The Hundred Footer Project|
[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 5 most recent journal entries recorded in
|Monday, May 23rd, 2005|
When planning my trip to the mall, I took into consideration many of the comments left here in my journal, as well as the feedback I received from friends and classmates. I chose Crossgates mall as my final destination because of its large size, the public/non-collegiate atmosphere of the place, and the mall's history of intolerance. (See THIS ARTICLE
for a brief description of one recent Crossgates newspiece.) The mall is a place that I have always felt uncomfortable, no matter how I appeared, and it seems to me that it is also a place where shoppers, particularly women, size one another up for comparison.
Being aware of the discomfort I feel in shopping malls, it made sense for me to arrive at the mall appearing as I normally do so that I could become accustomed to the feeling of being there, rather than attribute all of my self-consciousness to my Hundred Footer outfit. I went to the mall with my friend Carly, who I would deem an "everyday hundred footer," who admits that many places she goes she receives strange looks or weird treatment. As Carly and I drove to the mall, I realized that perhaps my being in public with Carly would be enough for a stranger to make an assumption about my sexuality (as suggested by some of my readers). I don't know if the general public assumes that two women together (one being a hundred footer, the other a "normal" enough looking woman) must be dating, so we tried to test this out as we walked through the mall. Sure enough, we both saw plenty of people look from Carly to me and back to Carly again, in a way that I don't experience when I shop with my heterosexual friends.
Carly and I went to several stores, where she typically went straight to the men's department and me to the women's. We joined up again in the dressing rooms and at the cash register, though I didn't notice anything outstanding about the people we interacted with in those places. When shopping together, we were approached/helped by several salespeople who were all very friendly towards us. It may be worth noting that every single salesperson we interacted with was male - I don't know if this makes a difference or not (it would take much more study to draw any conclusions about this). It seemed that most of the strange looks we received came from fellow shoppers (mostly male, by my estimate) while walking between or entering stores. No one said anything to us, nor did anyone approach us other than to be helpful to our shopping. (It is also interesting to note that Carly observed more people reacting to us than I did. While I made an effort to watch the faces of those around us, there were several occasions when Carly saw something I hadn't noticed.)
Arriving at the mall, I entertained the thought of never putting on my hundred footer clothes. I was curious to note how people would react to me as my normal self when with a hundred footer, but also curious and intimidated to find out how they would react to 2 hundred footers together. Unfortunately, just when I was beginning to work up the nerve to go get my clothes and change (my plan was to transform myself in the public bathroom, just for added effect), I received a phone call that necessitated the two of us leaving the mall immediately. Thus, I have not yet experienced Crossgates mall as a true hundred footer, and am not sure that I will return.
I may not have clarified in the past - this project was completed as part of a performance art class I am enrolled in this term. In designing my final project, it was important for me to choose meaningful subject matter that would give me, and perhaps others, a new perspective on an issue that's been on my mind lately. I have learned from this project that while appearances are certainly helpful to most in classifying, judging and interacting with others, many people also ignore them - which is good news for the 99% of us who don't look like supermodels! I will be interested to read sociological data on appearances and the interactions based on them, and now that my graduation will bring more free time, I might pick up my old Erving Goffman texts out of pure interest, rather than study for a course. I think the most interesting aspect of this project was the conversation I had with my employer - a conversation that still remains unfinished. It seems that my boss was eager to confront me about the label (homophobic) that I gave her, but is still unready to accept the fact that I am a lesbian and have a conversation with me about it so that she might better understand. I am pleased that she initiated the conversation we began, and am hopeful that more people like her will at least try to understand things like homosexuality that they often dismiss as something that does not affect or relate to them. If nothing else, my normal appearance reminds her and others that queers of all types are everywhere, and that our sexual preference does not dictate our personalities, behavior or appearance. (15 minutes before my boss confronted me, she had spent several minutes telling me that I was the best employee she had ever had - and hopefully still thinks so, even now that she knows I'm gay.)
