Gender-bender festival

If Cian McDonald has children, he doesn’t know what they should call him.

“What will they call me? Mom? Dad? I’m transgender, the third gender. There are no words for that,” McDonald, who requested to be referred to as a “he” for this article, said.

A biological female who will soon have surgery to become a male, McDonald encounters many situations in which the English language restricts gender expression. Receiving questioning looks from strangers in a coffeehouse, filling out job applications that ask for the sex of the applicant, and writing in the third person leave McDonald frustrated with the lack of options language allows for describing McDonald’s gender.

This weekend, McDonald and several others will express themselves through art in the Surrender Your Gender Music and Film Festival at Intermedia Arts.

The festival resulted from a living room discussion led by self-described “queer acoustic/folk/punk” musician Sarah Bishop, a local whose own frustrations fueled initial plans for the festival. McDonald and Molly VanAvery responded to posters and word-of-mouth, and with Bishop coordinated the project through months of planning and fund-raising that included film screenings and music performances this past spring. The result is three days of music, film, discussion and workshops that will question gender roles in society.

McDonald, VanAvery, and Bishop brainstormed most of the activities. The youth workshop “The Day My Tonka Truck Wore a Tiara,” (September 8, 1 p.m.) for instance, was inspired by McDonald’s work as a nanny. The workshop teaches children about gender identity through songs, games and art projects.

“At 18 months I can see the kids begin to be gendered,” he said. “The way they begin to gender themselves and the people around them is so real and tangible. Hopefully [in this workshop] we will be able to see gender identity through the eyes of children.”

Other activities include a workshop called “Barbie, Where’d Your Boobs Go?” (September 8, 1 p.m.)-in which participants create their own Drag King Barbie after sanding off the dolls’ breasts and cutting off their feet- is run by Kate Zemanek, a Texan native who takes her exhibit/workshop to festivals and drag king conventions across the country.

The festival will also feature films and spoken word performances on Friday and Sunday nights, respectively. Performances by All the Pretty Horses, Love Nyala, Coleman Lindberg, and 4D-YKES will provide musical accompaniment on Saturday night.

Bishop, whose musical interests led her to found the queer music label Subtle Ego Records, also used the festival as a platform to introduce the varied group of unknown independent artists to an audience.

“I wanted to provide a space for new and emerging artists to be able to work with more established artists. Independent artists don’t have corporate backing and huge publicity, so I think it’s important to continually contribute to the independent artist community,” Bishop said.

Bishop hopes the diverse group of artists will draw an equally diverse audience to the festival.

“Our goal is to bring as many people together in one space to learn from each other’s experiences,” she said. “If there are audience members that might not meet each other under normal situations, we’re hoping to bring them all together. Kind of have people test people’s comfort zones in order to expand their minds.”