Drag is political and can teach us many lessons about gender in our society. While my upcoming book, King of Hearts: Drag Kings in the American South, discusses myriad of these issues, in this essay I take up one lesson about gender that may be overlooked in reading this work: drag proves that the true power of masculinity still lies between your legs in many ways.

Now, hear me out here. Philosophically, I totally agree with Hayden, a 32-year-old multiracial pansexual man and respondent from my book, Trans Men in the South: Becoming Men, that being a man is “definitely not defined by the anatomy that you have and the little thing that’s between your legs.” Despite this philosophical belief, my findings from my research with drag kings in the American South largely disapproves Hayden’s thesis (and my own as well).

The “reversal” in equality between drag kings and drag queens suggests that even the assumption of a penis is more important that the purest expressions of masculinity, at least in some contexts. Consider the following: drag queens have always been dominant in the world of drag. That is, those people performing femininities hold power over those performing masculinities. Drag queens continue to have more influence, status, and resources than drag kings, both in the world of drag as well as beyond. Drag king culture has, for instance, in no way approached the same level of pop culture visibility as drag queen culture. There is no equivalent to RuPaul’s Drag Race for drag kings. Drag queen story hour at libraries do not generally include kings. There are no movies about drag kings that come close to the popularity of To Wong Foo or The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

There are several reasons for these inequities. One, as I discuss in the book, is related to gender pay inequality in work. This contributes to unequal pay and wealth between genders. For instance, Carpenter and Eppink (2017) found that between 2013 and 2015, the average annual earnings for heterosexual men were $57,032, for gay men $59,618, for heterosexual women $39,902, and for lesbian women $47,026. Income and wealth inequality mean that drag queens, and gay men more generally, have more money and resources to put into the performance drag, to own and frequent bars where drag shows are performed, and are likely to have more leisure time to prepare for shows and frequent shows than drag kings. Overall, women and trans men make less money than cis men, are less able to support women and trans owned businesses and have a more difficult time accessing capital to open businesses. Relatedly, cis gay men, like RuPaul, are more likely to get TV deals, than trans men or lesbian women.

Drag queens often feel a sense of entitlement to drag, related to their masculine power outside of drag and queens’ longer history with this type of performance. Although kings perform masculinities on stage, they are usually assumed to be female-bodied underneath their attire by audiences and bar owners, and therefore not entitled to male privileges. Queens, who are assumed to be male-bodied, hold more power within drag. Performers’ claims to the privileges attached to male bodies in our society carries over to drag, even when they are performing femininities.

Furthermore, there are few lesbian bars remaining in the U.S. While the number of queer bars has declined in general, lesbian bars have been more vulnerable to closing. Today, it is largely cis gay men who own the remaining queer bars and control who gets to perform drag, which nights they perform, and how much they get paid. In the U.S., there were approximately 200 lesbian bars in the 1980s, and today only about 15 remain, with only two of those in the Southeastern U.S. In fact, there were more lesbian bars in the 1930s than there are today. For a specific example, in New York City there are currently three remaining lesbian bars, compared to the forty plus gay bars. This means gay men and drag queens now almost completely control the drag scene. There are many reasons lesbian bars have largely disappeared, including pay inequality discussed above, the effects of gentrification, and queer people being accepted more into the general culture, to name a few.

While some of the kings I spoke to had good relationships with queens, many felt the relationships between kings and queens were tense due to power inequalities in the drag scene. Some queens feel that the kings do not put in as much work as queens for their performances, or that kings are simply not as entertaining queens, and they make their feelings known. The fact that gay men and drag queens are gatekeepers to drag culture has resulted in kings receiving less time, space, attention, and status within the drag scene.

Roscoe McCoy, a 45-year-old multiracial gender fluid king living in Georgia, explained some of the problems with queens being the gatekeepers to drag. When he moved to a new city in Georgia, he shared, “I had to re-establish myself over here, because everything here was run by the same clique of drag queens, and they didn’t give a damn who you were or where you had performed or anything like that… The queens run the scene, so if you don’t get in with queens, you don’t get stage time. You don’t get a shot.” According to Roscoe, “If you didn’t kiss ass for certain queens, you weren’t in the clique, you couldn’t get into a bar, and you couldn’t get booked.” However, Roscoe also claimed, “My personal experience here has been that the queens that control that flow are not the ones that I want to owe favors to.”

Ayden, a 44-year-old white lesbian woman in South Carolina, said he wished there were “more unifications between drag kings and drag queens.” Ayden thought that a lot of the division between the kings and queens was related to a divide between “the lesbian world and the gay man world,” worlds he believed “cannot mix because of whatever judgments or whatever preconceptions they have about either group.” He went on to say that like in the world outside of drag, rarely do gay men and lesbian women mix: “You’ve got your gay men, you’ve got your gay bars, and you’ve got lesbian bars, and you’ve got your lesbian night at the gay bar.” Ayden lamented that drag was supposed to offer “a place where everybody can laugh at themselves…be carefree for a bit,” but he said that the “tension between those two groups is not very attractive and can be felt within the audience as well.”

Finally, Ryder Cox, a 32-year-old Native American and white, trans man who was among the first kings on the scene in South Carolina, said that “some of the queens maybe felt like their toes were being stepped on.” Like some other kings I spoke to, Ryder believed that queens felt animosity toward kings because they believed kings didn’t (or didn’t have to) put in as much effort as queens to perform. He said, “Once [queens] realized that we do put work into it and we do have to learn all our lyrics just like they do, pick outfits, and put on an actual performance and not just stand on stage and you know lip sync,” the queens started to respect kings more.

Newer kings, those who started performing in the 2010s, didn’t discuss the controversies between kings and queens as much as the older kings. In fact, many of the newer kings had close relationships to queens and some performed with queens regularly. While further research is needed, hopefully this is some evidence that drag queens have begun to respect kings more and that they are working together to improve the drag scene, rather than fighting over drag space, time, and status. Despite this, as lesbian bars continue to disappear and few queer and inclusive spaces pop up to take their place, cis gay men and drag queens will continue to hold dramatically more power over the drag scene in the U.S. Due to sexism and transphobia, lesbian women, trans people, and other queer people are unable to sustain bars and spaces in the way cis gay men have been able to, which points to the heightened inequality within this already marginalized community.


Baker A. Rogers (they/them or she/her) is Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia Southern University. Their research focuses on inequality, specifically examining the intersections of gender, sexuality, and religion in the U.S. South. Their book Conditionally Accepted: Christians’ Perspectives on Sexuality and Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights, was released with Rutgers University Press in December 2019, and their book Trans Men in the South: Becoming Men, was released with Lexington Books in January 2020. Their work is also published in numerous academic journals including Men and Masculinities; Journal of Interpersonal Violence; Gender & Society; and Qualitative Sociology.

For more about drag kings in the Southern United States, check out my book, King of Hearts: Drag Kings in the American South, with Rutgers University Press, which will be released in October 2021.

When she joined Veterans For Peace in 2015 it didn’t take Army veteran Monisha Ríos long to learn that there is a status hierarchy among vets—even those working for peace and justice. On meeting Ríos, VFP members would ask if she was a combat vet, and Ríos knew immediately that when she said no, “They’re not gonna take me seriously, I’m not gonna matter. I won’t be considered important. To the work of peace. As a veteran.”  But it didn’t take her long to settle on her answer to that question: “I say, ‘I was in unconventional combat. As in, every fucking day, I had to fight to not get raped. As a woman in the military. So, yeah. I was in combat.’”

