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.”