Real Man Adventures

Real Man Adventures, shown below, is a novel by a transgender man named T Cooper. It was published in 2012 making it a pretty recent book. This book is essentially a transgender memoir. Although the word memoir is never actually used to in the book, that’s basically what it is. Cooper talks about many different things throughout the novel ranging from sex to violence to transgender violence to when he “knew”.

t cooper

My favorite chapter in this book is called “A Few Words About Pronouns”. This chapter starts out with “what’s the first thing people ask when a woman is going to have a baby? Is it a boy or a girl?” Everybody cares about a baby’s sex and nothing more. The main concern of people is what’s in someone’s pants. The question second to that is, as T Cooper says, “is it healthy?”, but that isn’t the main concern. This links in to queer culture because as we all know sex does not necessarily correlate with gender. Within the chapter Cooper goes on to talk about how when he first started using male pronouns people would screw up, and he would be like no it’s okay, it’s probably hard for you. He then said “I stopped being so goddamn accommodating and started gently correcting people”. That’s a big deal. The point in which you stop letting people screw up because they don’t feel like getting it right is a big step. It is an uncomfortable thing but as he said “…you know what’s mildly uncomfortable? Not being seen for who you are, especially by people who are supposed to know and love you”.

This chapter of the book as well as the entire book relates back to our class very well. I think it connects very much with Susan Stryker’s transgender rage. The novel itself is all transgender rage filled. Throughout the book, Cooper words things in a somewhat bitter and cynical way with a hint of some “dark” humor. In the chapter I spoke about, when he wrote “…you know what’s mildly uncomfortable? Not being seen for who you are, especially by people who are supposed to know and love you”, I believe it channeled the anger and bitterness of how he felt when people screwed his pronouns up without really trying. I personally understand that feeling of anger and bitterness about things like that. It’s easily equated with Stryker’s description of transgender rage.

Tomboy

Tomboy is a graphic novel authored by Liz Prince, and published in 2015. It humorously, and very simply, illustrates the many struggles gender-nonconforming females experience growing up. While specific to Prince’s own life, it is a fantastic representation of youth (and typical youth struggles – parents/family, developing friendships, romantic attraction, ideas surrounding sex) intertwined with the struggles of being a masculine presenting girl/young woman in a culture that is largely unaccepting of this type (“tomboys”).

The novel opens with a scene of four year old Liz Prince in emotional disarray from the thought of having to wear a dress that her grandmother bought for her and ends with a humorous layout of her preferred display of masculinity. As she explains the recurrent theme of her own masculinity throughout childhood and young teenage years, along with the resulting emotional turmoil she experienced because of bullying and the general lack of acceptance from her peers, she continually breaks down her own evolving gender display with humorous commentary.

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A particular struggle for Liz Prince was trying to date boys. A boy she admired and fell for was a boy every girl in her school dreamed of dating; he was a school heart-throb. She was not the typical feminine presenting girl – she presented as more masculine, wore men’s clothes – and he rejected her because of it. This seemed to contribute to her struggle of general acceptance, understanding, and good-feelings of herself.

In An Introduction to Female Masculinity, Judith Halberstam asserts that displays/modes of female masculinity are perceived to be the rejected scraps of heroic and legitimate masculinity, in order to make legitimate masculinity legitimate – the right way to be masculine. It instead, according to Halberstam, is a window through which we can see how masculinity is constructed. When Liz Prince began realizing that she embodied a gender display that is not in line with traditional display for females (being feminine), she captures the emotion perfectly in a single page:

The second image on the page shows the pervasive idea that female masculinity does not equal legitimate masculinity because legitimate masculinity can be found only in males and this is the only way to have a legitimate masculine identity. In the first image, female masculinity also means not being legitimately female (female = co-occuring femininity under this logic), and the last illustration shows utter confusion – a sort of, “what am I?” crisis. If not considered – looking through the lens of the binary – to be truly feminine or truly masculine, where does that leave the gender non-conforming female/woman? It leaves them with no legitimate identity. Judith Halberstam points out that tomboyism is harshly punished (including attempts to “reorient” the individual) and seen as a real problem only when it continues into adolescence and adulthood. As Liz Prince grows up, her continuing tomboyism is more harshly punished by peers, and I believe that the partial results of this punishment of the tomboy individual is the emotion that can be seen in the image above. To quote Judith Halberstam, “Female adolescence represents the crisis of coming of age as a girl in a male-dominated society.” Living within this male dominated society, it is possible to assert that whatever most legitimately masculine males perceive as attractive is the rule, and legitimately masculine males are not attracted to displays of masculinity – so not attracted to Liz Prince; I consider this to be one of the many forms of punishment. She felt this strongly and couldn’t seem to figure out why she was never fully accepted throughout her childhood and young teenage years.

