By KC Clements
Though transgender and gender non-conforming people have long been vocal about their experiences in this country, it’s only relatively recently that the cisgender mainstream has begun to pick up on the conversation.
While our bodies on the streets and IRL continue to push that discussion forward, the age of social media has made content and dialogue about trans and gender non-conforming identities infinitely more accessible to folks in places where information, resources, and safety are in short supply.
Enter the viral success of Gender is Over: If You Want It (GIO), a non-profit clothing and gear campaign that started out in 2015 as a small idea tossed around by two friends, and that blossomed into a social movement. As GIO’s social media presence has grown, and as their trademark black and white jerseys have begun to proliferate, celebrities including pop-star Miley Cyrus and trans punk icon Laura Jane Grace can be seen touting GIO swag.
But it’s not just the celebrity endorsements that have marked GIO’s successful intervention in the gender normative mainstream. Take a look at GIO’s Instagram and Tumblr, and you’ll find a beautiful, diverse collection of people, and especially young folks, explaining their relationship to their own gender identities and proudly wearing their resistance to the binary gender system.
In addition to the social and cultural movement the organization has engendered, GIO runs regular campaigns and giveaways, all of whose proceeds are donated to organizations that support LGBTQ youth, people of color, immigrants, houseless folks, incarcerated people, and more.
I spoke with co-founder Marie McGwier about GIO’s latest campaign, a giveaway of five signed copies of Laura Jane Grace’s new memoir Tranny, the proceeds from which will be donated to LGBT Books for Prisoners. To make a donation and be entered to win, you can head over to genderisover.com/giveaway. And, be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram!
KC Clements: Tell me about what GIO does and how you got started.
Marie McGwier: Gender is Over! If You Want It (GIO) is a not-for-profit clothing project that supports the fight for gender self-determination and body sovereignty. The project generates awareness and raises funds for grassroots LGBTQ organizations.
It began rather simply and organically. The words popped into my friend NM’s head one night, as a play on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “War is Over: If You Want It.” When they mentioned the phrase to me, it just stuck.
Although neither of us tend to wear much clothing with declarative messaging across the chest, we realized it could be really powerful on a piece of clothing associated in many ways with masculinity: a basketball jersey. So we made a few shirts for ourselves and our friends (I think you were actually one of the first!). To our surprise, the statement resonated with folks, and we ended up making more. The demand kept happening, so we kept supplying, and I realized that if we submitted orders in bulk, we’d actually end up generating money that we could do something useful with.
KC: You’re currently holding a giveaway of five signed copies of Laura Jane Grace’s new memoir Tranny. Where will the donations go and how can folks get involved?
MM: The project has teamed up with Laura Jane in the past for some really cool things, and I’m really excited to be at it again. The donations from this fundraiser are going to LGBT Books to Prisoners, a trans-affirming, racial justice-focused, prison abolitionist project that sends books to incarcerated LGBTQ people in the US.
I had the privilege of reading LJ’s memoir a few months back and one theme I found to be of particular interest was the idea of journaling as a necessary form of self-expression when you’re physically or emotionally isolated from what’s familiar. I started thinking about incarcerated folks removed from their surroundings, and with that frame of mind, the decision to donate to LGBT Books to Prisoners was an easy one.
People can get involved by visiting our giveaway site and offering a small financial donation (or donating a copy of Laura’s book). I’m sensitive to everyone’s financial opportunities so there’s a couple of different donation options. If you’re not able to donate at least $5 you can actually mail in a postcard to enter.
KC: How do you choose which organizations to donate to?
MM: GIO focuses predominantly on organizations with special consideration for youth empowerment, homelessness, mental health, incarceration, and structural racism. Beyond that we donated when damaging societal events occur, prompting additional need of financial support to various places.
In March, GIO donated to the Immigrant Defense Project amidst ICE raids, as well as SONG and QORDS when North Carolina’s HB2 passed. Then in June, we donated to The Center - Orlando in the wake of the shootings at Pulse. In October, we donated to Charlotte Uprising after the CMPD murdered Keith Lamont Scott, an unarmed black man. And, most recently, we donated to Planned Parenthood in light of the 2016 presidential election results.
KC: You’re almost two years in now. How has your personal understanding of the meaning of GIO evolved in that time?
MM: Well, for one, I’ve begun relating to my own gender a bit differently—my fluidity, my presentation, how I relate to myself and my body have all shifted a bit.
But, I think that one of the biggest things that’s happened is that my perception of gender diversity in all of its beauty, complexity, and its challenges has expanded. I’ve read thousands of responses about what the idea of “Gender is Over! If You Want It” means to our supporters, and everybody’s unique perspective shapes our direction.
I’ve also come to understand the tightrope walk of visibility, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Though I’m very openly queer, as an AFAB (assigned female at birth) androgynously presenting person who is read as cis in hetero spaces (and isn’t damagingly triggered by it), I’ve had the privilege of being shielded from a lot of the negative effects of visibility.
