Gender Bender Lets Students Express Selves

Men swirled in skirts and dresses. Women donned mustaches and trousers. The purpose: aesthetic expression without judgment.

This was the scene at the Gender Bender Costume Ball on Thursday, a Women’s Center After Dark event supported by numerous on-campus clubs and organizations, encouraging students to dress up in the conventions of another gender to dispel judgment based on clothing. The ball, complete with a D.J., photo booth, and Moe’s, Cars, and Nicky’s Pizza catering, enticed a crowd of students dressed in costumes of all kinds to Friends Hall.

Queer Peer Services Coordinator at the Women’s Center, Yovanna Garcia spearheaded the Gender Bender Costume Ball this year. This is the second time this event has been put on at Ramapo. However, similar events have been put on all over the country.

“Colleges all over the country do it. Even on YouTube there’s links and videos up of college campuses having Gender Bender Costume Balls,” Garcia said.

The concept behind this ball is to have students express themselves in a skin they wouldn’t normally wear. Masculine individuals can be feminine or even androgynous for a night, and vice versa. The intent is to create a space where clothing is no indication of gender identification.

“This ball gives all communities, queer and straight, a chance to express themselves however they see fit through clothing, and it really makes people think about the importance society places on every one of us to have a clear gender expression,” said President Sydney Hopen of G.E.A.R., one of the clubs helping put on this event.

The concept of the ball was only half the battle, according to Garcia. She has been preparing for this event since June. Not only did the mechanics of the event need to be worked out, like booking a D.J. and getting decorations, but other clubs needed to get on board to make the night a success. The Gender Bender Ball brought on the collaboration of Ramapo Pride, Disney Club, Gender Equality through Activism and Revolution (G.E.A.R.) and Tri Sigma, to name a few, along with the Women’s Center. It was also sponsored by Health and Counseling Services. Garcia expects the support lent by these clubs, specifically Greek Life, will make the night a success.

“One of my action plans for this year is to get more collaboration between Greek Life and LGBT related clubs and orgs,” Garcia said. “So having Tri Sigma there to represent a part of Greek Life was very important to me… It will definitely draw support for the event and people who typically wouldn’t express interest in this event.”

This collaboration technique seemed successful, as Friends Hall was filled with colorfully dressed students the night of the ball. Some stuck with the theme of “gender bending,” but others dressed in more traditional Halloween costumes. Those who diverged from the theme were still subject to the true meaning of the night, according to attendee Amber Peet, a junior at Ramapo.

“Some people are taking it as a joke, as kind of a Halloween thing, but it’s still opening their minds. Some people think this is serious fun. Some people think this is ‘fun’ fun,” Peet said.

The “fun” included a photo booth, raffle tickets, a dance floor and D.J. Tables were set up so students could enjoy the catering and to provide respite from the dance floor. Halloween-themed decorations garnished the wall, and signs were hung with “#BendRamapo,” encouraging students to tweet about the event and what it stands for.

The Gender Bender Costume Ball has been one of many events on campus to promote equality. The Women’s Center’s mission statement puts an importance on unity among the Ramapo community, including the queer community. This effort has made students like Sydney Hopen feel that Ramapo is a haven for diversity and acceptance.

“As a gay woman, I find this campus to be unbelievably accepting, so regarding equality with that? Definitely,” Hopen said. “We have an outlet for a lot of people which is an amazing thing. I think it is something that some people take for granted but it shouldn’t be. Every day, I acknowledge how progressive we are and we are just getting better.”