I like Tomboy because it illustrates in pictures, as well as words, the struggles of gender non-conforming females, but with the comfort of humor. Thinking of my own childhood, teenage, and adult experience as a tomboy, I can relate strongly to the experiences of Liz Prince, which made this a very enjoyable read for me.

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-Towards the end of Tomboy, Liz Prince illustrates a time when she discovered the works of Ariel Schrag – another graphic novelist. I highly recommend reading Awkward and Definition, Potential, and Likewise if interested in a story about a masculine presenting woman’s struggle with discovering her sexuality throughout high school…and if you’re as enthralled with graphic novels as me.

Here is a pretty great illustration from Potential –

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Korea Queer Culture Festival

Korea Queer culture festival is the largest queer cultural festival in Korean and second largest in Asia. It first took place in the year 2000 and usually happens in late May to early June annually for about 15 days. Different year the event takes place at different locations throughout South Korea. Korea is a conservative country and many people see homosexuality as a foreign phenomenon. Homosexuality remains largely taboo in South Korean society and same-sex people are seldom seen in public. LGBT people in South Korea face discrimination that heterosexual people do not. However, unlike many similar events photography is limited in this event. This is done to minimize public exposure of LGBT people to avoid discrimination.

Even though there is no law against homosexuality in Korean history, homosexual couples and households are not entitled any legal protection from the government, unlike heterosexual people. Transgender people are allowed to have surgery to reassign their gender after age 20. People in dominantly religious country are more likely to reject the idea of homosexuality according to the Pew Research Center survey published in Washington Post. According to the survey 18% people in South Korea support homosexuality only. Homosexual people are often stigmatized and sometimes not classified as humans, as the country remains largely conservative on matters of sexuality. Political parties and most elected politicians of South Korea tend to avoid addressing LGBT rights issues except the Democratic Labor Party. The Democratic Party is the third largest political party and has a political panel known as ‘Sexual Minorities Committee.’ Their agenda includes discrimination against homosexual people and discrimination based on sexual preferences and equal rights for sexual minorities. I chose this event for my post because it shows even though Korea is a developed country but still the way people thinks is greatly influenced by religion and political influence. It relates to our class discussion of how politics and religion shapes a person’s view and on a much border scale a nation’s view. Military service is mandatory for all men Koreans. Active homosexual military members are categorized as ‘personality disorder’ or ‘behavior disability’ and honorably discharged. Korean Queer Culture festival receives no support from the government except the Democratic Labor Party.

The festival normally begins with opening events followed by a parade and after-party at club Pulse in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood, although celebrations continue in all LGBTQ clubs across the city People attending the event wear mask to avoid recognition on a website or newspaper for fear of reprisal by family, friends or co-workers. Demonstrators continue to disrupt the annual gay pride of South Korea where all gay and transgender Koreans meet together for a series of events and parades, recognized internationally as a gay pride month. The number of participants attending the event increased over time-but the increased visibility of LGBT supporters has also meant that the number of protestors also increased. Christian groups ran a campaign for weeks to try to block the parade. In May 2015, they camped out for weeks in front of the police station where parade organizers had to apply for permit and filed a counter request to hold the parade. Police initially ruled in favor of the anti-LGBT response committee, however a court ruled on June 2015 that the parade had to be allowed. The parade was banned in 2015 and this has attracted international attention to the event. This progressed LGBT rights in South Korea. Photography was banned in this event until 2010. The organizers issued no photography stickers, ribbons and bands. People who will allow photography will have to register or else faces will be blurred before publishing online.

senhanced-9237-1435489058-1Parade

Largest counter-protests was organized by merging some of Korea’s largest Christian Church associations together as anti-LGBT response committee. The committee held a worship service across the street from the gay pride event and the committee was blasting sermons, hymns and prayers loudly enough to overwhelm the sound system of the event. Protestors held sign on their laps which says, “We pray for Korea not to be diseased/sick with homosexuality.” Girls performed ballet which resembles God’s angel and purity and to show what real beauty looks like. Some protestors laid down on the street to block the parade. But they were immediately removed and the parade went off without any major incidents.

korea-queerPictured, a demonstrator protested the 2014 Korea Queer Festival by holding a sign to obscure the view of the performance behind him

General awareness of homosexuality remains low among people in Korea because people are afraid if they come out, they will be face difficulty both in work place and among families. However there is increased awareness of homosexuality and gay-themed entertainment in the media can be seen now. According to a number of advocates for sexual minorities, two major issues are holding LGBT human rights- lack of awareness in society and strong opposition from the Christian Church.

