The Gender Blur
GLAM I Am
Gender Aptitude Test
The GLAM Dyke Rescue Unit doesn’t pack copies of Gyn/Ecology, nor do they eat granola, and they certainly don’t wear overalls (unless they’re pink, furry, or something equally fabulous, of course). They are partial to miniskirts and ruffly panties, long (fake) eyelashes, and underwire bras.
But beneath the boas, patent leather, and glitter lies a shimmer of serious intent. The Rescue Unit’s two members, Carleton College students Julia Steinmetz and Jessica Peterson, are the proud authors of The GLAM Manifesto, a four-page document “whereby the essence of GLAM is revealed, [and] the principles of the cause introduced to the uninitiated.” Employing both audacious humor and keen insight, they aim to expose and defy gender stereotypes at all levels; they’re as likely to quote queer theorists Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick as they are to cite porn star/sexpert Annie Sprinkle.
This morning, Peterson and Steinmetz, who prefer to be called the Fabulous Lady Misses Julia and Jessica, look like a pair of slightly scruffy but otherwise elegant ex-punks. Steinmetz, attired in black platforms, pink floppy pants, baby blue “Sex Kitten” baseball shirt, and shimmery lime-green eyeshadow, explains that GLAM is part performance art, part political statement.
“Of course, being GLAM is about looking fabulous,” she says, “but it’s also about putting gender theory into practice. It’s taking people’s preconcieved notions about gender and sexuality and appearance and mixing them up. The result is that everybody has a lot more options.”
“So if I walk down the street in lipstick and a typically feminine dress and high heels,” Peterson adds, “then I kiss this girl or hold this boy’s hand, people ask themselves, ‘Who does she sleep with?’ It gives us freedom to break down stereotypes.”
The überfemmy clothes–especially when they’re worn by girls who call themselves dykes–alter people’s perceptions about what a queer person is supposed to look like, say the Lady Misses, who claim that both gender and sexuality are social constructs. And besides, it’s fun to dress up.
“In high school, I owned two dresses. They were both black and they were for performing in orchestras,” Steinmetz confesses, her glittery dog collar and hair clips reflecting the sun. A serious, studious teenager, she grew up in suburban Chicago, keeping her revolutionary fervor (and extravagant GLAM style) under wraps until she went away to Carleton in Northfield, Minnesota. There she met Peterson, the yin to her yang, and things started to change. In her freshman year, Steinmetz (in no particular order) shaved her head, switched her major from physics to studio art, came out as a lesbian, and started wearing pink cocktail dresses to class.
“I realized that regular femininity wasn’t the only option,” she says. “My gender could be performative. I could use the feminine to my advantage, creating a version of femininity that’s independent of masculinity, and exposes heterosexual femininity as a parody of itself.”
The Fabulous Lady Misses, then romantically linked, began prancing around Northfield, preaching the gospel of genderfuck and making a name for themselves in the tiny college town. One day a professor half-jokingly suggested that they write a manifesto. The idea clicked. So Steinmetz and Peterson, who grew up in Plainfield, Illinois, and spent three years in an exclusive math and science boarding school, hit the library and gave birth to their magnum opus.
Based loosely on other famous manifestos, Dada and Fluxus, The GLAM Manifesto became a call to arms, a detailed explanation of the methodology behind the Lady Misses’ carefully cultivated personal style. There’s serious stuff and funny stuff, too. Article II, “The Life of the GLAM Revolutionary,” for instance, lists such GLAM role models as David Byrne, RuPaul, Evita Perón, Cindy Sherman, Xena: Warrior Princess, Bettie Page, and “the GLAM Princess formerly known as Prince.”
“It’s the gift of postmodernism that we can be both deadly serious and self-mocking at the same time,” says Peterson, who sports a somber “art-fag” look: rhinestone platform sandals, rubberized denim miniskirt, and “Too Butch to Cry” baby-T–all black. “The manifesto is about opening possibilities, about changing perceptions, about realizing desire. It’s also about looking great as a way of communicating resistance.”
Steinmetz and Peterson first distributed the Manifesto at a campus art show. They developed three mail-order kits, marketed under the mantra “The Revolution Will Not Be Sold in Stores”: the GLAM Primer ($5), “a pocket-sized volume containing everyday performance activities for the beginner”; the GLAM Revolution Beginner’s Campaign Kit ($20), “filled with indispensable items for budding GLAM princesses”–like starlet sunglasses, appropriate lipsticks, and toy handcuffs; and the Advanced GLAM Kit ($35), “performance tools for the advanced revolutionary, ” including a made-to-order miniskirt, feather boa, and other assorted accessories.
Last summer, fully regaled, the Fabulous Lady Misses crashed Bowling Green State University’s Style Conference, where academia’s brightest pop-culture scholars gathered to discuss the latest research on 20th century Americana.
“We brought a huge pile of the Manifesto, which we left outside the conference rooms,” recalls Peterson, “and when people came out of the sessions, they were picking them up and reading them.” Soon Steinmetz and Peterson were hob-nobbing with the academic elite, attending sessions and debating the Manifesto‘s cultural significance. In the end, the pair say they were informed that their work would likely be included in the official conference anthology. Still, even bigger honors were forthcoming.
“Best of all, at the end of the conference, we were voted best dressed,” Steinmetz adds. “Now there’s an accomplishment.”