Isaac Gotterer — a genderqueer double major in theater and feminist, gender and sexuality studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut — has always felt like his school gym was an exclusionary place for non-cisgender people (that is, people whose gender identity doesn’t match the gender assigned to them at birth). So he dressed up in a sports bra and high-heel boots and had a classmate shoot photos of him working out there as part of a class assignment.
“I identify outside the gender binary,” Gotterer told the LGBTQ sports blog Outsports. “I don’t feel like a man or women or anything in between and I never have.”
Gotterer said that he had alway felt pressured to wear “typical binary gendered attire” like “masculine” shorts and a tank top when exercising at the gym, so he decided “to explore what would happen if a visible queer body went into a cisgender-dominated space.”
Gotterer — who served as the captain of his high school’s varsity soccer, cross-country skiing and tennis teams and who also played Hedwig, the gender-bent rock diva, in a recent production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch — is correct in his perception that sports and fitness spaces remain unwelcoming to gender non-conformity.
A 2015 study of 9,500 gay, straight and bisexual athletes found that 80% to 90% viewed athletics as hostile to LGB people. Furthermore, transgender athletes find themselves in a limbo as sports organizations figure out their policies regarding trans competitors and states battle over whether to exclude trans people from public bathrooms and locker rooms.
In the assigned essay that Gotterer ended up submitting long with his photos, he wrote:
All the cishet, white, boys were so scared of me, which was super fun actually. They would almost run away from me and when they would get in my way be really, really apologetic. But numerous times I would catch those same people staring at me from across the gym and, obviously, I would give them an air-kiss or booty smack before they quickly looked away.
While it’s wonderful that Gotterer ended up having fun with his assignment, his identity as a white, able-bodied college student gave him a bit of privilege and protection. Black transwomen and other gender non-conforming people of color are those most often targeted for violence in public spaces, particularly when percieved as sexual predators looking to “deceive” straight men. Some trans and gender non-conforming people even avoid public spaces and bathrooms to steer clear of harassment.
Here are a few shots from Gotterer’s photoshoot (though you really should go and see the full set). The photographer is Celina Bernstein and his costume designer Sofie Somoroff.