This concludes the Hundred Footer Project! Thanks again for all of the comments, criticism, and support towards this project! I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Wednesday, May 18th, 2005|
I think I've finally mastered the look of a hundred footer! The feedback I received from friends and acquaintances seems to confirm this... I paid attention to every aspect of my appearance, from shoes to hair to accessories, and think I was finally successful. For this reason, my appearance on future days may only vary slightly from what is pictured above.
Surprisingly enough, I don't feel that Day Three differed much from prior days of this project. I went to the same job as mentioned before and received no acknowledgment from my boss of my appearance or the unfinished conversation from Day Two. I did, however, notice many students and faculty doing double-takes when they saw me. This seemed especially true for other lesbians on campus - including a faculty member who couldn't seem to look me in the face while we were talking, she seemed set on sizing up my new image. Some students on campus whom I know to be lesbians, but do not know personally, seemed to pay more attention to me as we passed. Still, no one said anything about how I looked. (What a bunch of polite people!)
I stopped at a gas station on my way into town. A man was coming out of the door as I approached. He started to hold the door for me, but then looked at me again and let go of it so that the door nearly hit me in the face. It's hard to tell if he was just a rude guy or if he was reacting to my appearance. Otherwise, I didn't feel any different in town. I spent almost two hours in a cafe downtown doing homework, but felt perfectly normal and didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.
The lack of recognition or reaction I am receiving can be attributed to two factors: a) People are not looking at me and thinking "lesbian" or b) Hundred Footers are a common enough sight in Vermont that no one even notices me, or cares to react. For this reason, I'm really starting to get tired of this project. While I feel it's been a very interesting experience for me to transform my appearance and move out of my normal comfort zone, I don't feel that much of significance has occurred for me to write about. The project feels more like an exercise in self-presentation than in defying stereotypes, or at least observing the results of sexual-preference based stereotypes.
I'm not sure what I expected... When I was first coming out when I was 17, I felt that I needed to look more like a lesbian so that I could make other gay friends, or meet potential girlfriends. Still, I didn't dress or change my hair beyond what felt comfortable, and that left me in the realm of "appearing straight" to the general public. (An exploration of gaydar would perhaps have made a more interesting project idea...) These days I don't think about my appearance in terms of how others will perceive me beyond feeling the need to dress up for certain occasions, etc. I have "come into my own," as they say, and lucky me, never experience any type of discrimination based on my sexual preference. This almost seems unfair to me. Non-caucasians can't tailor their appearances to avoid racism, nor can many members of those groups that regularly experience discrimination. My heart goes out to anyone discriminated against, so, this project was perhaps (as one of you suggested) my attempt to "walk a mile in another's shoes."
The final test of the Hundred Footer Project will occur this Sunday, when I take my hundred footer self to a huge shopping mall in a larger city about an hour from here. I already feel uncomfortable in shopping malls - it feels like a meat market for girls and women to size each other up in terms of who has what and who's the thinnest, etc. I plan to arrive at the mall sporting my normal appearance and shop for an outfit to wear to my upcoming graduation. At some point during the shopping trip, I'll disappear to the bathroom and transform myself (as I said above, probably into the outfit I wore today) and go back to the same stores to see how I feel, how salespeople treat me, how other shoppers react, etc. Unless something extraordinary happens that prompts another experiment idea, this trip will conclude the Hundred Footer Project.
I appreciate all of the feedback I've received concerning this project - it's refreshing and reassuring to hear that others are interested and concerned about this topic. I've tried to incorporate some of your ideas, where appropriate, and will also respond to emails as soon as I can. Thanks!
|Monday, May 16th, 2005|
My appearance for Day Two was fairly different from Day One due to the large number of my friends and peers who failed to recognize me in my first "costume," or thought I was a boy. While many lesbians are often mistaken for men, my goal with this project is not to experience the world as a male, but as a visible lesbian. For this reason, the clothing I chose for Day Two was mostly pulled from my own wardrobe, but worn differently from how I normally would. I wanted the fact that I have breasts and curly hair to be visible, but not the highlight of my appearance. I am still working on future costumes, but so far my look has been pretty sporty - today I wore sneakers, track pants, a white tee shirt, and a bandana - simple enough, right? I'm in the process of gathering clothing for Days Three through Five of the Hundred Footer Project.
