Carolina Creative Campus – The Gender Project

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Within the context of this project we have chosen to explore gender and identity. One interesting way we clarify that exploration is with this question:

“How do we navigate gender in our everyday lives?”

To navigate: • verb 1 plan and direct the route or course of a ship, aircraft, or other form of transport. 2 sail or travel over. 3 guide (a vessel or vehicle) over a specified route.

It’s origin is the Latin navigare, “to sail.”(The Oxford English Dictionary)

Fascinating imagery: direct, transport, travel, guide, route, sail

How specific, how direct. Why then is the concept of gender navigation less concrete?

I thought about this concept as I walked up Polk Place this morning, heading to my ten o’clock class, weaving in and out of students as late as I was. Literal navigation; my body, as a vessel or vehicle, was moving through space. Each footstep bringing me closer to my destination. Translating this idea to my thoughts on gender I realized that perhaps the reason why the concept is so difficult is because there is no tangible destination. All of the definitions above consider navigation as a plan, a guide, a route; yet gender is undetermined and ever changing. It evolves from a series of constructed images, thoughts, gestures, etc. and not simply from the consultation of a map.

How then do we navigate gender in our everyday lives?

I wear a skirt. I have short, curly hair. I apply blush and mascara before leaving the house.

These things make me feel feminine.

I am a leader. I am assertive. I carry weight in my feet.

These things make me feel masculine.

Navigation? I’m not sure.

I liken this exploration to a conversation I recently had with the director of Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day (produced by LAB! Theatre, as part of The Gender Project). He explained his thoughts on gender and Kushner’s dramaturgy. The piece allows for an exploration of character without the constraints of traditional male or female roles. Each character then becomes defined by their own series of entrances and exits, dialogue, interaction, and gesture.

Navigation? A realistic representation I believe.

If what determines navigation is not only a plan or guide, but movement as well then it seems relevant to consider the journey in addition to the destination.

Do you navigate? How so? How often? How conciously?

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Now that wrapping paper has been ripped, candles have been lit, and noise makers have been sounded I wanted to recommend some winter break reading.

Late: A Cowboy Song, a play by Sarah Ruhl, is an understated examination of the feminine spirit. It is also a subtle look at the definition of gender (perspective, tradition, ritual). Not so subtly the play also explores the concept of time. It is a quick read, but engaging none the less.

I also recommend Ruhl’s Eurydice, a re-imagining of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Both can be found in The Clean House and Other Plays by Sarah Ruhl (ISBN 1559362669 9781559362665 in Davis Library, call number PS3618.U48 C57 2006).

In other news I will be leaving for a semester abroad this week. I will be studying in Dublin, Ireland and will be posting my gender thoughts from there. Continue to participate, and have a fantastic spring semester.

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Story Spinning…

…is just what author, and UNC alum, E. Patrick Johnson, did in his performance of Pouring Tea at the Sonya Hanes Stone Center last week. The performance was based on stories Johnson collected for his book Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South (on sale at the Bulls Head Bookshop if you are interested).

The full title of the piece is Pouring Tea: Gay Black Men of the South Tell Their Tales, and tell they did. Johnson illustrated the men he interviewed by portraying each in an honest, respectful manner. He took care in sharing inflection and tone tendencies, as well as physical characteristics and mannerisms. It was also important to Johnson to include an audio excerpt of each interview, so as to consistently remind audiences that his performance reflected human beings, rather than fictional characters. Johnson gracefully touched several areas of sensitivity including sexual violence, exploration of gender identity and family relations. The stories were vastly different and each offered a unique perspective, yet all explored one similar theme: gender is a constructed progression. Just as personality is cultivated, fluid, and changing gender is a malleable concept.

This was most evident in the story of Chaz, a transgendered male who had for, a significant portion of his life, considered sex change surgery. His words speak louder than my own.

“My ideal life now is just to embrace everything that makes me who I am. All of my indifference, all of my attributes, all of my qualities, as well as my faults, and to realize that God has made no mistakes in making me, that his words said, I was fearfully and wonderfully made. Who am I to say anything different? But because of that, keeping that in retrospect to the way that society treats you because of your indifference, I’m at a level of maturity where I no longer am overly concerned about what people say or think about me, or my lifestyle, or my life choices, for that matter. I feel that the most important person in my life is me. If I’m not happy, if I’m not well, if I’m not content, then anything else is irrelevant. And then, once I’ve established that happiness, being content with who I am, and with where I am at, then I can appreciate others, and add to the quality of their lives (356, Sweet Tea).”

