Queering the way for future queens

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October 27, 2009

1:57 AM

As officers of the Lambda Alliance — the College of William and Mary’s organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and allied individuals — we are proud of our fellow students for electing Jessee Vasold ’11 as the Class of 2011 Homecoming queen. This election demonstrates our student body’s dedication to diversity.

Since zir election, many have wondered why Vasold ran for Homecoming queen. Vasold identifies as gender-queer, an identity that is outside the traditional man-woman gender binary. If ze is not a woman, why would someone nominate zir for a position traditionally designated for women? Vasold frequently presents zir gender as feminine; for those who feel uncomfortable using gender-neutral pronouns (ze and zir), ze prefers the feminine pronouns (she and her).

Friends and classmates of Vasold wanted to celebrate zir commitment to our school without relegating zir to a traditionally masculine category, which ze has repeatedly rejected. The president of the Class of 2011 asked students to nominate someone who embodies the most Tribe Pride. Vasold certainly fits that category.

Vasold was nominated because of zir involvement and leadership within many campus organizations. Ze is especially dedicated to making our community safe for all students, especially those of sexual and gender minorities. Ze is the coordinator for the Safe Zone project, the Student Assembly undersecretary for LGBT affairs, a former co-president and active member of the Lambda Alliance, a representative to Interfaith Council and a founding member of Feminists Unite.

There are those who have expressed their concern that the result of this election reflects poorly on the College. Some have wondered what the alumni will think. While, of course, alumni and donors are important, we believe that the current and future students of the College should be our primary concern. Furthermore, this may shock those concerned, but many alumni have expressed great pride at Vasold’s election.
We consider this event a positive reflection of the College. By electing a transgender student as a

Homecoming queen, we show that the College is a truly welcoming and affirming place for all people. This makes the College more appealing to prospective students and more competitive as a liberal arts university. Particularly for some LGBTQ students, the college selection process can be very heavily influenced by perceptions of the atmosphere at each school.

Vasold’s visibility and advocacy on campus provide tangible evidence for such students that the College can be a safe place for them. Moreover, diversity is a primary goal of our university according to our Strategic Plan. The election of a gender-queer student to a traditionally gendered role truly supports this commitment. Further steps are still needed to ensure that the College provides equal opportunities to all.

Vasold’s election has prompted numerous valuable conversations about gender, especially transgender identities. Contrary to what some have indicated in discussions about the topic, Vasold is in no way the only person who identifies as gender-queer or uses gender-neutral pronouns. Zir gender identity, which challenges the notion that there are only two acceptable genders, is rare yet increasingly common within transgender and queer communities.

Additionally, despite what some media outlets have indicated, Vasold is not a transexual woman, nor is ze a gay man. Ze is also not an it, a term which denies zir personhood. For many, the idea of non-binary genders and the use of gender-neutral pronouns can be daunting, but the most important thing is to respect the self-identification of all individuals. When in doubt, it is usually more polite to ask than to make assumptions about a person’s identity.

We hope Vasold’s election opens doors for further discourse regarding all types of gender identities and expressions. If we approach this issue respectfully and with open minds, we can encourage the College community to become a more affirming place for all students. Congratulation to Vasold, Benton Harvey (Class of 2011 Homecoming king), and the rest of the Homecoming Court.

E-mail Andie Schwanz and Ginny Hutcheson at [email protected] and [email protected]

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