Army Veteran Monisha Ríos (Photo by Randy Bacon)

In my book Unconventional Combat:  Intersectional Action in the Veteran’s Peace Movement, I chronicle the experiences and political strategies of Monisha Ríos and other “post 9/11 veterans”—most of them women and BIPOC people, some who identify as queer or gender non-binary. I analyze the promise and pitfalls facing this young and diverse generation of veterans as they claim positions of centrality in a veterans’ peace movement that, until recently, has been dominated by older veterans, mostly white men from the Vietnam War era. 

It shouldn’t surprise us that more women, BIPOC, queer and transgender veterans are joining organizations like Veterans For Peace or About Face:  Veterans Against the War.  Though the military is still dominated by men, women have increased in number, and expanded the scope of their participation in recent decades. In 1973, when military conscription ended, women made up a scant 2% of active duty members of the military.  Today, women constitute 16% of U.S. military active duty and 18% of reserve personnel.  And women’s growing numbers have further diversified the military in other ways:  proportionately, women service members are even more diverse than their male counterparts:  Roughly one-third of women service members are Black, and more than half (56%) identify as a racial minority and/or as ethnically Hispanic. 

Since President Barack Obama in 2013 lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles, growing numbers of women have served in central battle zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, absorbing an escalating share of physical and psychological injuries. An appalling proportion of the injury and trauma suffered by military women is delivered not by foreign combatants, but by men from their own ranks.  Recent research by sociologist Stephanie Bonnes concludes that “More than half of the women serving in the U.S. military have experienced workplace sexual harassment, with some estimates as high as 79%.” A comprehensive study commissioned by the U.S. Marine Corps to answer the question, “What it is like to be both a woman and a Marine,” painted a picture of endemic sexual assault, hostile work environments, online sexual harassment, and officers who perceive women as weak and undeserving of being in the Corps.  Stalking experiences during military service, Carrie L. Lewis and her colleagues found, commonly causes PTSD and depression. As a result, over half a million U.S. women veterans have enrolled in the Veterans Administration (VA) health care system, many of them seeking support for what Suzanne Gordon has called the “vexing problem” of military sexual trauma (MST).

As a racially diverse cohort of women soldiers has grown in recent decades, so too has the visibility of LGBTQ+ people in the service. Most of the U.S. Military’s history is a story of compulsory heterosexuality coupled with institutional denials or violent suppression of same-sex desire and actions. But the “coming out” ethos of the gay and lesbian liberation movement of the 1970s was echoed in calls to eliminate the military’s anti-gay policies. Prominent members of the military brass stiffly opposed including gay and lesbian people in the service.  In what Randy Shilts called a “…last great frenzy of antigay hostility,” the U.S. military by the start of the 1990s had accelerated its rate of soldiers being drummed out of the service for homosexuality.

Air Force and Army Veteran Zamil Salhab

In 1994, the Clinton Administration instituted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), which became the official policy governing gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the military until its repeal in 2011. Billed as a compromise at the time, DADT barred the military from punishing or discharging someone who was closeted, but it allowed the discharge of individuals who openly stated they were gay or lesbian, or who were seen or known to have engaged in same-sex relationships. DADT ultimately reinforced the boundaries of an oppressive “camouflage closet” for LGBTQ+ service members like Zamil Salhab, whose story I tell in the book.  Salhab, who identifies as a queer non-binary person of color, suffered from the marginalization and violence of gendered racism and homophobia while serving ten years in the military, including two combat deployments in Iraq. 

The 2011 elimination of DATD created legal inclusion for LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. military.  However, scholars Brandon Alford and Shawna Lee argue that this greater statutory inclusion “…does not address a number of cultural or institutional inequities that continue to hinder full inclusion of sexual minority service members.”

Army veteran Wendy Barranco

As I show in Unconventional Combat, hostility to non-heterosexual people in the military, especially when combined with gendered racism, continues to create toxic and punishing experiences for women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ service members.  Following their military careers, as veterans like Monisha Ríos and Zamil Salhab join the veterans’ peace movement, their experiences of MST, gendered racism, homophobia and transphobia shape a shared situated knowledge of interlocking oppressions. This collective knowledge, I argue, is the foundation for an intersectional praxis that presses for change on two wide fronts:  First, challenging the race, gender and sexual business-as-usual inside progressive organizations like Veterans For Peace; second, forging new strategies for linking veterans’ anti-militarism with movements for racial justice, climate action, and ending gender and sexual violence.  “We can’t use the same linear thinking,” Army combat veteran Wendy Barranco told me. “You’ve got to do something radical. And something radical is like, let women lead, period.”

Michael A. Messner is professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California.

Beth Schneider was the chair of my department the year I was hired and retired last winter. During the time I have come to know Beth, she quickly became one the models of the kind of feminist mentor and scholar I endeavor to be. But, before I knew her, I was pretty nervous to meet Dr. Schneider when I arrived on campus for my interview. What I later learned was that my initial interactions were sort of classic Beth. While hiring me, Beth also mentored me through the hiring process—with more than a bit of feminist panache. If you don’t know of her or her work, Dr. Beth Schneider is a sociologist of sexualities and gender (in that order, thank you very much). Here, I want to share a bit about her role in helping to produce an identifiable sociology of sexualities and to tell you about the “Beth Schneider Effect.”

Beth has had an unusually influential role in the production of a sociology of sexualities. Her impact affected scholarship in the areas she studied (workplace relationships, harassment, sexual violence, work on HIV/AIDS and AIDS activism, and more). But it also stretched far beyond. Beth is a field builder and has been making space for feminist scholars of and feminist scholarship on sexualities for decades. This is a quality that I’ve started referring to as the “Beth Schneider Effect.”

Sociological scholarship addressing sexualities has long existed. But we didn’t always have a section, with members, subspecialties, awards, and more. The figure below is drawn from D’Lane Compton’s archival research in JStor, looking back through published work in sociology journals. Beth received her PhD from the University of Massachusetts in 1981. While she was in graduate school, the numbers of published articles in sociology journals on issues to do with sexualities were small. They were so small that two grad students huddled in a university library could enumerate all of them with their fingers and toes with digits to spare. You can see that the period of growth in the field came after Beth received her PhD. Beth’s early work was ahead of the curve in this respect. And for anyone who knows Beth, this won’t be much of a surprise.Beth’s dissertation research analyzed the sexualization of the workplace, comparing the experiences of heterosexual and lesbian women, focusing on everything from workplace affairs to sexual harassment and assault. It is as timely and important a topic today as when she first completed it. In the project, she found that many women in her study found sexual partners at work. The heterosexual women in her sample were more likely to partner with men who were their superiors while the lesbian women were more likely to end up with women who were their equals. She explained this as a logical outcome in gender stratified workplaces. Among the many aspects of this study that are noteworthy is that the dataset Beth produced included information from almost 300 lesbian women—an impressive sample today, but extraordinary at that time. And studies on lesbians were very rare, particularly in sociology.

In one of her first articles published from this study, Beth reports on her impressive sample of lesbian and heterosexual identifying women with a survey she sent out by mail. In that article, decades before #MeToo, she wasn’t surprised to find that women experienced numerous unwanted physical and sexual experiences at work. But Beth Schneider helped to identify the “recognition problem” wherein fewer women were willing to label the unwanted behavior “sexual harassment.” It’s a problem that continues to be examined today. A key finding in that portion of her research was that lesbian women were more willing than straight women to recognize and label sexual harassment as such.

I know this because I re-read Beth’s scholarship when I nominated her for the Simon and Gagnon Lifetime Achievement Award. But I decided to dive in the deep end after I found a copy of the job talk poster from when she came to our campus as a PhD candidate.Beth gave her job talk at UCSB 16 days before I was born, on March 17, 1981. I mention this specifically because anyone reading this essay who is a scholar among my generation or younger entered this field on very different footing. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we entered this field with an identifiable subfield to stand on in the first place. And a great deal of this is due to feminist scholars of sexualities like Beth. Beth was not alone. Indeed, there is a small group of scholars of her generation who had a Beth Schneider Effect of their own – on slightly different areas and among slightly different communities (with a heavy amount of overlap I’d guess). But here, I want to consider the Beth Schneider Effect Beth has had on the sociology of sexualities.

