GENDERPLAY THE EXHIBIT
West Hollywood lesbian culture typically revolves around hooking up and drinking excessively, so I had no idea what to expect when I was invited to an event that involved actually learning something of historical significance.
GenderPlay the Exhibit opened March 14th at the One Archives Gallery and Museum and was attended by over 400 people. After parking in another time zone, I finally made my way to the entrance where I was greeted by someone wielding a stack of post-it notes and pens. I was instructed to "label myself and go on in."
Huh? I entered a sea of people, mostly female, aged newborn to elderly, all sporting post-its that stated their "label."
"Boi/ Grrl/Andro/Queer/Futch” … you get the idea. Some opted to keep their labels, others stuck them onto the walls, incorporating their identities into the exhibit. Mine fell off. Not sure what that means.
Jenny Shimizu was both in attendance and featured in the exhibit. Famed photographer Catherine Opie was also there, and when a giant photo of Rachel Maddow was auctioned off she was the winner. Producer Jeanne Cordova quipped "one lesbian heroine wins another."
Catherine Opie, Jenny Shimizu, a fan, and Phranc at GenderPlay
(Photo credit: Angela Brinskele)
The purpose of the exhibit is to provide a background in how gender issues have played out in lesbian history, and to challenge current stereotypes. It takes us from the civil war, where 400 women are believed to have dressed and fought as men, to Rachel Maddow, who Helen Boyd of myhusbandbetty.com says "introduced a new gender to television."
"Passing” through the ages is explored — "passing” being defined as both women who pass as men, and lesbians who pass as straight. We learn the difference between "femme” and "lipstick" (femme is an inherent quality, and lipstick is wardrobe-specific).
The exhibit focuses mostly on stereotypes within the lesbian community, as opposed to the general public’s perception. For example, from World War II into the ’70s, there was a highly stylized butch/femme culture. Women who didn’t fit into one of those categories were called "kikis” and were deemed confused and literally banned from lesbian establishments. San Francisco in the early 80’s brought lipstick lesbianism into the spotlight and increased the spectrum of gender identity.
“Jenn and Lisanne, Griffith Park” by Jenn Kennedy
A collection of historic memorabilia is on display in the center of the exhibit, with informational posters lining the walls. A big-screen television plays a loop of genderplay clips from classic and contemporary movies. Photography plays a major role, with local and international artists highlighted.
GenderPlay the Exhibit runs through May 23rd at the One Archives Gallery & Museum which is located at 626 N. Robertson Blvd in West Hollywood (enter on El Tovar). GenderPlay at the Movies will feature specially selected films on Sunday, April 19 at the Macha Theater in West Hollywood (co-sponsored by OutFest).