In a recent resolution, the Republican National Committee (RNC) called on the Department of Education “to rescind its interpretation of Title IX that wrongly includes facility use issues by transgender students.” The RNC further claims that the gender assigned at birth is one’s only “true” gender, thus implying that trans people do not exist. The Committee believes that the Obama administration’s attempt to protect the rights of trans students by providing them with equal access to bathrooms is an example of “governmental overreach.” Their claim is that the current interpretation of Title IX is a violation of the privacy to those using the bathroom that is “correct” for “members of that sex.” Through a postmodern feminist theoretical lens, it becomes clear that the RNC’s interpretation of these bathroom bills is incredibly harmful to trans people and demonstrates clear discrimination towards bodies that do not fit societal norms.
It is incredibly disheartening to know that the RNC is so backwards in their collective thinking that they would view a move to protect student safety as “overreach.” Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Bathrooms continue to be a constant source of anxiety for many trans people, including both those forced to use the bathroom that does not match their gender identity and those whose identity and/or presentation is ambiguous. For the latter group, there is no appropriate bathroom, as the two male-female options do not acknowledge an existence outside the binary. As Jack Halberstam explains, “Those of us who present in some ambiguous way are routinely questioned and challenged about our presence in the ‘wrong’ bathroom” (332). Halberstam further illustrates this problem in summarizing the narrative of “he-she factory worker, Jess Goldberg” who must “make crucial decisions about whether she can afford to use the women’s restroom” (333). Thus, the bathroom becomes a representation of the “limit to her ability to move around in the public sphere” (333). Unfortunately, even if the RNC’s resolution were to be denied, the issues illustrated by Jess Goldberg would still be very real for many trans people. Very few institutions have “all gender” bathrooms, and while buildings often have single bathroom options, there are usually very few, and they can require long treks across the premises to find.
The RNC is so ingrained in their archaic understandings of gender that they take no issue with the fact that their condemnation of trans bathroom rights could force people to everyday experience systematic oppression whenever they need to pee. As Julia Serano explains, “Transphobia is an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against people whose gendered identities, appearances, or behaviors deviate from societal norms” (349). Thus, what is causing the RNC so much uneasiness is the fact that people exist who do not remain within the status quo. Serano further defines cissexism as “the belief that transsexuals’ identified genders are inferior to, or less authentic than, those of cissexuals,” and then notes that “the most common expression of cissexism occurs when people attempt to deny trans people the basic privileges that are associated with the gender the trans person self-identifies with” (350). The RNC, then, is both transphobic and cissexist in their denial of appropriate bathroom rights. Were the RNC to reify the existence of trans people, they would be subsequently giving up some of their power that is built into the current cissexist system of society. By accepting the performative nature of gender, the patriarchy’s survival begins to crumble by default. Unfortunately, though, the RNC’s uneasiness comes at the cost of trans students’ basic rights and daily sense of wellbeing.
Thus, the RNC’s condemnation of trans bathroom rights reveals their deeply rooted insecurity surrounding gender. Riki Wilchins comments on this phenomenon by explaining, “In fact, the United States may be the only country in the world where we are so insecure about gender that the words man and woman have no meaning unless they are preceded by real” (341). The RNC epitomizes this statement in their insistence that trans people are not expressing their “real” gender. The fact that trans people are able to transcend patriarchal boundaries is incredibly frightening for men desperate to uphold their power that is built into a strictly static binary. Riki Wilchins also explains binaries as “the black holes of knowledge. Nothing is allowed to escape, so we get the same answers every time” (341). Those that do escape are labeled the deviants of society who need to be put back into line. In order to punish those who are rejecting our society’s static binary, organizations such as the RNC begin to methodically remove basic rights from trans people. The message they are sending is that if you want to exist in this society as a human, you must also conform to the system of control that is currently in place.
Created by Savanah McDaniel (Editor), Jamie Baum (Journalist), Meredith Bower (Journalist) and Gabbie Pucciarelli (Graphic Designer) during Block 6 2016
“Through publishing accurate sexual health education in a positive and critical manner, Cliterate strives to dismantle some of the social and cultural barriers that hinder women’s access to this education. We hope for women to be comfortable with their bodies, to understand the biases against them, and to make educated decisions on their health. It is about time that we, as a society, look at women’s sexual education through a critical lens, incorporating the theories of old and new. So, reader, brace yourself, and get ready to get (c)literate!”