To date, there is little agreement on precisely how to measure a Beth Schneider Effect. We might consider citation records, reprints, article downloads, or presence on course syllabi. And while all of these measure influence, and Beth has notable achievements on each, none of these measures get at what I mean. None of those measures illustrate an individual scholar’s ability to create more seats at the table, or assemble the table in the first place. And it’s precisely that quality of Beth’s work in this field on which I reflect here.

I’m a sociologist, so it’s easiest for me to think through a puzzle like this with a bit of data. And it’s certainly not a random sample of data I’ll present here, but in an attempt to settle scholarly disputes over measuring Beth Schneider Effects that is perhaps in vain, I want to present some data that shapes one of the first ways I came to know Beth Schneider’s name and work. She served as the third Editor of Gender & Society. When I came out to give a job talk at UCSB, I looked back through the issues that came out under her tenure and noted the incredibly influential work published during her tenure. [A note: I realize Gender & Society is not a sexualities journal, but a silly thing like that would never have stopped Beth.]This paragraph above is the conclusion to Beth’s first Editor’s Note. These notes range from 2-3 pages and they offer some insight into some of Beth’s vision for the journal and field. While Beth edited Gender & Society, she published 16 Editor’s Notes. Collectively, they are approximately two Gender & Society article’s worth of text – 15,912 words. I read all of them preparing for a presentation I gave on her work and influence. They’re beautifully written, and if you don’t know Beth, they’re a lovely introduction. Listen to the beginning of her first Editor’s Note:

“It is mid-September in Santa Barbara, California. A hummingbird is feasting at the Mexican sage, and the watermelon, cantaloupe, and peppers still grow in our garden... This year I am teaching two new courses (“Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual People of Color” and “Feminist Politics and Policy”) and transforming two others (“Les­bian and Gay Communities” and “Contemporary Women’s Movements”). Prepar­ing the materials for these courses has made me hunger for more systematic data collection on the undocumented activities of grassroots and community organiza­tions and more sustained theorizing about the interconnections of the relations of sexuality, gender, race, and class… These courses reflect the complicated intellectual ground on which I currently stand, a conflicted place torn between the problematics and debates in feminist scholarship and those of queer theorizing and lesbian and gay politics. No doubt, some of these concerns will be addressed over the next several years in Gender & Society.” (HERE: 6)

Whether or not that last bit was meant as invitation or mandate, Beth was right. Many of these concerns were addressed over the next several years and continue to provoke scholarship today. And Beth played a crucial role in helping create a home for that scholarship. Indeed, Beth served as Chair of the Sexualities section of the American Sociological Association twice (2001-2002 and again in 2009-2012), was a member of the Editorial Board of Sexualities for a decade of her career, and mentored an impressive collection of feminist scholars who study sexualities and have gone on to have Beth Schneider Effects of their own as well. Her work as Editor of Gender & Society is only one piece of her impressive career. I focus on it here because it helps me to neatly illustrate the point I want to make about how much gratitude we all owe Beth Schneider.

When Beth edited Gender & Society, she encouraged people to call the editorial office at UCSB with questions and concerns in her Editor’s Notes. Can you imagine? Manuscript submissions came in by snail mail to the journal, where they were filed, mailed out to reviewers, mailed back to the editor’s office, reviewed, and sent back by snail mail back to authors. People read the hard copy of the journal, or thumbed through the volumes bound together in university library stacks. Today, Gender & Society dedicates fewer pages to Editor’s Notes. But when Beth was editing and scholars were more apt to read the journal cover to cover, Editor’s Notes helped provide some of the connective tissue out of which “the field” took shape. This provided editors a chance to tell readers about the types of work being submitted, to push scholars to engage with new work and ideas, to reflect on feminist issues of the day, and more. Beth did all of this and more. For instance, Beth encouraged more work on sexualities as well as work pursuing an intersectional perspective. And she deliberated publicly on how to encourage scholars to engage with these ideas. In one Note, she wrote,

“I [am] still… pondering how to encourage authors to take seriously what I believe to be a central feature of feminist sociology: the recognition of the complex relations of race, class, gender, and sexuality and how they shape every study undertaken, no matter what the research subject, methodological approach, or theoretical perspective…. I want to move toward a deliberate consciousness of these relations and processes on the part of our contributors, such that the analyses of their own findings explicitly explore and discuss these potentially challenging implications. As a reminder, no lesbian need be present to consider structure and relations of heterosexuality, and race is present in any study of white women.” (HERE: 365)

Beth consistently pushed scholars to consider sexuality as an integral part of the initial holy trinity of intersectionality: race, class, and gender. And whilst celebrating scholarship coming out in these issues, she also challenged some and pushed scholars to strive for more and called for a feminism that was explicitly and unabashedly anti-racist. In another Note, she wrote:

“Some [authors] are more attentive to the question of how to make sense of the question of these [intersecting] inequalities even in work not intended to tackle this question directly. The embeddedness of class and class relations seems easier to grapple with than race and race relations in most of these contributions, and this pattern generalized over time raises questions for me about how race continues to be taken for granted in research on, and/or by, white women.” (HERE: 679)

Many of these issues and others raised consistently and boldly by Beth are issues that remain in feminist scholarship today. This work helps to provide a sense of some of what I have come to understand as Beth’s mission as Editor, a mission that has guided her work and influence in the field more broadly as well.

All of this helps me to demonstrate that Beth consistently asked for more sexualities scholarship and wanted that work to be explicitly intersectional. But, to really document a Beth Schneider Effect, we ought to properly document it. To continue using Gender & Society as just one metric, I wanted to see if I could demonstrate some of what I thought might be true. So, I counted and coded all of the articles and research reports published in Gender & Society between the first issue in 1987 and 2020. And I also counted the number of those articles and reports that might legitimately be called “sexualities scholarship” really broadly defined (below). The gray columns illustrate numbers of articles and reports published, and the black columns visualize the number of those articles and reports that are centrally about sexuality/ies. This period shaded in purple illustrates Beth Schneider’s term as Editor.A year prior to Beth taking over, Sage asked Gender & Society to move from 4 issues a year to 6. So, the work of editing the journal increased a bit as the journal provided more space for more work because of the journal’s fast success. Right in the middle of Beth’s editorship, Sage also started publishing Sexualities, an international interdisciplinary journal dedicated to publishing sexualities scholarship.  

In fact, one of the early articles in Gender & Society on sexuality was Beth’s. In 1991, she published her important article in the journal on workplace sexual assault. Prior to her term as Editor, Beth got some early practice guest editing a special issue in 1994 on “Sexual Identities and Communities.” More articles were published in G&S on sexuality that year than any prior because of that special issue. Additionally, about a decade after her term as Editor, having clearly not had enough, Beth and Jane Ward (one of her graduate students who also served as a Managing Editor at Gender & Society while in graduate school) came back to guest edit a second special issue on “heteronormativity and sexualities.” And all of this work created a home for scholarship that has gone on to be incredibly influential.

Those data also give us the information to consider the proportion of work published on sexualities in one journal over time (see below). There is a bit of noise in these data. You can vaguely decipher an upward trend, but year-to-year, the data fluctuate; they’re not perfectly linear. And among the reasons they’re not linear, I’m arguing, is Beth Schneider. And herein lies one small piece of evidence for the Beth Schneider Effect she has had on our field.The trend line on the figure above helps to visualize the bi-modal shape of the trend I’m documenting here. There are two peaks. The first begins when Beth published her first article in Gender & Society, continues to rise with her first guest edited issue, and is sustained during her tenure as Editor. The second appears to have been precipitated directly by Jane Ward and Beth’s subsequent guest editorship and special issue. The work in these articles does not necessarily cite Beth Schneider. It wouldn’t show up on many traditional metrics of scholarly influence. But this is a kind of feminist scholarly influence to which I think more scholars ought to aspire.