Here's how Day Two went:
Nothing of significance happened due to my appearance today. I spent time at school, work and in town - where I walked through five different stores unnoticed. I attribute this to my clothing. As I discussed with several people today, there is no certain way that lesbians look, so it's hard to ensure that I will be labeled as such. (If only minorities and the disabled were so lucky.)
Despite my poor costume choice and the lack of attention I received, today was significant in one major way:
A woman who I spoke with about my project today decided to email my boss (whom I wrote about in previous entries) with a link to this blog. During my shift this afternoon, my boss confronted me about this project and my use of the word "homophobe" to describe her. We discussed what the word means to each of us (she takes it literally, as 'scared of homosexuals,' wheras I interpret it based on its widespread use in describing a person who dislikes, avoids (or anything else negative) homosexuals). My boss was very adament that she is not fearful of 'them,' but seemed uncomfortable using words like gay, lesbian, or homosexual, or even including me in the group she referred to as 'them.' She wanted to know why I thought she was homophobic, so I recalled a memory of the two of us listening to an NPR report on gay marriage in Massachussets, after which she had declared that gay marriage was bad for society and especially for children of gay couples. Perhaps my memory does not serve me correctly in the small details, but the gist of her reactions to the newspiece were very negative. At the time I had tried to interject stating my own opinions, but she hadn't listened to me.
When I reminded my boss of this conversation, she began talking about how the issue of gay marriage makes her think of the way society is changing, especially in ways that, to her, feel anti-Christian. She brought up the banning of school prayer and the removal of the 10 commandments from government buildings, but I did not entirely understand how she equated this to gay marriage. Our conversation was frequently interrupted and very uncomfortable for me (and I think for her as well). As I wrote about in past entries, I had a very specific plan for how I would breech the subject of my project with my boss, and this was disrupted by her reading this blog.
The part of our conversation that seemed most difficult for my boss to understand, and for me to explain, was why I have chosen to undertake this project. She did not understand why I would want to "look that way" and she wondered if I was trying to meet women, or make my sexuality a more prominent part of my personality. I explained that I am not trying to meet any women, that in fact I have already met one, and that I am doing this project/performance in order to understand how it might feel to be visibly gay in our school and town community. I have never directly experienced discrimination based on my sexual preference, but any search of news reports will turn up plenty of instances of discrimination against gays - which at its most extreme has led to the death of homosexuals.
Thus far, my project has not directly exposed homophobic reactions to my appearance, which speaks highly of both my college and the town where it resides. This project, has, however, provoked concern and discussion, which may turn out to be a quite positive result in the end.
My conversation with my boss was not truly resolved because I had to leave for class. Her last remarks to me were that she was not scared of gays, but that, in fact, she felt sympathy for them (at this point I was gesturing to myself, saying "me"), because she thinks they miss out on some of the best parts of life. I am not sure what to make of this - I guess she means marriage between a man and a woman, or having a child that is created by a man and woman who are married. If I am interpreting this statement correctly, I strongly disagree with her.
|Wednesday, May 11th, 2005|
Day One of the Hundred Footer Project began with two hours at my work-study job where I am employed by a woman who has made homophobic comments in my presence, not knowing that I am a lesbian. I expected my new appearance to provoke a conversation concerning my sexual preference, or at least why I was dressed the way I was today. I had prepared a stock answer to anyone asking why I looked so different today: "I am doing an experiment to see how people react to me dressed as a stereotypical lesbian, rather than look the way I normally do." Much to my surprise, my employer didn't ask about my clothing, only said "I wouldn't have recognized you - you've got your hair all up in there!" (referring to my HRC hat) The conversation ended there.