Marco Marco: Going Against the Heteronormative Grain

Marco Marco has been a buzz word in the fashion industry since his beginning in 2000. Having styled movie stars and pop artists, the brand Marco Marco enjoys making a big statement and utilizing pop icons to display extravagant pieces of fashion that has redefined modern fashion. The start of its fame began in 2013 when a video of the Collection 2 Runway was posted on Youtube. The fashion show launched a social media craze when the show began and the models were not slender female models and hyper masculine male models, but actually drag queens and transgender women modeling the dresses and gay men, thicker models, “vogue-ers”, and transgender men modeling the underwear and hoodies.

Marco Marco is renowned for his use of geometric shape, neon color, and form fitting clothing. His clothes, unlike the haute couture brands of modern fashion, are made specifically for the personalities wearing them; meaning each garment fits perfectly with the style and body shape of the model wearing it.  Yes, all fashion runway clothes are made to fit their models, but Marco Marco makes it apparent that with his clothing he is trying to emulate the personality of the model. For example during an interview with The Huffington Post Marco himself said the following about what started his whole perspective in fashion and the use of non-traditional models, “There is a (drag) queen named Vicky Vox… All I wanted was for her to open the first show, and when she said yes, that was the first seed… It’s also nice to give credence to a social group that doesn’t get the appropriate type of attention they (drag queens) deserve. I wanted a legitimate opportunity for my friends to show the world what being a ‘bad ass bitch’ is really about.” Through his experience of watching Vicky perform he became inspired by what she does daily: perform. The bright lights and atmosphere of where he saw her perform became an inspiration for him and he knew he had to make a clothing line inspired by it starring her as the entrance look. Marco Marco succeeded in combining his style with the character of an LGBTQ+ icon from the beginning of his show when he styled Vicky in a beautiful robe and bathing suit that she would wear off the runway as her character.

The use of LGBTQ+ models in Marco Marco’s runways makes a giant statement on heteronormativity. Utilizing models who aren’t all the same shape and size pushes the boundaries of what his fashion can do. He is making a statement on what fashion and gender is when he styles drag queens and transgender women in extravagantly colorful gowns and masculine and feminine gay men in underwear with full faces of makeup. For the aforementioned reasons, Marco Marco’s playfulness with the gender binary and the normativity of feminine women and masculine men in the fashion world has revolutionized the fashion world and redefined what is “normal” in fashion today.

 

Mrs. Doubtfire

A movie loved by most, Mrs. Doubtfire, starring the late Robin Williams, as an actor who’s life is basically falling apart: he recently quit his job, he is just divorced, and because of said divorce, he his now homeless. In order to turn his life around, the main character Daniel, dresses up in granny drag as a 60-ish year old woman playing the part of a nanny in his ex-wife’s household.

Filmed in 1992, Mrs. Doubtfire was a prime example of what gender norms of the 90’s were supposed to be. The cultural panic about divorce and the decline of men’s roles at home lead to insecurity about masculinity. Playing on that, in Mrs. Doubtfire, the mother wears the pants in the family, so Daniel has to prove his worth by wearing a dress.

In the process of trying to get the job of his ex-wife’s nanny, Daniel pretends to be a few different characters to throw her off. During one of the phone calls, his ex-wife informs the character that she has two daughters and a son. With this the character replies “oh, a boy. I don’t work with the males, ‘cause I used to be one.” His ex-wife immediately hangs up with a disgusted look on her face that implies “I could never have someone like that in my home!”

When looking at this joke from a perspective of audience members in 1992, it worked well. Now, it appears to be transphobic and insensitive. Although, during that time it was probably not intended to be offensive to transgender people, it did come out that way. In today’s society, especially, with famous transgender figures such as Lavern Cox and now Caitlyn Jenner make it difficult to make such gender-bending comedies without seriously offending someone. Some people even compare Caitlyn to Mrs. Doubtfire.