In addition to her many accolades as a scholar, teacher, and mentor, this is what I mean when I say Beth has had a “Beth Schneider Effect” on our field. No matter who you are or what you study, teach, or learn in sociology, if it has to do with sexualities, this woman helped to build an academic subfield big enough for you to find a seat at the table, and scholarly homes in which that work might be better appreciated. Sociology is a better place for having Beth among us.

Dr. Beth Schneider as an Assistant Professor at UCSB, circa 1986.


NOTE: This essay began as a talk I gave at Beth’s invitation at the American Sociological Association conference in August of 2019 on a panel celebrating Beth Schneider’s work in honor of her receiving the Simon and Gagnon Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sexualities Section of ASA. Since that presentation, I’ve wanted to do something more with this and decided to edit it to share as a public essay celebrating Beth’s work and legacy.

Tristan Bridges is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Cross-posted from Office Hours with Dr. Horror: Horror with a Sociological Twist

Horror is a genre that often feels as though it is not for queer people. When most people think of horror, they imagine big men like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers slicing and dicing young women to literal pieces as the ‘male gaze’ of the camera cuts them into figurative pieces—reducing them into screenshots of ‘tits and ass’ that are meant to sexually titillate a fan base that is presumed (wrongly) to be comprised predominantly of straight men. 

When queerness emerges in horror narratives it is often subtextual, and that subtext is frequently very homophobic. As early as the 1970s, gay film critics like Vito Russo noted how the monsters in horror movies were often coded as queer—from the lesbian vampires of films like the unsubtly named Vampyros Lesbos to the use of gender nonconformity to signal psychosis in slashers. The latter is a particularly insidious coding. Perhaps the most (in)famous of examples of it are Norman Bates’ and his embodiment of “Mother” in Psycho and Buffalo Bill’s quest to make a woman skin suit in the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs. (For an astronomically less high-brow version of this toxic trope, check out the dumpster-fire that is 1983’s Sleepaway Camp, where gay dads and forced gender reassignment by a crazy aunt turn a young child into a vicious murderer. It must be seen to be believed.) 

However, this transphobic trope is hardly a thing of the past.  For example, the much maligned 2006 Black Christmas remake made the questionable choice of casting a man to play the female killer, Agnes. An even more recent and problematic use of this trope can be found in the polarizing Incident in a Ghostland (2018)—a film which also had a side dose of ableism as the protagonists were raped and tortured by two escaped mental patients (one played by a cisgender man in a dress, the other a man with a developmental disability who likes to play with living ‘dolls’). And it’s not only in trashy exploitation flicks were this trope is found. For example, the otherwise exceptional film, The Clovehitch Killer (2018), included a scene where the killer put on women’s lingerie for no reason other than presumably to ‘shock’ and ‘appall’ the audience. The message in these films is clear—same-gender attraction and (implicitly) transgender bodies are treated as threats to the nuclear family and the American ‘way of life.’ 

When queerness is more directly included in films, it’s often found, not in fully actualized LGBTQ+ characters, but rather in the casual homophobia of its straight cast. Part of the trials and tribulations of being a LGBTQ+ horror fan is cringing through these moments—from realizing that horror legend Wes Craven thought his straight female characters in Last House on the Left (1972) would be almost as disturbed to be forced to kiss one another as by the brutal rapes they endured later to having to listen to countless ‘F-bombs’ as part of (straight) male homosocial bonding. (The F-word was so ubiquitous the 80s children’s horror film, Monster Squad, that I found the film utterly unwatchable when I tried to view it recently.) However, unlike the continued demonization of trans people, this form of homophobia seems to have fallen off in recent years. For instance, when Kelly Rowland’s character called Freddy a “f****t” in Freddy vs. Jason (2003) it was so controversial that the cast and crew apologized for it in each of the franchises’ definitive documentaries, Never Sleep Again (2010) and Crystal Lake Memories (2013). Still, for LGBTQ+ people, navigating the classics often means dealing with homophobic content that clearly says, “this is not for you.” 

The genre has certainly changed enormously over time. 80s slashers like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street and 90s teen horror flicks like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer ultimately gave way to the “torture-porn” period of the early 2000’s (e.g., SawHostel, and anything Rob Zombie directed), which was swiftly dethroned by recent supernatural franchises like Paranormal Activity and The Conjuring. Despite these revolutions in the genre, very little has arguably changed for LGBTQ+ fans of studio films. Although contemporary Hollywood horror blockbusters have perhaps seemed less visibly intolerant of LGBTQ+ folks in recent years, they have not truly become inclusive of them. However, things have begun to change within the industry and the broader fandom—and these changes have important implications for queer horror.

Let’s start with the industry. Horror has always had a precarious position in Hollywood. Despite the success of “Universal Monsters” films like DraculaThe Wolfman, and The Mummy, the genre was often a capital-P ‘Problem’ for studios in earlier years. Horror films were a frequent target of censorship in the U.S. Similar trends existed abroad in the UK where the creation of the now notorious 72-film “Video Nasty” list resulted in classic horror films like The Evil Dead, Cannibal Holocaust, and Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy being literally prosecuted and denied circulation in the country. Watch any documentary about horror series made in the 1970s and 1980s, and you get a sense of how viciously ratings boards like the MPAA policed horror—forcing directors to cut violence if they wanted to avoid the dreaded X Rating that would make a film unmarketable anywhere except grimy urban grindhouse theaters and places that screened pornography. 

There was never going to be space for explicitly queer content in studio films that could barely get their violence past these watchdog organizations. Even heterosexual sex only made it in when those engaging in it were suitably punished for doing so and ‘the final girl’ was rewarded for her virtue. And studio films have not gotten much more risk adverse since then; they want to turn a profit, and the industry consensus still seems to be that queer-centered cinema can’t sell to a mainstream audiences—the series of ‘blink and you miss it’ moments of representation in recent non-horror Blockbusters like Beauty & the BeastStar Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and Avengers: Endgame and the Blumhouse horror comedy, Happy Death Day (2017), being the exceptions that prove the rule.

But fortunately, studio films aren’t the only game in town anymore. Independent cinema has exploded in recent years
as circulation outside the studio’s wide release system has become
increasingly cost-effective. As a result, it’s become more possible to
reach (and make money from) audiences like LGBTQ+ people who were
previously perceived as too niche to be worthwhile. This contributed to a
boom of ‘new queer cinema’ offerings in the arthouse circuit starting in the 1990s, bringing LGBTQ+ life to the silver screen at an unprecedented rate.

The success of independent film has been expedited by the development of online streaming services that have changed the way we think about filmmaking and distribution. An important consequence of this is that filmmakers and screenwriters from underrepresented communities, including LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color, have received new opportunities to create art that would have been all but impossible under the old studio system. Netflix and Amazon, of course, have been a big driver of this trend, funding and buying the rights to a treasure trove of independent horror movies. In addition to this, Hulu’s Into the Dark series has helped up-and-coming directors from a variety of backgrounds make films. The all-horror streaming service, Shudder, has also made a point to curate catalogs of films by and for communities that are underrepresented in the genre; for example, current collections, include “Queer Horror,” “Horror Noire” (named after their excellent documentary on Black people’s impact on horror), and “A Woman’s Touch.” Innovation in technology has thus contributed to innovation in culture.