—Savanah McDaniel, Editor
The longest member of the FemGeniuses crew (at least within this group)—Breana Kathleen Taylor (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘16)—took her first course at Colorado College with me (FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies) during Block 1 of First-Year Experience in 2012. It’s been a pleasure watching her grow over the last few years, and I’m ecstatic that her growth has, at least in some small part, been recorded on FemGeniuses. In FG110, Breana and her classmates produced a group video project entitled “Gender Roles in Heterosexual Relationships: Expectations and Reality,” which examines gender and sexuality on college campuses. Just over a year later, Breana and her classmates in FG309/ES300 Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack: Critical Whiteness Studies (including Kadesha Caradine and Stefani Messick of the Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin and Jazlyn Andrews of the 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin) produced a group magazine project entitled Divide, which is “dedicated to bridging the gap between white women and women of color in hopes of creating a discourse around race and feminism.” And just this past spring, Breana really stepped into her own as a leader in FG200 Feminist Theory, serving as Editor for Eve’s Apple, a group magazine project that provides adolescents with “information on issues ranging from sexuality, body image, and identity.” Along those lines, I’m really looking forward to Breana acting as a leader with this group. She’s more than ready.
I first came to know Thabiso Ratalane (French and International Political Economy ‘16) during summer 2013 when she enrolled in my Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack: Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) course. I almost can’t believe that it’s been two years since she’s taken a course with me, but I’m glad to have this happen before she graduates. While we haven’t had a lot of in-class experience together, I know for certain that Thabiso will bring a level of transnational theory and analysis to the group from which we will all benefit. Probably the most well-traveled member of the group this year, Thabiso will also undoubtedly benefit from this new experience, as she is acutely aware of the similar and unique ways in which race and other social, cultural, and political markers—like gender and sexuality—are constructed throughout the world. I remember several times in CWS when Thabiso would say things like, “That’s definitely not the way race functions in my country!” And then this would, of course, prompt us to delve deeper into transnational race analyses. I’m most looking forward to hearing similar assertions and questions in Berlin, as I know Thabiso will soak up such discussions like a sponge.
It wasn’t until I was preparing this introduction that I realized Spencer Spotts (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘17) is the third most experienced member of the FemGeniuses in the group, having first taken a course with me during the Bridge Scholars Program in August 2013. I admittedly didn’t realize that Spencer was a star at that time (he was really quiet back then—at least with me), but that soon changed when he enrolled in my FG314 Critical Race Feminism course during the Half-Block term of his first year. Afterwards, he really stepped into his purpose as a leader in various areas of social justice on and off-campus, writing “Don’t Come Out of the Closet (Yet)” for The Monthly Rag this past fall, as well as an essay co-authored with Melissa L. Barnes (Feminist & Gender Studies and Psychology ‘15 and member of the Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin) urging other on-campus leaders to make stronger efforts to understand and enact intersectional activism. Around this same time, Spencer enrolled in my FG212 Critical Media Studies course, at which time he participated in a group project entitled “Leave the ‘Blank Space’ Blank: Taylor Swift, Dating Violence, & Gender Role Performance,” which remains one of my favorite student projects. And most recently, in FG200 this past spring, he served as Graphic Designer (alongside Jade Frost of the 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin) for College Grrrl: An Alternative Magazine for the Liberal Arts Woman, a magazine that acts as “a space where women are encouraged to liberate themselves through critical thinking, agency, empowerment, and raised awareness.” I’m most looking forward to watching Spencer become inspired by what he learns in Berlin, and strengthening his understanding of and commitment to transnational and intersectional activism.
Even though Jade Frost (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘17) was also in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies during Block 1 First-Year Experience with Jazlyn and Lyric also 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin, we first met during the Bridge Scholars Program in August 2013 before FYE even began. From the moment I met her, I realized that Jade is one of the most kind and caring students I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing—and she’s so eager to talk and learn about justice and all that encourages or negates it. This became even more clear to me after she and her group members submitted one of the first projects she ever completed in one of my classes, a group video project entitled “Let’s Talk about Sex: Slut-Shaming and Hookup Culture” (alongside Jazlyn). Most recently, when Jade submitted College Grrrl along with her group members in FG200, I realized that her curiosity and passion for intellect had not waned. I’m eager, then, to see the turns Jade’s intellectual interests take as a result of this experience. In other words, I’m interested to see where she pins them down and decides to make her mark.