Later in the movie, Daniel goes to his brother and brother in-law’s house in order to transform into a 60+-year-old woman, introducing drag into the movie. Although they don’t outright call it drag in the movie, nor does Daniel go all out while doing his makeup like some drag queens we see such as Bianca Del Rio, we are able to get a taste of what drag queens might go through if they are going in and out of drag in a bathroom somewhere where it might not be accepted.

Towards the end of the movie, Mrs. Doubtfire agrees to go to dinner with his ex-wife’s family as well as meet a television producer at the same restaurant on the same night. At one point, Daniel forgets which table he’s going to in which costume, so he accidentally goes to the television producer’s table dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire. With this the television producer is surprised as questions why he’s dressed as a woman. Daniel, thinking on his feet, decides that it would be a good idea to make a television show about her, using his granny drag to help his career as an actor.

Trans vs. Drag: A Clash of Terms

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Left to Right: Manila Luzon, BenDeLaCreme, Pandora Boxx, Jinkx Monsoon

In the wake of the “Female or She-male” controversy surrounding RuPaul’s Drag Race and transgender activists, in which the segment was deemed degrading and offensive, ThinkProgress writer Zach Ford penned a very comprehensive and balanced article titled “The Quiet Clash Between Transgender Women And Drag Queens” where he delved into the growing tension between the transgender and drag communities concerning terminology and representation. Transgender activists were upset by the nature of the “Female or She-male” segment and its use of the word “shemale,” which asked the contestants to look at pictures of bodies and they had to guess if they were biological, cisgender women (“Female”) or drag queens (“She-male”). Although LogoTV and Drag Race addressed the controversy by pulling the episode and cutting out the “You’ve Got She-Mail!” intro, Ford writes that “the incident has continued to be a flashpoint about how the visibility of drag culture on Drag Race impacts public understanding of what it means to be transgender. Questions about the appropriate use of words like ‘shemale’ and ‘tranny’ speak to a larger conflict over media representation and the authenticity of identities.”

Ford then incorporates interviews with four Drag Race alumni (pictured above) and a genderqueer individual, who speak about the usage of these terms and what it means to be in that conflict. He then goes on to discuss the conflict of representation and identity, in which it is said that because of the visibility of drag queens (and their usage of words like “tranny” and “shemale”), those not in the LGBT community are not privy to the nuances, and therefore can confuse transgender women as drag queens (a.k.a. men in dresses). This strips transgender women of their identity. The questions provoked by this are “Are transgender women drag queens?” and “Are drag queens transgender?” In regards to the former question, transgender women are not drag queens, unless they participate in drag as a profession (much like transgender performer Kylie Sonique Love). As for the latter, the answer is a bit more complex. Ford writes that the answer “[depends] on who is considering the question and how, the answers “Yes,” “No,” and “Sometimes” could all be accurate. That’s because the word “transgender” can mean different things in different contexts.”

Kylie Sonique Love

Kylie Sonique Love Click Here for Kylie’s opinion on the RPDR controversy

Les Feinberg wrote in “Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come” about the ever-evolving nature of terminology within the transgender community, with words and identities going in and out of fashion and shift definitions. this can be plainly seen in the complexity of answering the aforementioned question, in which transgender is both the term for people assigned a gender at birth and realize that they identify with another gender and transition and as “an umbrella term, the “T” in “LGBT” has also been long-used to encompass all gender identities that are nonconforming to society’s gender norms. […] These various interpretations accommodate gender identities and expressions that are not easily measured by a man-woman binary.”

Ford then brings in various voices from the transgender community, like transgender activist Riki Wilchins who states that “Transgender was intended as an umbrella term, then a name of inclusion. But umbrellas don’t work well when one group holds them up.” This is the opinion of those who were outraged by the “Female or She-male” mini-game, who believe that the transgender community is just for transgender men and women. Other transgender activists, like Harper Jean Tobin, Director of Policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, who addressed her position in her keynote speech at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, discussing the complex overlap of “transgender” identities. She touches the place of gender nonconforming individuals (genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, etc.) and all forms of gender expressions outside the binary within the Transgender community. She states that “there is also a fear, I think, on the part of some trans men and women that even acknowledging the existence of non-binary identities will threaten our right to be recognized as the men and women we are. We must resist the fear that there is not enough dignity and justice to go around. Our movement must recognize and elevate the voices and the rights and the leadership of trans folks who are not men or women.”