All of this has happened on the backdrop changes in the horror fandom itself. As LGBTQ+ communities have become more visible in society, we have become more visible in horror communities as well. Whereas ‘horror fandom’ was once centralized in white straight male-created magazines like Fangoria or websites like Bloody Disgusting, horror criticism has become more democratized in the podcast era. If you want to hear queer takes on horror, there are numerous podcasts you can follow now. (Some of my favorites are Attack of the QueerwolfHorror QueersGaylords of Darkness, and Double A Horror Highway—the first two being amplified and sponsored by Blumhouse and Bloody Disgusting respectively.) Podcasts like these have given LGBTQ+ folks a voice in horror that they previously lacked, providing them with a platform to highlight queer influences in film, read popular films through a queer lens, and defend genre entries that have been often overlooked and maligned by straight audiences. 

These new voices have had their critics, of course. We can see some of that backlash in community battles over the future of the genre, as fandom superstars like film critic Joe Bob Briggs have recently come under fire for misogyny, racism, and homophobia. In response, many straight, white, and male fans have reacted negatively to what they perceive as the ‘infiltration of political correctness’ into their media. Still, it’s clear that the voices of people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ folks are now a force to be reckoned with. To paraphrase and reclaim the immortal words of Glenn Close in (the deeply problematic) film Fatal Attraction (1987), “We’re not going to be ignored, Joe Bob!” 

In the spirit of not being ignored, and in honor of Pride month, I’ve put together a list of queer horror movies that I think speak to the profound influence of LGBTQ+ people in horror—from older films with queer readings (e.g., RopeRebecca, and The Haunting), to accidental gay movies like Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (whose journey to queer cult status was recently explored in the documentary, Scream Queen), to movies made by people you may not have known were gay (e.g., FrankensteinThe Bride of FrankensteinHellraiser, and Teeth), to amazing horror films with well-rounded LGBTQ+ characters (e.g., Daughters of DarknessThe Handmaiden, and The Perfection), to films that have been reclaimed and revaluated by LGBTQ+ people (e.g., Jennifer’s Body), to content that was created specifically for queer people (e.g., Knife + HeartLyleHellbent, and Killer Unicorn). If you’re interested in learning more about these films and what they’ve contributed to the genre, I’ll be releasing more in-depth overviews throughout the final weeks of June. You can follow me on Twitter @drhorrorphd for updates on these releases.

Happy (and spooky) Pride everyone!

Jaime Hartless received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Virginia in 2019, and is an incoming Assistant Professor at SUNY Farmingdale. When she is not writing for her new blog, Office Hours with Doctor Horror, she studies identity politics and inequality in LGBTQ+ and feminist spaces, including gay bars and social justice organizations.

A new diaper commercial caught our eye this week.

The Pampers Pure ad opens with John Legend changing his daughter’s diaper, smiling and singing a song. A toy piano accompaniment joins in as other dads are seen wrangling toddlers and tenderly changing diapers. The lyrics rhyme their children’s “stinky booty” with dad’s “diaper duty.” Beatboxing replaces one dad’s lyrics. Each dad is expressing love and having fun during this everyday act of care for their baby. The commercial ends with a message from Pampers, thanking fathers for “making every moment special.” In a variation of this ad, as Legend sings, the camera pans out to reveal a chorus of 10 more singing dads with infants strapped to their chests—a not-so-subtle metaphor for the fanfare and social applause men receive for merely changing a diaper.

Watching this commercial reminded us of a series of diaper ads in 2012 that made headlines for invoking a very different message about fatherhood. Huggies had promised to put their product through the “toughest test imaginable” by leaving fathers alone with their babies for five whole days. In one TV spot, upbeat music plays while moms literally hand over babies to their fathers. The dads struggle to entertain, feed, and keep their babies clean. Changing diapers causes looks of befuddlement, intimidation, and disgust.

Each of these ads conveys different meanings of fatherhood and men’s relationships to their children, yet both are consistent with conventional meanings of gender and family. The Huggies ad frames fathers as babysitters to their own children, positioning women as primary parents who are rarely given a day off. The ad also pokes fun at fathers as clueless, comical, bumbling oafs when it comes to the most basic care needs of their children. When it was released, the Huggies ad received swift backlash from fathers groups who wanted their contributions to family labor recognized and taken seriously. Trying to sell diapers as so good that they even pass the “dad test” seriously missed that mark.

John Legend’s Pampers Care commercial, by contrast, conveys fathers as competently and casually caring for their children’s diaper needs. Dads in Pampers’ universe are equal partners who share diaper duty with their off-screen wives. But dads’ diaper duty remains active, fun, and silly. Dads are shown tickling their children; holding their children’s feet; kicking their legs to the tune; and pulling a toddler across the bed as he tries to crawl away. A similar diaper ad for this year’s Super Bowl from the Honest Company noted that it was “the only day a year parents are hoping for a blowout #GoRams.” As a dad bounced a blonde-headed toddler on his lap while making funny cheering sounds, the ad’s tagline promised that the new Honest diaper “survives all his wiggles & jiggles.”

Now consider yet another diaper commercial, this one for Pampers Swaddlers, marketed as the softest diapers available of the Pampers line. A doctor places a tiny, crying newborn on her astonished mother’s bare chest immediately after delivery as the mother embraces the vulnerable baby. The loving, feminine voiceover proclaims, “From the first loving touch, everything that touches your baby should be this comforting.” Their product is “the #1 choice of hospitals,” “two times softer,” and “wraps your baby in our most premium protection.”

The gendered messages are clear: Diapers must merely “survive” fathering, but they need to reflect the depth of motherly love. Diapers ads are selling the idea that parents should buy the best diapers so moms can provide the most comfort and best care for their babies—almost as an extension of the maternal body itself—and, you know, just in case Dad needs to “babysit” and things get rowdy.

At first glance, the diaper commercials targeting men signal how far we’ve come in making the gendered division of early childcare labor more equal. We should expect to see more commercials like this as men take on a greater share of diapering and other duties. But dad-focused diaper ads show diapering as fun play rather than part of the more laborious aspects of early childcare. The reality is that women deal with most of the figurative and literal shit of childrearing.

And the diapers they need to do so aren’t cheap. The average monthly diaper bill for one kid runs close to $80, more than 11 hours pay for a minimum-wage job. This is a major reason why one in three mothers in the United States struggle with diaper need, lacking enough diapers to keep a baby dry, comfortable, and healthy. It’s also why many of those mothers must use what are called “diaper-stretching” strategies to get diapers to last longer. Creating makeshift diapers out of paper towels, t-shirts, and duct tape, hanging wet diapers to dry for reuse, and urging kids not to drink that extra cup of water or milk are all things mothers across the country are doing to diaper their children.

Diapering is not just gendered; it reflects vast and often hidden economic inequalities that make providing the basic essentials of early childcare nearly impossible for poor parents—especially mothers in poverty. Mothers are not only doing the bulk of physical diaper labor required for wiping, cleaning, and fastening. They are also performing most of the mental and emotional labor when families must save, sacrifice, and innovate to stretch limited diaper supplies.

Knowing that provides more context to those dads play/mothers care diaper ad messages. If soft, dry diapers are a reflection of maternal love, then what message does that send to poor mothers who can’t afford enough diapers to keep their children comfortable? What are we selling to those women who do whatever they can, even going without food for themselves, to ensure their children have diapers as soft as a tender motherly touch? Is it any wonder that diaper need is one of the strongest predictors of maternal stress, anxiety, and depression? Perhaps we could use more diaper ads that don’t make women feel that they fail as parents when they can’t afford diapers that prove a mother’s love.

Diapering dads is an important cultural message we all need to see and hear. And many fathers are doing their fair share. But we need to dispose of the idea that to make diapering seem manly, it needs to be fun, a game, or a way Dad gives Mom an occasional “break” from the kids. The “toughest test imaginable” for diapers is not fathers’ presumed incompetence regarding childcare. It’s whether we can seriously rethink the gender stereotypes of diapering and care labor more generally. We’ll pass this test when mothers no longer do most of the shitty work of diapering and managing diaper need.

