In the early 1990s, I was a very busy 10-year-old. I didn't have many friends, but my mom made sure my time after school was packed with extracurricular activities. When I jumped into the car after flag football practice, my spandex figure skating outfit was always laid out on the front seat so I could quickly strip off my sweatpants and pull on my tights and leotard. I fantasized about being on the tackle football team when I was old enough, and imagined a game running so late that I would have to skate in my bulky football pads. My flag football game did end later than usual one day and although I was wearing my leotard, my skating coach was angry. When my mom explained that I'd just arrived from my football game, the coach looked over at me with contempt. 'You've got bigger problems than being late,' she told me, 'you need to decide whether you want to be a boy or a girl.' Although I didn't understand at the time, I realize now that I've been refusing to make that decision ever since.
The choice is a difficult one to make, and choosing not to decide can be even harder. Even in seemingly progressive queer communities, someone is usually trying to make that decision for you. Most genderqueers and trans-identified people see my big pink hair and poofy dresses and assume that I identify as female. It is rare that anyone asks (or considers) what pronouns I prefer or how I choose to identify my gender. These limitations are forcing many people who don't conform to a strictly binary concept of gender out of the genderqueer community.
Within this column, I will explore gender as it is experienced and understood by people in Chicago's many queer and GLBT communities. Along with this article, I am currently working on a documentary that deals with many of these same issues, Little Boy Panties. I interviewed various people who in some way consider themselves to have a per formative feminine or femme aspect to their gender identity. In Little Boy Panties, I question gender, labels, and names as to what they really mean. I ask viewers to step outside themselves and think about gender in a more fluid way—a way in which a female-bodied person might pretend to be a woman, and your gender is as easy to change as your underwear. It will be premiering at the School of the Art Institute Gallery 2, 847 W. Jackson Blvd, Feb. 19 and 20 at 7 p.m..