College Athlete Stages Photo Shoot To Start Conversation About Gender And Identity

A Wesleyan University student questions assumptions on gender and identity with project.
Isaac Gotterer at the Wesleyan gym
Isaac Gotterer at the Wesleyan gym

This article originally appeared on Outsports

Isaac Gotterer is a Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Theater major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. In conjunction with a class project, Gotterer did a photoshoot in the campus gym lifting weights while wearing a sports bra and boots with 5-inch heels to make a point about gender and identity.

“I identify as genderqueer,” the sophomore tells Outsports, “which means, for me, I identify outside the gender binary. I don’t feel like a man or women or anything in between and I never have.

“I always had felt the gym was an exclusionary place for non-cisgender people. I felt like I had to conform to typical binary gendered attire when I worked out, so I would wear ‘masculine’ shorts and tank top. This photoshoot was to explore what would happen if a visible queer body went into a cisgender-dominated space. It showed almost what I felt on the inside when I work out — glamorous and powerful.”

Gotterer was the captain of the varsity soccer, cross-country skiing and tennis teams in high school, so they (Gotterer uses they/them or he/his pronouns) certainly know the athletic world. As they were discovering their identity, Gotterer realized the Wesleyan college club soccer team was not a place for non-cisgender folk. (Cisgender denotes a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with the sex assigned at birth.)
As for the reaction to Gotterer’s attire at the gym that day? Most men in the gym didn’t know what to do.

“All the cishet, white, boys were so scared of me, which was super fun actually,” Gotterer writes in their essay. “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.”

I love Gotterer exploring gender boundaries, even as I admit some terms like genderqueer are ones I am just getting used to. The photos below are terrific and Gotterer wants to thank photographer Celina Bernstein and his costume designer Sofie Somoroff.

Here is the opening of Gotterer’s college essay, followed by the photos.

Click ... Click ... Click ... my 5-inch heels hit the pavement hard as I strut in my sparkling, pink booty-shorts and neon-pink stuffed sports bra with a grey sweater slyly dangling off my shoulder. Then my right foot raises 3 feet off the ground followed by my left foot. When I reach the top, I pause. My extremely hairy thighs flex upon the sign that reads: Wesleyan University: Freeman Athletic Center (visitor parking →). I tower over all the cars whooshing passed with my Farrah Fawcett-esque wig resting on my shoulder in a side ponytail.

Some cars driving by give me beeps of support while others give a different kind of beep. Standing up there, vulnerable, I could just feel which beep was which. Well, also I assume that the old-white-dudes beeping don’t mean it like, “You go girl! Express that gender! Yessss!” So, when those types of beepers go by I give a little booty shake-and-wink in their direction. Suddenly, the camera begins to flash as I move about the sign — straddling it, lying on it, kissing it — until it is time to venture inside. The moment I have been preparing for — with meetings, emails, trips to the costume shop, online stalking for looks I’m interested in, and even emotional prep.

When I get inside, I change quickly into my knee-height boots and lace-leggings right outside the gym. I walk in. There’s a woosh. All eyes on me. I feel the muscular jocks with their cut off sleeves and Muscle Milk-filled intestines stare at me and think, “Huh. It’s a dude, right? But it’s a chick too?”

In that moment I stop and think. How can genderqueer bodies look athletic or be athletic? or even play sports? If my body is outside of the binary of gender do I have to a choose a binaried gender in order to workout?

Photos by Celina Bernstein; costumes by Sofie Somoroff.

Isaac Gotterer can be reached via email (igotterer@wesleyan.edu); Twitter (@isaacgotterer) and Snapchat (igotterer).

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