Does it matter how I identify my gender and sexuality? This question can spark contentious debate. While reading Unbound: Transgender Men and the Remaking of Identity by Arlene Stein, I began to think more deeply about my lesbian identity. I’ve been contemplating a lot lately about whether I still identify with the label “lesbian.” Am I a lesbian? Am I queer? Am I trans*?

A little background about me… After overcoming years of internalized homophobia from my upbringing in rural South Carolina, I came to terms with my lesbian identity in the fall of 2003, my first-year of college. I was randomly assigned a roommate who strongly identified as a lesbian woman. She came out in high school, despite being raised in a Southern Baptist family in Georgia. She was forced to attend “Love Won Out”—an ex-gay ministry—at her church, while her lesbian friends protested outside. Following high school, she received academic and athletic scholarships to a private Christian college in South Carolina. She left for college with a threat from her family to “not mess up”—i.e. be a lesbian. Her family hoped that the religious environment of the school would stifle her ability to find a partner, as they continued to pray the gay away. Living with her, it only took a little over a month for me to realize that my attraction to women was the thing that made me feel so different growing up in my small town.

While my college roommate and long-time friend remains heavily embedded in the lesbian community, I feel I lost that connection somewhere along the way. Since we dated, her other long-term relationships have been with older women who are well connected in the lesbian scene and what I would call second-wave lesbian feminism. I, on the other hand, ended up dating mainly bisexual women or women who had spent the majority of their lives in relationships with men. I completed my Ph.D. in sociology and started studying trans* men and non-binary identities. And during my graduate education, I began to identity as a genderqueer lesbian. This is confusing to many people, because I no longer identify as a woman, however, I identify as a lesbian. By classic definition, a lesbian is a woman attracted to other women.

I came of age during the shift from the butch/femme lesbian culture to the growing queer movement. Stein explains that in the early 1990s, we start to see the conversation change. The term transgender begins to take the place of transsexual, moving those who dare to challenge the binary gender system from “mentally ill patients” to “empowered people.” I also came of age at the end of the lesbian bar scene. After graduating from undergrad in 2007, I was able to enjoy a few years of finding myself in a couple of the remaining lesbian bars in Columbia, South Carolina. These bars have all since disappeared, much like the butch lesbian. Stein argues the lesbian bar was “driven out by gentrification, the mainstreaming of gay and lesbian culture, and the uncoupling of lesbianism and feminism.” Today, only a few lesbian bars remain in the United States.

After reading Unbound, specifically the chapter entitled, “Last Butch Standing,” I began to wonder where I fit into this generational divide. Stein discusses the disappearance of the lesbian butch. She shares quotes from older butch lesbians lamenting this disappearance. The idea that butch lesbians are all now becoming trans* men seems to be a visceral fear among this earlier generation of lesbians, butch and femme alike. In the 1970s and early 1980s, radical lesbian feminists like Audre Lorde and Monique Wittig reclaimed lesbian as a political statement. They linked their political feminist ideals with their lesbian sexuality. To in any way associate with men in the power structure of the day was to hand over your power. Somewhere along the way, the link between lesbianism and feminism became muddled. Trans* rights and queer movements began to shift. I’m in no way arguing this is a bad shift. Rather, I’m wondering where did the lesbian go during this shift? Stein says, “Butches still exist, of course,” but the disappearance of the lesbian bar makes them hard to find.

Stein poses the question, “Are butches and trans men fundamentally different groups of people?” My research, along with Stein and Henry Rubin supports the idea that many trans* men today would have once identified as butch lesbians, most before they knew being transgender was an option. In Rubin’s 2003 book, Self-Made Men, he argues that the difference between butch lesbians and trans* men is a thin and changing line. And, while I agree with Stein in much of her argument in Unbound, I do not agree that “transgender is the hot new thing—which means that younger people are as likely to question their gender today as their sexuality.” Transgender is in no way new, as Stein clearly shows in her book, and should never be spoken of as a trend. The fact that trans* people now have the right to exist and live as they feel comfortable is testament to the power of social movements, including feminism, gay and lesbian civil rights, queer rights, and trans* rights.

This leads me to today, living in between the generation of radical lesbian feminism/the butch/femme lesbian subculture, shifts in the acknowledgement and acceptance of trans* people, and the queering of the gender binary more generally. Where do I fit in? I really don’t even know what generation I belong to any more. Apparently, millennials no longer like the word “lesbian” or identify with this label. Mary Grace Lewis, recently mourned this fact in her Advocate article, “‘Lesbian’ Isn’t a Dirty Word and More Millennials Need to Use It.” She argues that millennials distancing themselves from the label lesbian is largely due to the poor representation of lesbians in the media. Her argument closely resembles the much more thorough analysis of female masculinity by Jack (then Judith) Halberstam in his 1998 book, Female Masculinity. Halberstam clearly shows how female masculinity has always been discouraged and pushed to the margins. Why has lesbian become a dirty word to younger generations? Millennials question everything and a lot of them are queering most things. Instead of saying “Just use the word,” we have to figure out a way to fix our image problem.

So, here’s what I know: I am not discouraged by the rise of the transgender or queer movements. In fact, I am ecstatic about this! I do not agree with some second-wave feminists who feel the growing number of trans* men seeking transition is a threat against women or feminism. I wholeheartedly believe that trans* women must be welcomed into women’s spaces and feminism with open arms. The idea that some feminists would exclude others—what some have referred to as TERFs or trans exclusionary radical feminists—goes against everything I believe about feminism. Feminists have fought long and hard, and will continue to fight, so that women, and humans, have the right to control their own bodies. That is all that trans* people are asking for. To be pro-choice on abortion but anti-choice against trans* gender affirmation is contradictory and offensive. We have to distance ourselves from TERFs, we have to make the gay and lesbian civil rights movement not just a white and privileged movement, we have to strive for better representation in media, and we have to leave our comfy couches and create lesbian spaces again.

So, how will I choose to identify? For now, I’m choosing lesbian! Lesbian has a powerful history and we stand on the shoulders of butch lesbians before us, like Esther Newton. I’m also choosing genderqueer. I cherish my history as a woman and the history of the women who fought before me so that I have the ability to choose to spend my day writing this essay, rather than cleaning my dirty house. Further, as a genderqueer lesbian, I choose to leave my identity open to adjustment. I may have top-surgery when I can afford it, but that doesn’t make me more or less of a lesbian. I choose to inhabit this liminal space in between woman and man, I choose to be butch, I choose to challenge the gender binary, even though that can be difficult at times.

For the millennials out there, you do not need to use any word that does not fit you. Lesbian can be a powerful and meaningful identity if you choose it, but if you do not, I accept you as you are. For the older lesbians out there, I respect you and hope that we can create lesbian spaces again. Your guidance and wisdom are needed for the next generation. So, if you’re a rich older lesbian, spend some of that money to create some new lesbian spaces for us! Maybe this time we could have windows? Maybe a nice patio—us butches can help you build it! And if you want to get crazy, us millennials love a good wine list!


Baker A. Rogers is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Georgia Southern University. Their research and teaching focus on inequality, specifically examining the intersections of gender, sexuality, and religion. Their work is published in Gender & Society, SexualitiesReview of Religious Research, and Feminist Teacher.

What do Louis Farrakhan, George H. W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They are examples of the strange political bedfellows who support separate, publicly funded schools for black boys.