Casey Plett

Casey Plett

Casey Plett blogs about this very issue, and seems to be able to see both sides of the conversation, acknowledging the history of these terms and also the pejorative uses of these terms and how they can invalidate transgender identities. She states that she has a connection to terms like “tranny” that is positive. She seems to be in the middle of this conflict, though “the vocabulary game can’t be won.”

Joan Jett, it’s all in the Lyrics

Born Joan Larkin, Joan Jett soon became a name that was the foundation of a major change and movement in the world of rock and roll. Little did everyone know at the time, Jett would later become a name in rock and roll that will never be forgotten. Jett formed her first actual band, The Runaways, at the age of 15 in 1975. The Runaways, which was the first all girl rock band mainly produced music that was considered hard rock. Though The Runaways only lasted a couple short years before breaking up, Jett continued to fight the status quote by being a strong woman in the predominately male dominated world of rock and roll. Jett eventually went on to try to find a record label which would accept her work only to be turned down 23 times. Jett was so frustrated that with a help from Kenny Laguna she created her own record label, Blackheart Records. This made Jett the first woman artist to not only own, but also have direct control over an independent record label.

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Throughout her career, Jett often pushed the envelope by being not just the average woman who sang in a band. Jett was the only woman on the scene throughout the late 1970’s and on who was not dressed in a cute outfit singing the words to some song about her boyfriend or what have you (like all the other female singers did). Jett, on the other hand was the lead singer and guitarist for her band, which produced hard rock music such as I Love Rock ’n’ Roll. The almost grunge rock sound in her voice and the way she was not afraid to really get into her music like the men in rock and roll did set Jett apart from all other female singers at that time. The songs she wrote and produced through her record label also set her apart from all the other female singers at the time.

Jett’s music was often geared towards those of us in society who feel like social outcasts. Even though Jett does not really step into the spotlight much to speak on such social issues, some of her songs such as Androgynous tell a story of people who do not necessarily feel comfortable with their gender. Throughout Androgynous Jett tells a story of a man and a woman who are similar to what someone today might consider as being gender fluid. Meaning that one day they wake up and want to wear a dress, and the next day they might want to wear a leather biker jacket with chains (clearly not being very girly but rather masculine instead), both of the choices being available regardless of their assigned genders. As we have discussed in class this is not uncommon for people to want to dress in the opposite manner that society decides is appropriate for their biological genders. Though Jett does not outright publicly advocate these ideas in terms of speaking on behalf of such issues, she does advocate them through her music and personal style.

Pariah

Dee Rees’ 2011 award winning film Pariah   starring Adepero Oduye, Charles Parnell, and Kim Wayans   is about a young black girl accepting her lesbian identity. When the movie begins, Alike (Oduye) is shy and uncertain, but she slowly learns and comes to embrace all of herself.

Alike is a junior in high school whose only friend is the openly lesbian drop-out Laura (Pernell Walker). They hang out in lesbian clubs, in which Laura frequently pressures Alike to find a girl to have her first sexual experience with. Neither of Alike’s parents know about her sexuality, though her mother Audrey (Kim Wayans) has her     suspicions. Disapproving, Audrey forces Alike to wear more feminine clothes and spend less time with Laura. She pushes Alike to befriend Bina (Aasha Davis), a much more feminine girl from church.

Though their relationship starts out rocky, Alike and Bina grow to like each other. Their indifference becomes deep discussion about music and sharing their love for writing, while Laura slowly fades out of the picture. One night after a concert, they end up kissing. Because she has not had any previous experience, Alike is reluctant. But eventually she opens up and it is assumed that they sleep together. The next morning, Alike tries to discuss their relationship but Bina responds by saying they don’t have one. She says she’s not actually gay, just “doing her thing” and urges Alike not to tell anyone. Alike leaves abruptly and, once she gets home, cries her eyes out.

Alike wakes up to her parent fighting. Her mother is screaming about Alike being a dyke while her father Arthur (Charles Parnell) is consistently denying it. Eventually Alike gets involved and finally comes out to her parents. Her mother attacks her, the punches only stopping when Arthur pulls her off. Alike flees to Laura’s house.

Some time later Alike’s father finally comes to visit. He urges her to come home, saying that things will be different. Alike doesn’t acknowledge his statements, instead telling him that she got accepted into an early college program for writing. Alike leaves for California, unable to reconnect with her mother. The film ends with one of Alike’s poems.

