Shirts, People, and Anthropology

I had originally planned to do a breeching experiment having to do with disturbing the assumptions of apparel in accordance to gender, but my time schedules would not allow me adequate time to do them.  Instead what I had decided to do was similar to a breeching experiment but on a much smaller scale, in fact, it was more of a “watch-people’s-reactions-to-the-slogans-on-my-shirt” kind of observation.  Some of you may have noticed that every Thursday I wear a shirt that has to do with supporting the LGBTQI community; shirts that say “Some Chicks Marry Chicks. Get Over It.” or “Some Dudes Marry Dudes. Get Over It.” as well as a shirt with the symbol for marriage equality; the heart with the equal sign in it.  In addition to wearing these shirts on Thursdays, I also wore them on days that I work or on weekends when I am out and about in public interacting with people.  One of the indicators that people were actually reading what was on my shirts was that many coworkers and peers at school actually stopped me to read what my shirt said or asked me what the heart symbol meant.  Some even got close enough to see the tiny letters of the website I bought them from (FckH8.com).

Now, you may be reading this and yawn to yourself, “Mike, why is this important?  So you wore shirts that supported marriage equality, whippy-do! Just tell us how this is related to the class and get on with your life.”   Well, this does relate to the class in a small way, and I took that small significance and ran with it and made connections with my own experiences that I don’t know if I can explain enough without seeming too disjointed and jumping around everywhere with ideas. But I will try.

About two years ago I was really into listening and watching TED Talks, and through my searches I came across a talk by iO Tillett Wright titled “Fifty shades of gay”.  In this talk, iO addresses how humans interact with one another and when we are first meeting someone we are going through this mental resume based on the answers the unknown person gives, and it provides a framework for our own assumptions about that individual; who they are, what they do, what they are wearing, possibly their socioeconomic standing.  It is in our nature to categorize things we learn and we place them in “boxes” or categories based on the information and inferences we made about whatever we are doing.  What iO is doing is highlighting our perceptions we have of the world around us, and when something does not fit in the box we assigned it, we either have to make a new box or reallocate that information into another box.  This connects with the small discussion in Sears and Cairns (from pages 85 through 93) that we categorize our perceptions and need to constantly reevaluate our reality and assumptions about it.

This leads into my whole shirt observation scheme.  You see, many people will say I am a quiet, calm, polite person, while others will say I am extremely talkative, loud, and hyper.  Most of my coworkers think the former, so when I wear a shirt claiming something loud and against what they have heard from their religion (roughly four-fifths of my work were hired because they had connections with the owner from a Christian church they all attended at one time and, in case you were wondering, I am in the one-fifth and have no previous interaction with the owner), it definitely turned heads.  I got a mixture of responses from my coworkers:  some told me they liked the shirts, others scowled, one high schooler  tried to embarrass me by saying, “So, chickens can get married now, that’s irrelevant and dumb,” other people asked if I was gay or if I had a boyfriend (to that I told them “I don’t know” and “Maybe”).  At Parkside, some peers just smiled at the shirts, while one Thursday, I walked into a philosophy class and those who did not know me read my shirt, and continued to just stare at me throughout the class with looks of confusion or concern (I’m not sure which).  On a weekend I went to a friend’s house and when I took off my jacket, he threw me his sweatshirt and told me that if his parents saw me supporting gay marriage they would probably not want me in their house.

Needless to say, wearing these shirts got people thinking. They may have heard the marriage equality debate (if it really is a debate) and what others have to say, what their religious institutions have to say, and made assumptions based on those experiences.  But when someone they know, someone who isn’t “evil” or wanting to “ruin their sanctity of marriage” (whatever that is), someone they know in the past they could trust, when they see that person support a cause, regardless of their opinions, the wheels in their minds start turning, and they have to redefine their perceptions and assumptions that they had made.  Whether or not they change their assumptions in a way that supports the cause or leaves them with unanswered questions, it still threw a wrench in their overall worldview.  That is the point behind breeching experiments, to get people to think of their own socially subconscious decisions and thoughts and question the assumptions of their reality, and that is what I hoped to demonstrate.

I had so much more I wanted to address about sexuality and how it may relate to law and politics but this post is much too long to begin with (even with edits) so a few last words.  In the final few minutes of iO’s TED Talk, she addresses sexuality as a spectrum (in this talk she is only talking about being homosexual or straight) where being bisexual is the middle, the polar ends are 100% homosexual or 100% heterosexual.  I find it intriguing the discussion she has where laws cannot be specific enough to address the conditions under which, an employer can fire someone under the grounds of being homosexual or conducting homosexual behavior.  If I can figure out how, I will attach the TED Talk; the last 6 minutes are really significant but the whole talk kind-of builds to her conclusions. As a side note, I would like to add that my own view of sexuality is more like a blurred circular pinwheel with 100% of all the sexualities are at the edges and everyone falls somewhere in it.

http://www.ted.com/talks/io_tillett_wright_fifty_shades_of_gay.html

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4 thoughts on “Shirts, People, and Anthropology

  1. I like how you did that. It is a good way of testing peoples reaction to something that is normal like waring a shirt. I think in out school we forget that people could be bothered by a shirt about being gay. It is a good way to see how peoples views vary place to place.

    1. Yeah, my existence is so sheltered in some of these ways. With the family, partners, and other social circle I have, I have to remind myself sometimes that there are actually are people who really are freaked out by matters LGBTQ.

      Of course, society still exposes me regularly to plenty of unwelcome reminders regardless.

  2. I think a lot about how to convey ideas and thoughts that are important to me to people who are not interested in, or who are actively opposed to, those ideas and thoughts.

    Doing so with a shirt is perhaps a good way to do it. It doesn’t have to be interpreted as directly confrontational (though of course some people will). Instead, it’s self-expression within your personal space. It also personifies the idea you are conveying in a way that forms of communication not associated with in-person interaction do not. There are bumper stickers, for instance, that I’d plaster all over my car if my only intention was to externalize my personal socio-political identity onto my vehicle in an easily recognizable way. But what would that accomplish? People who like my stickers might smile at me. People who don’t might flip me the bird. And nothing useful occurs. Instead, I have stickers that aren’t directly tied to political ideologies (as LGBTQ rights have become). I want to say interesting things, and not make a significant portion of my readers immediately shut me out. I may overthink these things.

    Anyway, I think connecting ideas that are difficult for someone to a person who they respect, or at least who they know as an individual, is one of the best ways there is to start to broaden a perspective. Which to me, is a big part of the function of anthropology in general.

    1. I would have to agree with you about the bumper stickers, like, what would they really accomplish except for nods or road rage. I personally collect bumper stickers in hopes that one day, some how, they would bring awareness to those on the road or in parking lots. The only reason I am hesitant to actually place them on my car, is that a friend of mine got his truck keyed for having a “Love is equal” bumper sticker (the perpetrators keyed “Fag” onto his door and trunk). So it has been a mental fight for me, ideologically by asking, do I try to bring awareness of my support for the LGBTQ community, or materially, by asking, do I want to potentially damage my vehicle, which I had worked super hard to pay off a five year loan in only one year (successfully!), for simple awareness, head nods, and flipping off?

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