The Archives: Jess T. Dugan
Jess T. Dugan: Variations on a theme
Interview by Andrea Blanch
AB: Can we talk a little bit about what it means to be gender variant?
JD: Sure. Gender variant is a term by people whose gender identity and expression doesn’t fit the expectations of male or female, or our traditional binary gender system. These identities are used by people who don’t solely identify with either male or female. Also, gender variant applies in some cases to people who are not a part of the trans community; for example, a young boy who has a more feminine side, or someone born female who is more masculine.
AB: What role has your mother played in shaping your feelings of identity and self-acceptance?
JD: I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, which affected my childhood in many ways. I was very masculine. I got teased at school. I got chased out of bathrooms. This heavily affected my identity today and the place where my artistic work comes from. My mom was supportive of me from the beginning. When I came home one day from school crying from having been picked on in the bathroom, my mom gave me the choice of either growing my hair out and pleasing the girls at my school, in which case the teasing would stop, or keeping my hair short, keeping my clothes the way I wanted them, and just understanding that if I made that choice, the teasing would continue. I made the second choice and I have always continued to make that choice. Having her treat me with enough dignity to even give me that choice at a young age was really important and validating.
AB: When you were younger you had problems with the bathrooms. Can you talk more about this?
JD: Bathrooms are loaded places for some trans people, especially public restrooms. For some trans people, those spaces can be sites of harassment and violence. I am pretty much guaranteed to have a problem using a public restroom. I use women’s restrooms mostly now. For a period of time, I did try to use men’s rooms because it was easier. Until I say something, I can pass as male. If I walk into a women’s room, there’s a 90% chance that I’m going to get looked at or someone's going to chase after me and tell me I’m in the wrong bathroom. But, while the chance of something happening is higher, but the severity of what will happen is lower. Chances are I’m not going to get attacked and I’m not going to get arrested for using the “wrong” bathroom. If I’m in a men’s room, there’s a 90% chance that nothing will happen. Men don’t look at each other in bathrooms; my theory is it’s because of homophobia. But if something does happen, the severity is worse. There’s a higher chance for violence. Over the years, I’ve become really proud of being female-bodied and masculine presenting. I feel there’s no reason I shouldn’t be allowed to use a women’s restroom without a problem. As the time has gone on, I’ve become much more comfortable and I’m owning that space.
Going back more globally, restrooms are set up on this binary gender system. In the case of women’s restroom, that’s supposed to be a space that’s free from “men.” Part of that fear comes from violence against women. There are these added layers of why people are afraid of difference in the restrooms. For many trans people it’s a place of anxiety and harassment and fear and sometimes violence, especially for trans women who can’t blend as easily. Trans women definitely face more violence. I have many friends who will never use a public restroom. They’ll drive home to use the bathroom just to prevent having an uncomfortable experience. I’m pretty excited when I see a single stall bathroom or a gender neutral bathroom.
Read the full interview with Jess here!