Heartbreak opens onto the sunrise
For even breaking is opening
And I am broken
I’m open
Broken to the new light without pushing in
Open to the possibilities within, pushing out
See the love shine in through my cracks?
See the light shine out through me?
I  am broken
I am open
I am broken open
See the love light shining through me
Shining through my cracks
Through the gaps
My spirit takes journey
My spirit takes flight
Could not have risen otherwise
And I am not running
I’m choosing
Running is not a choice from the breaking
Breaking is freeing
Broken is freedom
I am not broken
I’m free.
This storyline definitely has parallels to the narratives of many LGBTQ+ community members, regardless of race, gender, or class. The trauma of being abandoned and seen as a freak by the people closest to you is not something new.
Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity is prevalent throughout this film. Butler argues that gender is not something we have, but something that we continually act out. In the beginning of the film, we see Alike on the way home from the club. While she is still on the bus, she slips out of her baggy clothes and into something more fitted and feminine. Audrey buys and makes Alike wear girly clothing, despite her daughter’s protests. During the scene where Alike comes out to her parents, Audrey tells her husband that Alike is turning into a man. This is what really emphasized the performance of gender. It is not her daughters gender identity or even sex that determines whether or not she is a girl, but how she is acting. And baggy clothes are not something that girls wear. Audrey’s motivations for buying Alike the clothing are so that she will become a “true woman”, and true women are always heterosexual. Of course, Monique Wittig would say that Alike never was and never will be a woman, and somehow I think her mother would agree.

Steven Universe

Steven Universe is an animated television show currently running on Cartoon Network. The show features Steven Universe, a young boy growing up with the “Crystal Gems”; three alien rebels who protect the earth from the other extraterrestrial Gems. Through missions, battles, and interactions with the Gems and his human friends, this coming-of-age story follows Steven while he discovers his abilities and learns about who he is. This show is groundbreaking in its representation of gender roles and its queer-positive message.

The show was created by Rebecca Sugar and is Cartoon Network’s first show solely created by a woman.

“My goal with the show was to really tear down and play with the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children” -Rebecca Sugar

Steven, being half-gem and half-human, is the first and only male Gem. The Crystal Gems whom he lives with are all female and assume a motherly role for Steven. He looks up to and learns from these heroines, a big twist on the normally male-dominated hero role in young boy’s cartoons. It’s through this sort of gender-role shifting that Steven Universe shows boys that it’s okay to look up to women as role models.

Amethyst

Even though all of the characters that Steven learns from are female, they all embody different elements of femininity and masculinity. In her book “Female Masculinity,” Judith Halberstam sought to identify what constitutes masculinity. In one example in her book, she talks about the James bond classic Goldeneye. Halberstam claims that though she is female, M is the most masculine character in the movie. In Steven Universe, Garnet is perhaps the most masculine of the Gems. She is strong, intelligent and is the new leader of the Crystal Gems. Many of the Gems also appear tomboy-ish, exhibiting more masculine qualities. Amethyst is one such tomboy. She is bad-mannered, loud, messy, and impulsive, lacking most traditionally feminine qualities.

In addition to its strong and diverse female cast, there are not-so-subtle queer overtones in Steven Universe. Their former leader and Steven’s mother Rose Quartz, gave up her physical form to create Steven. The Crystal Gems all looked up to Rose Quartz, and Pearl had a particularly close relationship with her. When reminiscing about Rose Quartz, Pearl is very loving and even calls Rose Quartz “beautiful.”  Emotional connections and relationships of all kinds are major themes in the cartoon.

Stevonnie

One major power of the Gems is “fusion.” By joining together, two gems are able to create one entirely different entity, sharing features of each individual gem and growing in power. The writers of the show use this ability to explore emotional connections. In one episode Steven accidentally fuses with his female friend and romantic interest Connie. Together, they become the androgynous ‘Stevonnie‘ who is never referred to using gendered pronouns. In this body, Steven has a gender-bending experience where everyone in the city sees Stevonnie as a very beautiful person. This exploration of gender for Steven shows the viewer his more feminine side in a fun way.

