Jennifer Miller, playwright, performer and founder of Circus Amok, joined the Ramapo community on Monday evening as the first Queer History Month keynote speaker organized by the Women’s Center.
Miller has many unique qualities including her ability to juggle machetes and eat glass, but possibly her most unique quality is that Miller is a bearded woman.
Close to 100 students gathered in Sharp Theater to witness her speak about her life experiences and perform a few mind-blowing circus acts.
Senior Diana Atalla, the Queer Peer Services Coordinator for the Women’s Center, thought Miller seemed like a great choice to bring to Ramapo.
“I saw her documentary ‘Juggling Gender’ two years ago in class and thought it was awesome,” she said. “I found her interesting not only because of her beard but because of the queer political circus too.”
Miller has been working with unusual circus forms, theater, and dance for over twenty years. Circus Amok, which she founded in 1984, produces free outdoor shows that focus on different political themes and social issues every year in NYC parks. She is also a performance professor at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.
Wearing bright colors and glitter eye shadow, Miller incorporated humor and quirky antics into her presentation. She began by reciting a poem, chewing on a shattered light bulb, and then went into detail about why she has a beard and how she got into the circus business
Living as a woman with a beard hasn’t always been easy for Miller. She said she was much more nervous and afraid to walk down the streets when she first began growing it, but “as you get older, you settle into who you are,” Miller said.
She often goes into men’s bathrooms rather than woman’s bathrooms to avoid perplexed stares. “Women are afraid. They think there’s a creep in the bathroom,” she said.
Students had mostly the same reaction to her eccentric and distinctive personality.
Of the show, sophomore Shayna Reed said she thought “it was different, exotic.”
Kayleigh Gumbrecht, also a sophomore, said she felt that some students might feel uncomfortable upon seeing Miller and her performance.
“I think that was what she was kind of trying to do, though,” Gumbrecht said.
Junior Caitlin Connolly said at some parts she did feel slightly uncomfortable with Miller’s bold routine. Overall, however, “I thought she was funny. It was a very intriguing performance.”
The subject of which gender Miller identifies with has been a question she has heard dozens of times throughout her life. Being a woman with a beard isn’t exactly a common sight.
“I feel like there’s a double standard,” said sophomore Casey Zimmer.
As for Miller’s identity, she said it “shifts from time to time. The most stable identity for me is show business.”
Masculine, feminine – to Miller, these terms are problematic. “Director, performer. That’s my main identity.”