FashionThe internet is for queers: an interview with “Gender Is Over”
We interviewed Gender Is Over’s Marie McGwier and Nina Mashurova about fashion, the future of genderqueer youth, and what it’s like to be all over Miley Cyrus’s Instagram.
On Friday afternoon, Miley Cyrus posted a picture to Instagram that was anything but unusual to the dedicated fan: a picture of herself chilling and smoking with Snoop Dogg. She was wearing a mesh tank top that reflected the message: “GENDER IS OVER (if you want it).” Again.
Going from Disney teen to what PAPER dubbed “perhaps her generation's most unlikely social activist,” Miley came out as non-gender-conforming this past June. Cue in Marie McGwier and Nina Mashurova's Gender Is Over campaign. The two began making jerseys with that slogan earlier this summer after "a lifelong frustration with normative binary gender roles and coercive gendering." What began as an idea for a tweet has since snowballed into a movement of sorts, adorning the wardrobes of Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace and now, Miley. We caught up with Marie and Nina to discuss their mission, evaluate the impact of celebrity support, and imagine what the future could hold for genderqueer youth.
A writer, curator, teacher, radical, and publisher living and working in Brooklyn. Mashurova's work has appeared in Impose Magazine, Portals, and Fvck the Media.
Brooklyn-based UX / UI designer, tech industry diversity watchdog, & colored pen aficionado who loves to get shit done.
Hopes&Fears: What is your personal relationship to this issue?
Marie McGwier: I’ve existed outside of societal expectations for women (especially a Southern one) my entire life: as a tomboy, as a tinkerer and lover of tools, as a child with a bowl cut for most of my youth, as an androgynous dresser, and as someone who prefers to blur gender lines. These integral parts of me have been recepted with varying degrees of acceptance and rejection. It wasn’t until I aligned with a queer identity and community full of diversity that I came to fully understand the nature of enforced gender roles, how they oppress us all, specifically trans and nonbinary individuals, and what my role as an active agent of change should be.
Nina Mashurova: I’m hyper tuned-into social pressures to adhere to gender norms and how protective people can be of an absolute assigned-at-birth gender binary. I’m female-reading / assigned-female-at-birth but I’ve never felt personally comfortable embodying normative ideals of femininity, which I used to think was ostensibly personal and benign, but I’ve experienced various amounts of pressure and backlash as a result, from family, schools, places of employment, partners, etc. These experiences have shaped my perception of the personal as political and informed my views on feminism, queerness, and nonbinary/genderfluid identity (all of which are ongoing things to navigate/process/develop). It’s also been a lens into acting as an ally, trying to stay accountable and open to other people’s experiences, being vigilant of the disproportionate violence transwomen face in their everyday lives, and tracing how gender issues intersect with class, race, colonialism, statehood, incarceration, capitalism, etc.
H&F: How did you come up with the T-shirt slogan and design? Why is it a tank top?
Mashurova: The slogan is a play on “War is Over (If You Want It)”. I like it because it speaks to both the individual’s relationship to gender (the individual’s capacity to challenge gender norms) and the utopian nature of the idea (both war and gender being aspects of larger structural matrices of power that are actually much larger than the individual and both of them not being actually over).
McGwier: Nina came up with the concept late one night. When she told me about the slogan, I was instantly hooked. I’m a designer by trade, so I had the right toolkit to make it a reality - mostly, I wanted it to perfectly echo the War Is Over campaign.
Mashurova: Marie did the design. I’m not really about rainbow as a queer aesthetic, especially since it’s been co-opted by banks and corporations, I like how combative / goth / dystopian the monochrome is. It’s also cool to have it as a jersey in light of how gendered team sports are and the discourse around trans athletes, especially in sports that regulate for hormones.
McGwier: As for the tank top, I really like subverting clothing styles that typically “belong” to non-queer groups of people (think the masculinity / hormonal complex running rampant in sports). To be honest, putting the design on something black, mesh, and sporty seemed like one of the queerest ways to go.
H&F: Do you have any concerns about the appropriation of "War is Over"? Who owns that copyright and would they be cool with this?
McGwier: I’ve done research, and, to the best of my knowledge we are protected as this project is considered a “parody” of the original piece. However, I did copyright the Gender Is Over! (If You Want It) slogan as a way to hopefully prevent any possible instances of corporations trying to capitalize on our work.
Mashurova: I think this counts as fair use, but if not, would be happy to discuss it with Yoko! (Respect <3)
H&F: How are you liking the response from celebrities? How has that come about? Has it all been surprises, or did you know that certain people would be wearing these shirts?
McGwier: The celebrity response has been fascinating. Really, really cool. It’s been incredibly powerful in regards to jumpstarting a lot of conversations that we think mainstream society should be aware and taking apart of.
However, with increased visibility and celebrity support comes a lot of anxiety in regards to people over simplifying or not fully digesting the message, or a failure to think about the many marginalized people who are severely hurt by gendered violence and oppression.
We’re doing our best to amplify the voices of the people to whom this project matters through tumblr, and I think that projects like Miley’s #InstaPride or Laura Jane Grace’s True Trans series on AOL give me a lot of hope and are incredible because of that same amplification. Representation isn’t a be-all end-all, and I hope that with celebrity support we can encourage individuals to be actual activists and to listen to trans and nonbinary people, support them, and be agents of change.
We’re totally aware of every celebrity wearing the shirts, it’s been through social media communication that we’ve been able to make it a reality. Sadie Dupuis bought a shirt, mentioned it to Laura Jane Grace, on twitter, and from then we struck up a social media friendship. That got the ball rolling. We’ve got total control over who gets the shirts, so we’re plenty aware as to where we send them!