As a public school graduate and one of the few black women faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I know what discrimination in the classroom looks like. So, when I first heard about the effort to establish all-black male schools (ABMSs), I was relieved that school districts were finally listening to anti-racist activists’ assertion that structural racism in schools is unacceptable. In other words, I situated the push to open ABMSs within black people’s well-established understanding of the classroom as a place for resisting racism. To this end, proponents of the forty-plus ABMSs established since 1991 rightly argue that: black urban schools are under-resourced relative to white suburban ones; traditional public schools utilize racist curricula; black students are disciplined more harshly than white students, and black teachers are under-represented in the nation’s schools.

At the same time, the anti-feminist ethos sometimes present in #Black Lives Matter and other expressions of black politics is also evident in conversations about ABMSs. It is unsurprising then that my initial optimism about ABMSs soon turned to concern. I recognized that despite their best intentions, some advocates of ABMSs minimize the degree of black girls’ own oppression in school. Equally disturbing is many ABMS supporters’ assumption that black schoolboys underperform because they are distracted by black girls. This claim reproduces harmful images of black women as “jezebels” who sexually corrupt the men in their midst.

There is much to learn from the movement to open ABMSs. One lesson is that intersectionality – the analytical framework pioneered by black feminists to illuminate how racial, gendered, and other systems of power are mutually reinforcing – can be used to advance multiple political agendas, including anti-feminist ones.  On the one hand, advocates of AMBSs embrace intersectionality when they assume that black boys underachieve not only because they are black in racist schools but also because they are black boys in white, female-dominated classrooms. This intersectional logic highlights black boys’ experience of gender-specific racism or the fact that the nation’s teachers, most of whom are white women, suspend black boys at higher rates than other students, including black girls. On the other hand, numerous advocates of ABMSs assume that black boys underachieve because white women teachers create racist, “feminized” classrooms at odds with these boys’ “naturally” aggressive learning style. This latter intersectional approach obscures research which indicates that biology does not automatically make boys tactile learners and girls oral learners. Most significantly, ignoring these data leads far too many supporters of ABMSs to overlook the needs and aptitudes of black children, like highly verbal black boys, who defy stereotypical gender roles.

So where does the reality that the push for ABMSs resists racial inequality but sometimes relies on gender inequality leave those of us committed to challenging intersecting inequalities in our personal, activist, and/or professional lives? I believe that supporters and critics of AMBSs can form politically progressive coalitions. This might seem like an unrealistic goal given that advocates of ABMSs sometimes reject black feminist criticism of their efforts. Indeed, black feminists who express concerns about these schools have heard that we are “colluding with the enemy” or giving racist whites the opportunity to condemn ABMSs and, in turn, stifle black boys’ academic prospects. It is also true, however, that while many proponents of ABMSs conceptualize black children’s oppression in ways that threaten bridge-building, other advocates recognize that the sometimes sexist and heterosexist rhetoric in favor of these schools harms both black boys and black girls.

Building on this finding requires all participants in the debate about ABMSs to embrace a particular type of educational advocacy – one which recognizes that public schools are key to addressing oppression and that black children are forced to learn in some of the worst public schools. Putting this kind of nuanced advocacy into practice means using accessible, community-based spaces to challenge our assumptions about how and why black children are oppressed in school. It also means defining “good” public schools as those which foster all black children’s capacity for self-determination and self-actualization in the classroom, and beyond.


Keisha Lindsay, PhD is an associate professor of gender and women’s studies and political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research and teaching interests include black feminist theories, black masculinities, and gender-based politics in the African diaspora. She is the author of In a Classroom of Their Own: The Intersection of Race and Feminist Politics in All-Black Male Schools (University of Illinois Press 2018).

You don’t know me, but you likely know of me. I’m the female professor who dared to run a self-esteem study requesting photographic evidence confirming correct method and measure of penis size.

Within a week of launch, a website called The College Fix ran a misleading story written by a college freshman describing my study. Oh, and they gave it an inflammatory click-bait headline.

In less than 24 hours, national and international news outlets picked up the story. Most just ran the original story—headline and all—without confirming its claims. One source even added in some new, provocative inaccuracies, claiming I wanted my students to send me “dick pics.” Minimum age to participate was 22 years old, and I did no local or university recruitment. However, even the accurate coverage chose headlines suggesting I wanted “dick pics” “sent” to me; so men across the country sent me selfies via email. (The study requested pictures showing a specific method of measure submitted only through the survey portal.) Other people jumped to assumptions about my motives and purposes without even reading any of my previous work or learning much about the actual study.

As soon as the first story appeared, my inbox overflowed. I fielded 500 emails daily. Most of the emails were supportive and from wanna-be participants. However, many messages were hate mail. Each hater sent multiple emails. The first message came from a Michigan man (he went to my academia.edu page, which provided his location)—he opened his email by calling me a “feral whore.” He sent 30 emails in total, each with similarly abusive language. He called me a “fat pig,” or some variation, in most of those emails. He even claimed that I was “so fat only N—–s would” have sex with me. The racism of misogyny was common.

I reported this hate mail to campus IT Security, who sent me instructions on blocking the emails. This only sent them to junk mail, though, which I had to check regularly for potential participant emails.

Another guy sent 15, very long emails the first day. He denigrated my training—both where I trained and the fact that my degrees are all in different fields (common among sociologists)—and he told me this was a stupid mistake for someone “starting her career.” I’m three years into my assistant professor position.

All of the men who sent abusive emails swore to contact Missouri State University administrators and state legislators to demand they fire me. I’m a sex researcher, and accustomed to upset with my work. However, the level of vitriol from each hater far exceeded my previous experiences.

The phone rang all day. I took it off the hook. Day one there were 19 messages. Most were hang-ups. The rest were either prank calls or abusive in their tone and accusations. One woman left a several minute message letting me know I am “disgusting.”

Although haters were generally unique in their responses, a common frustration among those sending hate was that I am a woman. Many literally wrote, “How dare you, a female professor, run a study like this.” Keep in mind, these pictures were clinical pictures, think medical textbook not titillating Playgirl images. When I responded with, “Why would you feel differently if I were a man?” I got no response. Another shared trait: they were all upset that I would suggest smaller men might feel badly about themselves, and assumed my purpose was to prove that correlation.

There is ample data demonstrating that for many men who perceive their penises are small, self-esteem is indeed an issue. How our bodies look and how we see them impacts how we feel about ourselves, and this is an important social and psychological issue. My study could have contributed to this existing body of knowledge that takes men’s bodies and feelings seriously, and it could have perhaps helped to shift methodology for penis size studies. Yet I had to cancel the study a week and a half into recruitment because we live in a world where the idea of a woman looking at “dick pics” is just too upsetting for people to permit. Important work about men and masculinity had to be shut down because of massive media misrepresentation and widespread sexist attitudes. That’s a loss for us all. I’ll go on with other studies. The news cycle will shift. But the hundreds of men who begged me not to close this study are still living with self-esteem issues due to perceived penis size. And no one is talking to them about it.


Alicia M. Walker, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Sociology at Missouri State University. Her research focuses on intimate sexual relationships, sexual behavior, and sexual identity.

Scholarly publications are not necessarily free from error. Researchers like Mark Regnerus have operational problems that skew their claims. Others publish with typos. And still others make mistakes in translating data to graphs, tables, or other infographics. Peer review can only catch so much, because reviewers don’t often have access to the full data set, at least not when dealing with qualitative data. Or, in the case of Regnerus’ Social Science Research publication, blinded reviewers overlook egregious errors in conceptualization and conflicts of interest in project funding (see here for a nuanced critique).

About a year ago, we both discovered an error in a 1976 research note published in the American Journal of Sociology that resulted in an Erratum in the journal’s May 2018 issue. The error appears in a really interesting article by Sociologist Dwight E. Robinson on shifts in men’s facial hair fashions over the course of 130 years in London. Robinson tracked representations of facial hair as a case study of fashion trends as measurable bits of culture. Comparing shifts in men’s facial hair to shifts in women’s skirt lengths, for example, he made claims that “men are just as subject to fashion’s influence as women” (here: 1133).