Why is dialogue so integral to performance? It was evident in the performance, as the piece was based on conversation. Yet, I still wonder what about dialogue is so nursing, satisfying, helpful? What about “story spinning” and conversation makes it feel so innate?

Let me know your thoughts, and continue to contribute.

We have a number of exciting, unique performances coming up. Details are published here and can also be found at

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Geek Chic

Will and I seem to be like minded, although we have never formally met (which should be remedied soon!). And no, we did not plan these posts, but I am glad my interests compliment the current conversation.

I recently read a collection of articles (Geek Chic: Smart Women in Popular Culture), edited by Sherrie A. Inness, for a current issues in mass media course. Inness examines articles that vary in depth and content, and the book covers topics as vast as cartoon characters and political figures. The effect of the entire collection is the over arching theme of the constructed image, and how images serve as a powerful source of myth. Myth is an important aspect in the construction of intelligent women because, Inness contests, it is myth that supports and reinforces ideals we, as consumers, may know to be false. One of the strongest examples Inness explores is that of the “dumb blonde.” Those reinforcements then create an undeniable reality that affects how topics of women and intelligence continue to be treated in mass media, and in daily life. So by perpetuating myths through constructed images in pop culture and mass media we are in turn allowing them to become a reality.

The idea of myth is fascinating in the context of this project. I believe that myth is one of the reasons why gender is so difficult to discuss; it is hard to distinguish whether or not our opinions about gender norms are rooted in our own realities or in deeply ingrained myth.

If you’d like to take a look at Geek Chic it’s available at Davis (ISBN HQ1421.G43), but don’t rush there today…I’ve still got it checked out.

Thanks for being a part of this dialogue.


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The Carolina Summer Reading Program

It is mid-August, already. The summer has concluded and a new semester is well under way (although our first full week of classes has yet to be completed). Am I forgetting another 08-09 academic calendar year milestone? Certainly. The Gender Project has begun, officially.

This marks an important start in my year for many reasons. One being that I have spent my summer, and will continue into the fall, as an intern in the Office of the Executive Director for the Arts, working with Reed Colver on campus and community engagement. I will be posting on this blog periodically to track my experience and to offer not only my perspective as an intern, but as a student as well. I think that Carolina Creative Campus, the larger subheading above The Gender Project, is an asset to this campus because it inspires us to create dialogue surrounding the arts. There are many opportunities for discussion found throughout an academic climate, but none so unique as the arts. Particularly none so unique as the season created by Carolina Performing Arts and the performances specifically labeled The Gender Project.

I can’t think of a more appropriate start to an initiative based on dialogue than The Carolina Summer Reading Program. Reed and I had the opportunity the Monday before classes began to meet with a group of first-years to discuss last summer’s choice, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights written by NYU Law professor Kenji Yoshino. The book, in short, does a fantastic job in sparking discussion. Yoshino clearly articulates a theory about civil rights that is based in the context of litigation, and largely in the context of his own story. He crafts an approachable read that manages to be far less alienating than other examination of civil rights I have ever encountered. He uses his personal reflection, as a gay Asian American male, and appropriately applies those experiences to all who have suffered any sort of, as he calls them, covering demands. It was fascinating to hear discussion, minimally facilitated, that came from young males and females from a variety of backgrounds, races and experiences. The discussion that emerged was a testament not only to Yoshino’s book, but to the climate of this campus and the integrity of the students who populate it.

I will openly admit that I was nervous walking into a room full of new students. I was worried that what I had to offer would not be enough. That I would get 35 blank stares and two hours to fill. But what I learned is that facilitation, particularly in the case of The Gender Project, comes not only from what I have to offer, but primarily from what the group has to offer. This I find most exciting about the year ahead. A dialogue is a collaboration; it isn’t two parts me and one part you, placed side by side for examination. It is a blending, a mixture, of the catalyst (in this case Covering), plus my thoughts and yours. A relief to all, and hopefully not just me, who choose to participate this year in our discussion. There are no right answers, there are no expectations; there is only participation.

Yoshino asks for that in Covering. He relays a message of communication and acceptance. An appropriate and much needed tone for this project. Here’s to a fantastic kick off. Thank you to all who participated in the summer reading program, and to those of you who did not have this opportunity I invite you all to participate in some form or fashion this year. I look forward to our collaboration.


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