Mashurova: I am excited that the celebrities who have been wearing the shirts are all people whose work we respect and who have spoken out for feminism and queer and trans rights. For better or worse, we live in a heavily mediated world where celebrities really impact culture, start conversations, and help shape what is considered permissible in society, so I’m glad to have their support and also just that these people are visible and are doing work that extends beyond visibility.
H&F: What do you think about Miley’s recent PAPER interview, as non-identifying?
McGwier: I think it’s awesome! And I’m really stoked that such an influential member of mainstream society is unabashedly proclaiming and celebrating being queer.
Mashurova: Same, I think it’s positive.
H&F: As 20-somethings, how do you think growing up as a young person/teenager is different now with more visibility for genderqueer issues and more high profile like-minded people and allies?
McGwier: The internet is for queers. It’s been really helpful and integral to bringing visibility to genderqueer folks. There’s already such a sense of younger people “just getting it,” which paves the way for action.
I think, more so than ever, individuals can find community, assurance, and a freedom to exist outside of societal norms. However, youths navigate so many parts of heteronormative society IRL, and I’d argue there are still plenty of challenges in regards to actually and continuously being accepted for who you are by all of society. Visible validation is really important.
Mashurova: It’s wild — I didn’t have the language to articulate this stuff until I was in my early twenties and even then a lot of it came from theory texts or queer subcultures, but now you look on Tumblr and all of these teenagers not only see all this as intuitive but are actually so ahead of the game.
It’s amazing and so inspiring. But it’s also really bittersweet because the rest of the world is really slow to catch up — you see these teens coming to these fully articulated identities that are substantiated by highly developed digital communities (which have come a long way since I was growing up) but IRL it’s still really similar — teens don’t have any actual agency and are at the mercy of parents, teachers, and other adults who invalidate their identities and have total power over their lives. No wonder youth trans and queer homelessness is so widespread.
I think visibility is important — it’s important for young people to see ways of being they relate to represented in the media, it’s important to show gender nonconforming people leading functional, badass lives rather than just showing queer people as tragic figures or the butts of jokes, and it’s important for adults to see this stuff as real and not just as a wacky teenage phase. But also, it’s important to remember that celebrities have a lot of cultural and financial capital and can get away with behaviors that are still pathologized and criminalized in less privileged communities. Visibility is not the be-all-end-all—there’s a lot of real work to be done.
H&F: What do you normally do? What is your previous exposure to / work in fashion?
McGwier: I work in the tech industry where, apart from doing design work and product management, I use my voice, drive, and eye for innovation to address harmful diversity gaps (race / gender / sexuality) in the industry. For being such a visible part of society, the tech industry has a ton of issues. Meaningful work really keeps me fueled.
I have no prior work exposure to working in fashion really... but I know a ton about being efficient! Over the past few years I’ve really honed in on a specific and intentional identity that is often communicated through my sartorial choices, so I’m having fun bringing that intentionality outside of myself.
Mashurova: I work in media and arts/culture, mostly stuff with an activist bent. I’m currently a member of the Silent Barn collective. I try to use whatever agency I have to amplify marginalized voices and develop difficult conversations. I’m interested in fashion as a medium for communication, and think a lot about how it factors into music communities, how it conveys and perpetuates (and sometimes challenges) gender norms, etc... I’ve never worked in fashion, unless you count cutting the sleeves off of band shirts.
H&F: How did your experience with the shirt being a success change your perception of what one can do in fashion, particularly with visibility? What about “mainstream culture”?
McGwier: I think it might be too soon for me to say. I can say that I’m really impressed with how many people are reacting positively to jersey. I expected it in my social circle but not so much outside of it. I really enjoy watching conversations unfold through real life as well as social media. I’m not sure when to call it a “success” though! I think we walk a dangerous line, so many things on the internet have such a short lifespan, so I need to see how this all plays out. If this visibility eventually corresponds with actual, measurable impact through (continued donations to organizations, passing legislation, gender neutral bathrooms, lowered trans suicide attempt rates), then I’ll be really content.
Mashurova: “Success” is a funny idea. I’m glad it’s resonated with a lot of people, it’s been really moving to read some of the responses, and I’m glad we can use this as a way to donate some money to organizations doing tangible advocacy work.
H&F: What is your hope for the nest young generation, younger than Miley, younger than her fans, etc — particularly those who are non-gender-conforming and queer?
Mashurova: I hope by then the adults and social structures catch up, so those kids can grow up and have their experiences and identities regarded as valid and not have to worry about being kicked out of their homes or institutionalized or beat up at school or denied employment or criminalized based on who they are.
McGwier: I want kids to have the space to develop their identities, as they see fit, without risking the current pitfalls of today’s society. I want there to be more room for people to develop uniquely, and for people to be able to grow and change and for that to be expected of them. I want our society to encourage this of people.
H&F: Would you collaborate with the Happy Hippie Foundation if Miley was interested? How would Miley find you?
McGwier: I am inclined to say “yes,” though I can’t say for certain! A big part of this project for me is really understanding all of the moving parts, how collaboration takes place and the intentionality behind it. So there’s a bit more information I’d need to know (which I’m sure could happen through a conversation). The Happy Hippie Foundation looks incredible though, and I’m really, really happy it’s addressing the challenges homeless LGBTQ youth face. I’m very reachable through social media, @the_citylion!
Mashurova: Depends in what capacity, but definitely open to it! I live on the internet: @neonsigh.