Jazlyn Andrews (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘17) and I first met when she took her first course at Colorado College, FG110 Feminist & Gender Studies, during Block 1 First-Year Experience 2013. It’s been such a joy for me to watch Jazlyn take ownership of our campus and to become a strong voice and leader, especially over the past year. She’s also a tremendous thinker and writer. I chuckle looking back at “Let’s Talk about Sex” and Divide. It’s still amazing to me that a student can grow so much intellectually in such a short period of time, evidenced by the Critical Media Studies project she created (alongside Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin member Melissa L. Barnes), “Some Relationships Should Never Die: A Feminist Critique of the Female Relationships in Twilight,” which “examines how the Twilight series continues to depict women in a light that subordinates and marginalizes them,” and the project she created in FG200 (serving as Journalist) entitled Guns & Rosie, a magazine for women in the military. One of the great things about Jazlyn is that she pays close attention, reads carefully, thinks hard, soaks it all in, and then blows your mind with analyses that you didn’t even know were brewing in her head. Because of this, I’m no longer surprised when she’s able to teach me new things. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most—her learning a lot and then sharing her newfound knowledges with the rest of the group.
I also met Lyric Jackson (Psychology ‘17) in the FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies Block 1 First-Year Experience course almost two years ago. She was full of personality then and that fact remains today. I remember being impressed by the group video project she created in that class (alongside Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin member Stefani Messick) entitled “They Like It Hot,” which “explores the fetishization of women’s sexual engagement with other women.” I couldn’t believe that a group of women that young—after maybe 15 days of class—critiqued fetishization so seriously. Still, one of my favorite things about Lyric is that she’s full of joy and laughter, but make no mistake—I wouldn’t make any attempts to pee on her leg and call it rain either. I remember during FYE, she came to my office and asked, “Miss Heidi, how can I get a quiz exemption?” I was so shocked, because most students never ask. They just continue to write ineffective questions. But Lyric is different. She’s not afraid of critique; in fact, she embraces it. I can’t lie, though, I’m most excited about the fun Lyric will ensure we all have. And I’m curious about the ways in which she’ll make us all think, even as we’re laughing, pointing out things that I’m sure we wouldn’t be able to see without her.
I was so glad when Mackenzie Murphy (Film & New Media Studies ‘16) applied for this course. While she isn’t new to the FemGeniuses crew, she has only taken one other class with me, FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies, and it was over one year ago as of this past spring. That class, when I’m not teaching it for FYE, is always full (at 25 students) or near full, so it’s a bit harder for me to get as close to the students as I do in my other smaller classes or as I do when students take multiple classes with me over the years. But I must say that I will never forget the group video project Mackenzie created with her classmates entitled “Bound 2 Oppress You: Mediated Constructions of Pregnant Bodies,” which “examines constructions of women’s bodies during and after pregnancy” in popular culture. It’s still one of my favorite student projects, and I screen it to students in future classes to give them an idea of what a solid group video project should entail. It was such an original idea, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the original and unique ways I know Mackenzie will experience Berlin.
I was admittedly a little shocked when I saw the application Meredith Bower (Undeclared: Psychology ’18) submitted for the course. I was shocked, because Meredith was most recently a student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies during this past Block 1 during First-Year Experience. I guess I’m still not used to students making it through that class and having any interest in taking another course with me—it’s a hard one!—this soon after. Still, she did produce a great group vide project entitled “16 and (not Ready to Be) Pregnant” (alongside 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin member Samantha Gilbert) that raised some important questions and concerns about constructions of hegemonic masculinity, femininity, pregnancy, and parenthood in popular culture. For that reason and so many others, I was happy she applied. Meredith is bright and has a subtle sense of humor, but she’s not easy to “pin down,” meaning that I don’t have a clear idea regarding who she is and/or who she’s trying to become. That’s what will be fun—me getting another chance to watch her learn and grow and having the opportunity to help her along the way.
Even though Samantha Gilbert (Undeclared: Film & New Media Studies ’18) was also a student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies during this past Block 1 during First-Year Experience with Meredith, I wasn’t exactly surprised when she applied for the course. That’s probably because Sam is my academic advisee, and we’ve actually bonded a great deal over the past academic year. In a lot of ways, Samantha reminds me of myself. She was bored with high school by the time she got to college, so she has a lot of ambition and drive. She’s smart, but she’s still trying to figure out why and how. She understands that something isn’t quite right with the world—evidenced by “16 and (not Ready to Be) Pregnant“—but is eager to continue learning how to most effectively theorize and eradicate the problems. I think that’s why I’ve been so drawn to her (and maybe vice versa). In any case, I’m glad she’s having her first college study abroad experience with me, and I’m looking forward to watching her figure herself out even more over the next few weeks.