Later during my shift another woman who sees me regularly happily announced, "Holly, you look so cute today!" I thanked her, and then my boss chimed in that "we should give her a bat, she looks like she's going out to play ball!" Both women seemed slightly amused by my unusual appearance, but weren't curious enough to inquire as to my intentions (laundry day? a sporting event?). Rather than correct their mis-assumptions, I decided to wait until I show up to work again looking this way. Another woman I encountered at work asked me if I had cut my hair, and when I explained it was under the hat, she exclaimed "Oh good!" and directed the conversation elsewhere.
Walking around the building where I work felt slightly strange - I could feel people doing double-takes, but no one said anything. After a while I stopped thinking about how I looked and then didn't even notice if people were silently reacting to me. The rest of my work shift was uneventful, except for my fear of being seen by a group of individuals who have recently hired me for a full-time post grad position. I am still in the process of negotiating the terms of my employment and my salary and have been careful about my behaviour and appearance in their presence. I saw one of these women while I was working and quickly walked away before she saw me. While I know that this group of people would be open to learning about my project, I didn't feel ready to present myself as a "hundred footer."
Other than two uneventful ventures into the public world of college-town (returning some unneeded stuff at Home Depot and ordering take-out burgers at a sports bar) most of the interesting reactions I received throughout the day came from my peers who know me well and see me everyday. Several of my close friends have seen me in costume while I was making study photos for this project, yet were very surprised to encounter me in the dining hall looking as I did. My best friends couldn't stop laughing and around them I felt the most uncomfortable I did all day.
Fact of the matter is, I know I look unattractive this way. I look like a 15 year old boy, and I guess that's the point. Unfortunately, I don't think most lesbians who'd qualify as hundred footers think that they look ugly. Just as I dress the way I feel most comfortable, so do they (I'd imagine, anyway) - so the discomfort I felt with my appearance is something I need to get over/used to, so that I can concentrate more on how it is to feel gay
in public, rather than just ugly.
Overall, I think this project will require more ventures into town (perhaps to the mall?) so that I escape the bubble that college life provides. More to come...
|Sunday, May 8th, 2005|
|The Hundred Footer Project Unveiled
The Hundred Footer Project is a living performance piece/experiment in which I, a "feminine" lesbian, explore what it's like to be visibly gay in public. Lesbians have been stereotyped by the general public to be an androgynous, sporty, and often unattractive group of women - a stereotype which I defy on a regular basis. Because I do not have the conventional appearance of a lesbian, most assume that I am heterosexual. Thus, only rarely have I experienced what it is like to go to work, grocery shop, or catch a movie sensing that most strangers are stereotyping me as a lesbian. The Hundred Footer Project is both an amateur sociological experiment as well as a masochistic performance art piece.
The term "Hundred Footer" comes from a recently popular lesbian show called 'The L Word' in which several (mostly feminine) lesbians attend a lesbian conference and have the following conversation:
Alice: That's what I call a hundred footer.
Jenny: What's that?
Tina: It means you can tell she's a lesbian from a hundred feet away.
Although some members of the gay community have taken offense to the way lesbians are represented on 'The L Word,' the show's coining of the term 'hundred footer' feels appropriate to my project. During The Hundred Footer Project I will attempt to transform myself into a hundred footer (a stereotypical lesbian) and conduct my daily business as normal. I will record the reactions of my peers, colleagues, and strangers, and will keep a record of my own feelings about the project in this blog.
In preparation for the Hundred Footer Project, I made a series of photographic studies in which I dressed and posed myself in stereotypical lesbian fashion. I have since abandoned the idea of engaging in stereotypically lesbian activities (such as playing video games, driving a truck, etc) in favor of a more realistic, and true to myself experience. I do not plan to alter any aspect of my personality or demeanor while "in costume" but expect that some changes may occur due to my discomfort with my appearance.
Study images for The Hundred Footer Project:
The Hundred Footer Project will commence on Wednesday, May 11, 2005. I will work for two hours for my regular employer, a self-expressed homophobe, attend lunch in the dining hall of my college, attempt to return merchandise I purchased at Home Depot, attend a regularly scheduled photography course, and spend several hours working in the college digital darkroom/computer lab. Pictures and a diary entry will document each day of the Hundred Footer Project.