOMAS LLOYD
The project features altered images of figures, such as University President John J. DeGioia, top, and LGBTQ Resource Director Shiva Subbaraman.

A student-orchestrated project has attracted attention to issues of gender identity and expression, eliciting mixed reactions to the depiction of prominent figures in drag.

Thomas Lloyd (SFS ’15) and Giuliana Cucci (COL ’14) — a stage name — conceived the project during spring break while brainstorming marketing promotions for the April 12 GenderFunk, but they soon decided to move the campaign beyond advertising and explore the university’s acceptance of gender expression.

“Georgetown really isn’t a place where you see a lot of unconventional gender expression. You rarely see a lot of variation in very strict gender roles,” Lloyd said. “We so narrowly define them at Georgetown. Certainly, there’s no room for someone who wants to play around with gender and expression.”

Lloyd suggested advertising the drag ball with an image of John Carroll holding a wig; the next day, Cucci shared an image she designed of University President John J. DeGioia in a wig and makeup.

“I loved it. I though it was funny, well done. I wanted to show it to everyone. [Cucci] started to express a lot of fear about how the university would respond,” Lloyd said.

Cucci, who identifies as trans* and genderqueer, explained that her fear stemmed from worry that the campaign would elicit backlash against the LGBTQ community.

“While Georgetown has made a lot of progress in the last five years, many people think that LGBT+ folks should be content with how far we’ve come and be done with it. I was worried that the administration [and] the general population would use it as an excuse to redemonize queer groups on campus or even specific figures,” she wrote in an email. However, she felt the campaign, entitled “Utraque Unum: Both Into One,” provided a visual representation of pressing issues, such as patriarchy, sexism and cissexism.

The flyers, originally posted in the Leavey Center and Red Square, feature DeGioia, Carroll, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., and Pope Francis in wigs and makeup, while LGBTQ Resource Center Director Shiva Subbaraman sports a moustache.

“One of my main inspirations for this project was the pop image of Putin in response to Russia’s anti-LGBT laws. I think pop art made a lot of sense for this project because Warhol used it to comment on the everyday, normalized images around us. I used that normalizing style to do something that, for Georgetown, is very queer,” Cucci wrote.

Olson, O’Brien and Subbaraman all declined to comment for this article, while DeGioia could not be reached for comment through the Office of Communications.

Lloyd, the president of GU Pride, acted independently of the organization, as the board, while agreeing with the intent of the campaign, was not wholly comfortable with association, over fears of reprisal in the form of revocation of access to benefits. He, however, said that feedback has tended toward the positive.

“A lot of people have reached to me to say that it was very important to them, that it was funny, that it was great that people were using art for a social end,” he said. “This includes some administrators that have reached out to me privately to tell me how much they support the project.”

However, he expressed dismay with anonymous negative comments on a post on campus blog “Vox Populi,” accusing Lloyd and Cucci of defacement and pushing an agenda too far.

“Why is this any different from a political cartoon? From Photoshopping them in a different location? When a woman puts on makeup, is it defacement? No. Why is it different with a man?” Lloyd said. “There’s something about unconventional gender expression that reaches into the lizard part of our brain and makes us react violently.”

The commenter’s identification as ally of the LGBTQ community also drew Lloyd’s ire.

“You can’t be an ally and then disagree with the actions of the advocates of the community you want to work with,” he said.

The installation in Red Square was removed within 24 hours of its posting. In response, Lloyd added more flyers Thursday night, including new images of men’s basketball Head Coach John Thompson III, Center for Student Engagement Director Erika Cohen Derr and Provost Robert Groves.

“For those who say that there is no anti-gay bias, that the issues are just with the campus’s free speech policy, I would argue that more conservative voices on campus don’t value free expression,” Lloyd said. “If they did, they wouldn’t tear down condom envelopes from people’s doors, which is their space of free expression, or tear down our gender images in Red Square.”

He plans on posting more images, each time one is taken down, but anticipates an end to the campaign after GenderFunk, citing budgetary constraints.

Among the general campus community, the campaign has met with varying considerations.

“I don’t support it because I feel like there’s better ways to spark this discussion, and if that’s their sole purpose in doing that, then they don’t need to deface administrators and other people who work at the school,” Sarah Devermann (SFS ’17) said.

However, Ellen Rote (COL ’17) believed that the campaign provided an apt addition to campus discourse.

“I don’t think it’s inappropriate. I feel like there’d be no reason for someone to say that that was a crazy thing to do in the first place. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with it. I guess since it is our president, you have to be kind of cautious with what you’re doing, but I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all,” Rote said. Both students felt that the posters should not have been taken down.

In the end, Lloyd hopes to channel any outrage into thought-provoking discussion.

“The point of the campaign is to raise anger and then have you question the reasons behind it,” he said. “The point of the campaign was to start a discussion about gender, trying to raise the bar by expression.”

2 Comments

  1. “When a woman puts on makeup, is it defacement? No. Why is it different with a man?”

    It’s not different, but the people putting on the makeup choose to put on the makeup. We are a community and that needs to be respected. If the administrators agreed that they would not mind their photos being used, then by all means, but they did not give consent for their images to be used, and thus that is where the issue lies, not with the campaign itself.

    Those represented are not just far off figureheads of Georgetown who leave students to go about their business while they carry out their own duties, they are active members of our community and can be approached on campus very easily. What if a random student’s photo was used without permission? Would that be acceptable? I would hope the student body would not be okay with such an action. Why is it any different if its an admin?

    • The answer to this question is simple.

      Georgetown Administrators are public figures who images have been altered in dozens of publications on and off campus, and there has never been a single response from them or the student body.

      Administrators have been portrayed as dinosaurs, stick figures, whatever. without a single batted eyelash. This is entirely selective outrage, that comes from our sometimes subconscious lack of comfort over gender-non conformity. Objectively, why is a man wearing makeup or being portrayed as doing so any more offensive than photoshopping him next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa or with a dead president? They are featured in political cartoons, other photoshops etc.

      These are meant to make statements that are positive and aimed about our perceptions of gender generally, not about the gender identity or frankly anything about the individuals portrayed in the images. The only reason why they are featured and edited is because they are public campus figures, and those involved in crafting policy about gender

      Not only is there no mal-intent, but also I would argue that since most of those involved have made statements either hostile to unconventional gender expression (and free speech) or taken or enforced policies that are similarly antiquated, to say that its THESE images that are doing the offending really ignores the problem, which is how we all are hung up on silly elements of gender expression

      At its core, these images are artistic, silly, and can only offend those who find unconventional gender expression offensive or light hearted alterations of public figures offensive, neither of which I agree is justification not to do it

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