When I first accepted the application submitted by Willa Rentel (Undeclared: Sociology ’18), I thought she would be another new member of the FemGeniuses crew, and then she showed up in my FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies course this past spring. While I would have been completely happy getting to know her in Berlin, I’m glad I got the chance to get to know her better sooner. Willa is razor sharp, especially considering her youth, but is so open to learning that I shudder to think about what she’ll accomplish throughout the remainder of her college career and subsequently. Willa served a Journalist for College Grrrl (alongside Spencer), and really illustrated her knack for conducting analyses through multiple relevant frameworks in order to produce the most salient examinations possible. I realized this even more after reading a fall edition of The Monthly Rag in which Willa wrote an essay entitled “What is Flibanserin?” It’s funny, because as I was reading the article, I kept thinking about the faces she makes that lets me (and everyone around her) know when she’s contemplating—I’m hoping we get a good snapshot of it while we’re abroad—and I’m really looking forward to hearing her thoughts when she’s ready to share, as I expect nothing less than dynamite.
DeAira Cooper (Anthropology ‘17) is officially new to the FemGeniuses crew, but we’ve been getting to know each other slowly but surely over the past couple years on campus and social media. I’m glad that she’s finally taking a course with me, and I sure hope this isn’t the last time. DeAira is one of these “skyrocket students” who came onto campus and immediately began to stake her claim on the space in order to serve as a leader among her peers. One of the things that I think will help DeAira continue to build strong leadership abilities is her openness to the kind of vulnerability required to understand yourself and your comrades and those you are fighting alongside in any struggle. I was so comforted by her application materials, including her interview with me, because of her willingness to share her unclear and uncertain thoughts about things that she’s eager to learn about in the course. Hence, it’ll be a treat for me to watch her learn and grow in the process of trying to understand herself better.
Nia Abram (Environmental Science ‘17) is one of the FemGeniuses in Berlin that I know the least. But can I just admit that, because of that, I’m most excited about spending time with her and getting to know her better? More specifically, for a while, I have been growing more committed to building relationships with my colleagues in Environmental Studies, especially since our students seem to be urging this through their own interests in theorizing the relationship between the environment and justice. For instance, on her application, Nia wrote, “I hope to address issues of environmental social justice, potentially on a global scale. Environmental justice hinges on intersectional analyses: ecological needs are related to race, class, and sexuality. Additionally, the hidden ecological narratives of minorities can surface through. This course, then, can help me come to understand how intersectionality manifests on a cultural and global level, while allowing me to apply this knowledge to my desired subject of interest in the future.” How could I say “no” to that?
Similarly, Jessica “Jesse” Crane (Sociology ‘15) is also one of the FemGeniuses in Berlin that I know the least, and I’m glad that we’ll be spending this time together, as she just graduated this past May! Additionally, this will be her first college course abroad, so I’m really thrilled to be able to provide that opportunity for her. Most importantly, though, Jesse’s interests in marginalized people and communities will most certainly grow exponentially through intersectional and transnational analyses, something she emphasized a great deal in her application materials. One thing about Jesse that really intrigued me was her statement, “As I grew to view life through a sociological lens, this understanding has made me passionate, angry, and curious.” I wanted the opportunity to encourage Jesse to thrive in the anger she’s feeling alongside her passion and curiosity. So often, intellectuals are taught and encouraged to pacify their anger, which is antithetical to my own theories about anger—influenced, of course, by the late Audre Lorde (who was, and continues to be, a great inspiration for me and this course). Hence, I thought it would be great for Jesse to also develop the kind of anger that fuels her intellectualism during her last Colorado College course.
My little cousin Dezerae Terrell (Human & Family Development ’15—Kent State University) is an honorary member of the FemGeniuses in Berlin, as she’ll be spending some time with us during the first week of class. This came about after Dezerae talked to me about her uneasiness about taking a course abroad in Ireland. I, of course, encouraged her to take the course, and was extremely ecstatic when I learned that the last day of her course coincided with my arrival in Berlin. So, we both emailed her professor—Dr. Maureen Blankenmeyer—and asked if it would be okay for Dezerae to adjust her flight home so that she could spend a week with us in Berlin. I shouted when I read the first couple sentences of Dr. Blankenmeyer’s response, “What an amazing opportunity that will be for you! Yes, absolutely take the opportunity to meet up with your cousin and her students after we’re done with the Ireland trip.” Hence, Dezerae is here getting another unique “taste” of Europe, and I’m also grateful to be able to provide her with this opportunity. Dezerae is still in the process of figuring out just exactly what she wants to pursue after her graduation this winter, but I can tell you this—if she continues to be encouraged to fulfill her own budding dreams and goals—it’ll most certainly entail some kind of work on behalf of justice for marginalized people and communities. And I’m excited to see how this course helps her to develop her interests even further.