While Stevonnie was present only once in a light-hearted episode, the season one finale was perhaps the most serious demonstration of a romantic fusion. It is revealed at the end of season one that Garnet, the current leader of the Crystal Gems, actually exists as a near-permanent fusion of the gems Ruby and Sapphire. These two Gems are deeply in love and decided to stay fused forever a a sign of their strong bond. This perceived homosexual relationship between Ruby and Sapphire is portrayed beautifully in the show. Parallels can be drawn between their fusion and marriage, where two people join to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. This clip shows the reunion of Ruby and Sapphire after they were captured and forcibly separated. It’s clear that there is a deep emotional connection between these female gems and Steven takes it completely in stride.

Representation in television shows has a great effect on children. Studies show that when kids see people like them portrayed positively in media they are positively impacted. Steven Universe’s queer-positive and heroic female message reaches kids at a critical time in development, when children are still discovering and exploring gender and identity. Because of the cartoon’s unique perspective on feminine role models and queer-positivity I feel that Steven Universe deserves a spot in this digital archive.

Gender Diversity Creeping Into Society

For so long, we have only been able to choose our gender from a dichotomy: male or female. However, within the past two years, there has finally been some progressive activity towards recognition of multiple and varying gender identities. One of the most popular social media websites, Facebook, created a multitude of gender options for its users at the beginning of 2014. Now, in 2015, there are a few progressive universities following suit. While not as diverse as Facebook’s options, the University of Vermont, the University of California, the University of Albany, and Harvard University have all taken steps towards more open gender expression and recognition. While the simple pronouns of he and she may not seem important, to many people in the world, these small recognitions are giant leaps forward in gender acceptance.

Referring to someone not by their name, but by their gender pronouns is so second nature to the human brain that most of us put little to no thought into it after we see what a person looks like; more often than not, we recognize an abundance of masculine or feminine qualities in a person which is then followed by an immediate and subconscious assignment of the pronouns “he” or “she.” What a good chunk of people do not realize, though, is that there are a significant number of individuals who either do not identify as the gender those individuals outwardly express or who do not even identify as the traditional male or female genders.

“Gender’s very flexibility and seeming fluidity is precisely what allows dimorphic gender to hold sway.” -J.J. Halberstam

As we have read from Leslie Feinberg, transgender habits, thoughts, and ways of life are not new concepts or practices, and, in fact, they have not only been around in most documented cultures, but they have even endured through the worst of hardships. This furthers arguments made by J.J. Halberstam as well; Halberstam understands that we as a society don’t have strictly male and female identities, but rather masculine and feminine qualities which we designate as male or female. Consequently, this leads him to ask why we don’t already have multiple gender expressions and identities in our society. Perhaps we, as a society, have made little progress due to the male and female categories being “so elastic” as Halberstam describes; or perhaps Feinberg’s gender continuum already exists—not in the form of multiple gender identities, but rather with these “elastic” categories of male and female. Maybe this is why the gender binary has endured for so long; maybe the elastic male and female continuum is adequate. However, contrary to what the mass populous has deemed satisfactory for so long, many people and institutions have determined the current gender binary to be sub par.

“It is apparent that there are many ways for women and men to be; everything in nature is a continuum.” -Leslie Feinberg

Fortunately, in the past two years, progressive institutions have taken steps forward to queer our normative culture by forcing alternative gender identities into our binary system. These institutions are not simply radically suggesting that individuals should have more than two options when trying to identify one’s gender; instead, they are recognizing these identities by enforcing the various identities under the domain of their own institution. While not standardized between the institutions, each is making small steps towards a, hopefully, national change.

Examples of Gender Pronouns

Some Facebook Gender Options

Recognition as simple as a third gender of neutral—like that at the University of Vermont—or just the option to choose your own gender pronouns—like Harvard University—could make a drastic change in the lives of transgendered and gender-nonconforming people. These smaller changes nationwide could be a more conservative addition to our society’s tight gender binary; after people get used to the small changes, options to have multiple and varied gender options like that at the University of California and the University of Albany—universities at which students can choose between six or more options ranging from the standard male to trans woman to gender-queer—could be a progressive outlook for the future. Although our society may never get to official public recognition of the 50+ gender options listed on Facebook, these institutions are creating a path for future movement in gender expression.

If we’ve learned anything from the past, it is that gender differences and ambiguities exist within the seemingly everlasting male/female binary. We may be destined to stay within dichotomies, but I think we are starting to see that change is eminent. Because of these small, yet revolutionary, changes in gender recognition, I believe these institutions deserve a spot in this archive.