I’ve heard people describe their shirts as “armor,” giving them the strength to move about the world. But, conversely, I’ve also heard accounts of pain and verbal violence. To wear the message means to force yourself into the limelight—as a trans person, as a queer person, as an ally. And sometimes, visibility means genuine physical danger. So, it’s made me think a lot about a project where visibility is at its core.
KC: Some folks have criticized GIO. I’m thinking particularly of the people who are critical of the fact that folks like you and l who were assigned female at birth are much more able to explore gender transgression (or the concept of gender being over) while folks who were assigned male at birth face much more violence and discrimination for doing the same. In other words, they argue that gender is not over since it still determines who is and isn’t safe, who does and doesn’t have access to given resources, particularly for transfeminine people. How does GIO respond to these critiques? What impact do they have on your mission?
MM: First, I want to state that these critiques are incredibly valid. They come from genuine experience, knowledge, fear, and pain. They help me grow as a person. When NM and I began our work we were ignorant of past instances of the phrase “Gender is Over!” being used as weaponized language against transgender people, specifically transfeminine people. In fact, we wrote a note on accountability after being made aware.
I would have loved to land on “Oppressive Gender Roles are Over! If You Want It” but unfortunately, I don’t think it would have ever gained spontaneous and organic momentum. So, that’s where the whole “put your money where your mouth is” idiom comes into play. Even with an imperfect message, we consistently donate to organizations that work in support of transfeminine people.
I’m also working hard to emphasize “If You Want It.” It’s the backbone of the project because it underscores autonomy and self-determination. The second version of the logo more prominently features “If You Want It.” Lastly, I’m in the process of incorporating as a non profit under the name If You Want It rather than Gender is Over.
KC: GIO’s slogan is based on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s War is Over (If You Want It). At the time, of course, war was not over much as gender is not over now. To borrow from him, it’s about “imagining” a world where things like the gender binary and gender-based violence don’t exist. What do you feel the role of envisioning/dreaming of/imagining utopias is in the movement for gender self-determination, especially given the dire political climate we currently find ourselves in?
MM: I think there’s hope in there, there’s sarcasm in there, there’s power and defiance in there. I also think creativity and imagination are incredibly important tools of progress. Together, these ideas create the space for utopias to form, and, personally, they give me a direction to head in.
KC: Given the election results, what do you feel GIO’s most important work is now? How does GIO situate itself within the larger movement this moment demands?
MM: Well, for one, to keep on doing what we’ve always been doing: supporting the fight for gender self-determination and body sovereignty.
My goal is to remain vigilant, understanding, and responsive to the needs of the LGBTQ community, specifically to those who are trans, non-binary, and non-white. Rather than try to take the wheel, I want to listen. I’d like to continue working to understand what the exact pain points are and where I have the opportunities to make a positive impact.
KC: As someone who came out as trans around 2008, I’ve watched acceptance grow pretty drastically. I think a lot more young kids are coming out as trans and have support and access to the medical care they need which is just heart wrenchingly beautiful. But, I worry that in a society that is still very much cisnormative, this shift might serve to reinforce the gender binary in some ways and discourage exploration of other gender identities. Watching young folks interact with GIO has been really heartening. How do you think younger folks understand gender as opposed to folks our age (nearing 30) and older? How have they interacted with the project?
MM: Right?! So many awesome young folks. Anecdotally, a significant portion of youth interacting with the project identify as non-binary and gender-free - there’s a lot of phrasing like “I don’t have a gender” or “gender doesn’t suit me” or “I’m neither, I’m both.” There’s been a lot of necessary hard work in this space and it’s paved the way for younger people to be able to identify so fluidly. It’s incredibly heartening to witness. They’ve been some of the most visibly strong supporters of the project: being vocal on social media and defiantly wearing their jerseys everywhere including to their schools as a form of protest. Young people rock.
KC: What’s been a favorite moment in the time since you started the project?
MM: Back in February we had a one-year birthday benefit show at the Silent Barn. Laura Jane, Lauren Denitzio, and Dave Dondero came and played for a crowd of GIO supporters, and it was overwhelming and beautiful. It was so energizing to be physically surrounded by this community.
KC: That was also a favorite moment for me! Getting to be in such a small, intimate space with so many people for whom GIO resonates, getting to see such a powerful trans role model like Laura Jane perform; it was a really special night.
As we enter into the new year, and a really uncertain time for a lot of folks, where do you see GIO going from here?
MM: Funding other organizations will continue to be a priority. By the end of 2016, GIO will have donated a sum of about $20,000, and distributed over 2,000 shirts over a span of just two years!
I’m in the process of incorporating now. I’d also love to be able to start holding on to some of the money to put on additional impactful events, specifically in places where queer youth don’t typically have access, so, I need to start doing my research.
Until then, onward and upward!
KC is a queer, non-binary, white, able-bodied writer based in Brooklyn, NY. They hold an M.A. in Gender Politics from New York University. You can follow their writing ataminotfemme.wordpress.com.