When they seemed like they were about to cry I gave them the cake.
July 10, 2016
From an FTM forum:
Here’s what I did; First, I gave everyone in the class a warning about what the performance piece would be on, and told everyone that they could stand up and leave at any time if they became anxious/dysphoric/whatever.
The desks were arranged so that there was a circle of desks surrounding one desk in the center of the room, which had two chairs on either side. This was the “interrogation” desk.
I had people come up and select a piece of paper from a hat. Pink, blue, or white. I then explained what the colors meant. Blue was boy, pink was girl, white was non-binary.
For the students who’s gender identity matched with the piece of paper they drew, they got a piece of cake. The other students were asked to wait. I made a point to ask the “cisgender” students how much cake they wanted, and was very polite. I told the other students they would have to come prove to me they were their gender identity, and not the identity that the piece of paper said in order to get the cake.
I sat at the “interrogation” desk, and one by one had the students come forward. There wound up being a lot of “trans” students, which wasn’t ideal, but math just didn’t work in my favor here.
I was awful to the students who were “trans” when they tried to prove their identities to me. The first girl who came forward, who had pulled a blue “boy” piece of paper, argued with me that because she was raised mostly by women she was a woman. I told her that she was just a faggot, ect. She continued to argue with me, and I rejected everything that she said. If she said she was a woman because of her genitals, I said that her genitals didn’t prove anything. If she said she was a woman because she felt like it, I asked her to explain what that “felt” like, and she couldn’t explain it.
Towards the end she sat completely confused, at a loss for words. She admitted that she couldn’t prove her identity, and fell silent. I had decided to give students a piece of cake when they were visually disturbed, so I gave her a piece of cake then. I made it much, much smaller than the cake given to the “cisgender” students, and threw it down rudely.
There were a few people who simply gave up in order to get the cake, and said they were an identity they weren’t. I gave them cake equal to the “cisgender” students, as a sort of “reward.” There was one student who turned out to be a trans girl, although I think she was shy about coming forward at first with the other “cisgender” students. Even though she had pulled the pink piece of paper, because she was “biologically” male she wasn’t sure if she was allowed the cake. I gave the cake to her when she explained this.
There was a man who had pulled a pink piece of paper who came forward and tried to argue with me that he was just “human” and he didn’t believe in gender. I told him to fuck off and that he had taken too many philosophy classes. He tried to continue the argument, but I told him that if he wanted the cake he would have to admit he was the gender on the piece of paper. He said he didn’t want the cake. I asked him why he was there, then, and realizing that I wouldn’t argue with him, he stood up and left, peeved.
Another guy tried to do the same argument thing. He absolutely refused to identify as what the paper said (girl) and tried to turn it into an argument. Instead of playing along with the argument, I brutally shut him down. When he said that he didn’t want the cake, I told him to leave, just like the other guy. Oddly enough this guy came back again later (when most people were finished) to try and argue with me again. He attempted to ask about the “symbolism” of the cake, ect, and I told him it was “just cake” and that if he didn’t know what it represented he “needed to go back to elementary school and study the food pyramid.” He got REALLY pissed off at this point and stormed back to his desk, sulking.
A nonbinary person came forward and argued that they really just did not feel like either gender. I asked them why and they said it was because they felt they didn’t fit in anywhere. I asked them if this was because they were psychologically damaged, and instead of responding with a solid “no” they responded that they weren’t sure and became very upset. When they seemed like they were about to cry I gave them the cake. They left quietly.
Finally, a girl came forward a bit uncertainly and admitted that she could not prove her gender. After watching the other students argue with me about it, she had realized that she had “nothing” and there was nothing she could say or do that “proved” anything. She seemed deeply upset by this. She admitted that now she was unsure of her own gender, after witnessing everyone else being so throughly dismissed in their own. I gave her a piece of cake.
At the end of the performance I explained the purpose. I had based it off of the idea that in order for a cisgender person to understand how a trans person is treated, they have to have their own gender invalidated by everyone around them, not imagine themselves as the opposite sex.
We chatted as a group afterwards, and the “cisgender” students admitted that they weren’t able to keep eating the cake as they watched what was happening to the “trans” students. One student said that as he continued to eat the cake, it tasted more and more awful, and they had to throw it out. Other students who had gotten the cake shared the same sentiment.
There was an overwhelming feeling of loss in the room. The man who had argued with me twice (first about gender, then about the cake’s meaning), said that he had hoped to discern the cake’s meaning so that he would have an “edge” in the argument. After I shut him down he said he realized that he also had “nothing” and that it upset him deeply. There was a common theme of students reporting that after being interviewed so harshly about their gender that they had “nothing”, neither a discernible gender or a way to prove it. This is what upset people the most.
Many students also shared the sentiment that they now felt like they had a slightly better understanding of what it was like to be trans. They all said it had felt terrible.
After the experiment was over, I told everyone they could eat the cake if they wanted to. No one did. It had the presence of a cursed object in the room. It was really ominous, and people avoided the “interrogation” table even after class was dismissed and people were chatting. I had to take it into the hallway and give it away to someone who would eat it.
Overall I’m pleased with how it went! For me it was interesting watching the cisgender students kind of “break down” under the same pressure that trans people face daily. I had always thought that cisgender people had it together or something when it came to gender, but now I can say for sure that they don’t. Because they don’t think about it, if you challenge them on it, they freak out and shut down. Especially in that sort of intense environment, where you can’t really escape the questions. (I mean, unless you don’t want the cake.) It made me realize that the reactions of trans people in similar situations are totally normal. We’re not fucked up for being depressed, or constantly questioning our gender, or any of that. It’s the normal reaction to this sort of environment. I think my new tactic for dealing with bigots is to ask them the sort of intense, psychological questions I asked the cisgender students in my class about their gender. At least it’ll make them think, lol.
Sorry this wound up a little long! I didn’t include all of the student’s reactions because some were repetitive, mostly with the same “breaking down” and having “nothing” sort of thing. But I hope you guys had fun reading about the results! I don’t think this experiment is perfect, since I haven’t figured out a way to make people feel body dysphoria, but I did my best. I’d like to do it again, to further perfect it, if I had the chance. tldr; It went well.