In the research note, Robinson calculated the relative frequencies of five different styles of men’s facial hair (clean shaven, moustaches, sideburns, moustache & sideburns, and full beards), and different combinations of these styles, from images published in the Illustrated London News between 1842 and 1972. This project shows dramatic shifts in configurations of men’s facial hair over the period studied, with a spike in different styles at different times but an overall decline in facial hair since the late 1800s. Robinson also reported on this shift in Harvard Business Review a year prior, in an article comparing this trend to still more cultural shifts in fashions.

Plotting his findings allowed Robinson to visualize this shift over time, and visualizations help to more readily appreciate the cyclical nature of cultural shifts in fashion (like changes in the popularity of baby names, for instance). They help make discernible something that might be otherwise difficult to appreciate. Below, we’ve stacked all the relative frequencies in a chart to display this shift (also in Sociology NOW, 3e, Chapter 4). It’s really an incredible change, and such a neat way to talk about shifts in fashion. Some fashions have short cycles (like styles of clothing, for instance), while fashions associated with other things (like popular baby names) have longer cycles. Facial hair fashions, according to Robinson’s research, appear to follow a fashion cycle more similar to baby names than to styles of clothing.

But… in the American Journal of Sociology article, there are a collection of errors in the Appendix table from which we collected these relative frequencies. These errors are reproduced in both the  AJS and Harvard Business Review. Robinson may not have realized these mistakes because he plotted shifts in facial hair styles on separate graphs both publications (see images below).

The graphs are produced from relative frequencies of a raw count of men’s facial hair styles in each year of published issues of the Illustrated London News. When we requested Robinson’s submission files from the American Journal of Sociology to consult when assessing the error, they no longer had them. This would have been in hard copy and that filling system, we were told, did not include his submission materials. We also tried to collect submission files from Harvard Business Review, which no longer has the files. Because of this, the Editorial Board at AJS decided they were unable to correct the errors in an erratum; they did agree to at least publish something stating that errors were indeed made. After all that investigation, we ended up with this Erratum:

This erratum is a bit non-committal. But it was what the journal was willing to print. Don’t get us wrong, these errors don’t have the same policy implications as the egregious Regnerus study that suggests children of gay parents don’t meet markers of success similar to kids’ of straight parents. We do feel, however, that the errors can and should be corrected with the available information.

Robinson’s errors appear to most likely be the result of mistakes make in calculating something simple: relative frequency. Because Robinson included all of the figures in the appendix, he allowed us to calculate these frequencies ourselves for verification. Journals should do this when they can, to make scholarly claims more transparent and to offer other scholars data that could be used in different ways, to perhaps answer different questions. Indeed, more journals are including data files as a part of the available materials for download, now that things are online. Below is the Appendix from the article published in the American Journal of Sociology.

The errors in the table (reproduced in the figures in both publications) are associated with the years: 1844, 1860, 1904, 1916, and 1959. In each case, the relative frequencies are miscalculated in the table.

  • 1844: The relative frequency of clean shaven should be 30%, not 47%.
  • 1860: The relative frequency of beards should be 40%, not 39%.
  • 1904: The relative frequencies of moustaches and beards should both be 34%, not 37% and 32% (respectively).
  • 1916: The relative frequencies of clean shaven and moustaches should be 34% and 65%, not 33% and 64% (respectively).
  • 1959: The relative frequencies of clean shaven and moustaches should be 78% and 22%, not 74% and 21% (respectively).

These errors do affect what the graphs look like. If they were corrected, we would see a slight rise in the popularity of representations of men with mustaches in the late 1950s. Now, is that a significant difference? Not really. Clearly, we went to more trouble here than necessary. But identifying (and correcting) research errors is as important to maintaining scholarly integrity as is conducting meticulous reviews of research before it’s published. Accountability is key to making sure we, as scholars, continue to understand research as a communal process that takes seriously the integrity of research, from the smallest details to the biggest biases.

At Girls Rock Camp, a week-long summer camp for girls and non-binary kids, volunteers plug instruments into amplifiers. Once “plugged in,” campers excitedly ask, “Is my amp on? Can I turn it up? How can I make it louder?” These campers, ages 9 through 17, know how to crank up the volume. They experiment with different sounds— leaning into the microphones, turning-up amp knobs, and yelling call-back chants into an imagined crowd: “Who rocks? GIRLS ROCK! Who rocks? GIRLS ROCK!”

As young people start to discover (and use) their voices, things can get LOUD. Carving out space for femme expression and empowerment, volunteers encourage campers to be unapologetic about their voices and their volume. Crashing cymbals and turned-up amps are the norm—punctuated with shrieks, sharp microphone feedback, and unexpected elbow-slides on the keyboard. There is no template for what we are doing here. Resistance is messy and wild and loud as hell.

And make no mistake, resistance is important at Girls Rock Camp. The program offers girls and non-binary kids opportunities to engage in self-expression. The camp prides itself on helping girls build self-esteem through music education, collaboration, and performance, as well as through empowerment and social justice workshops. In many ways, Girls Rock Camp is an enclave for social resistance. Campers are encouraged to push back against oppressive gender norms. They are asked to rethink binary assumptions about bodies and gender identities. And volunteers design workshops to teach and promote consent, acknowledge gender and racial privilege, and to challenge oppressive heterosexist systems that maintain inequality.

Girls Rock Camp, Campers Celebrate Their Performance

At Girls Rock Camp, one way campers challenge these systems is by coming together to write original song lyrics and performing these songs live in front of family and friends at a public venue. This can be a challenging exercise. Many of the campers have never written a collaborative piece before camp. This process, however, serves as an opportunity for young artists to address specific concerns in their everyday lives. One band, The Ultra-Violet Vixens, wrote lyrics that exclaim: “Femme isn’t fragile! All your expectations are vile. We won’t listen to what others say; we rock in our very own way!”

Vixens’ message challenges the assumption that femininity is inferior, or less valuable, than masculinity, and they declare that social expectations for girls are indeed “vile.” These lyrics contradict the popular notion that girls are expected to be quiet, weak, or docile. Speaking out against these stereotypes allow campers to constructively push back against oppressive gender norms. Refusing to believe that all girls need to be submissively similar, the band declares that they “rock in their very own way!”

During a House committee hearing in 2017, Representative Maxine Waters famously quipped that she was “reclaiming” her time. As I engage with young folks at Girls Rock Camp, I am reminded that, in many ways, they are reclaiming their voices. Girls are routinely told to sit still, to take up less space than boys, and to be quiet. Here— both on stage and during band practice—girls and non-binary kids are anything but quiet. They are plugged into amps and speakers and microphones—they are going to be heard.

Volunteer Holds Microphone While Camper Rocks

The voices of girls and non-binary kids are amplified through the organizational efforts of Girls Rock Camp, which helps campers learn how they might resist the structural and interpersonal barriers they encounter in their own lives. For both adult volunteers and campers, turning up the volume is a political act. Campers have space to express, loud and clear, that their words matter. Girls Rock Camp serves as a timely reminder that we need to amplify messages of change and resistance, and that young people need to be a part of this conversation. They too want to push back against structures that are designed to usher them off stage.


**All photos taken by Mitch Mitchell. Used with permission.

Trisha Crawshaw is a Ph.D. student in Sociology at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Her dissertation research focuses on gender, youth culture, and resistance narratives in the Girls Rock Camp community. This is her third year volunteering with Girls Rock Carbondale, a music education program that promotes self-esteem and expression for young girls and gender queer children throughout Southern Illinois.