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Campus Character: Gavin McGown

If you haven’t yet, be sure to pick up a copy of the September issue of The Blue & White. In the meantime, we’ll keep posting articles on Bwog for your perusal. Below, Senior Editor Claire Sabel gets you acquainted with campus character Gavin McGown.

Illustration by Claire Sabel, CC ’13

Gavin McGown, CC ’13, is not one, but a whole cast of campus characters. “That’s me in a nutshell, or in five nutshells!” they cheerfully concluded our interview. McGown, who identifies as gender-queer, prefers non-binary pronouns. References to “they,” “them,” “theirs,” and “themself,” reflect McGown’s refusal to adhere to a restrictive definition of gender. To Gavin, queerness is a process of “questioning, transgressing, and breaking apart” not only gender identities, but also restrictive political and sexual norms.

Many who don’t know Gavin personally are likely to recognize them thanks to their distinct sense of style—ascots one day, heels the next—and fearlessness of speaking out. Last semester, Genderevolution, the trans rights group of which Gavin is president, prominently posted large color posters of Mcgown, and several other members, across campus. “It wasn’t about turning ourselves into icons,” they explained, “it was about starting a serious conversation about the expected modes of gender presentation.”

Conversation with Gavin, both serious and playful, flows easily. One is immediately struck by their pristine elocution, put to good use through a long-term affiliation with the Philolexian Society. In eleventh grade, fed up with being misheard, Gavin, then a fast-talking mumbler, “sort of Henry-Higginsed myself into a very precise way of speaking.” Being heard has played as important a role in Mcgown’s life at Columbia as being seen: “People pay a lot of attention to me because of the way that I speak. My intention is not to get people to pay attention to me, but my intention is, that when people do pay attention to me, they hear me loud and clear.”

Gavin arrived on campus knowing that they wanted to speak out. Around the same time as they were revamping their dentals and plosives, a documentary about the 1968 student sit-ins convinced them that Columbia was the place they wanted to be. And while prominently political, Mcgown has also turned their voice to other forms of public speaking. The Classics-Philosophy double major won a prestigious city-wide Greek recitation competition last year, for a presentation of Clytemnestra’s “blood orgasm” in Euripedes’s Agamemnon. (Should you have the opportunity to ask them to knock off a few lines, I urge you to take it.)

Mcgown dreams of becoming a professional classicist. As in all their pursuits, they are unabashedly unapologetic. “I have a hard-on for Plato; don’t ask why,” they giggled. So I asked, and Gavin gracefully clarified: “it gave me access to a canon that is entirely fascinating, and admits so many different interpretations.”

Heterogeneity is something Gavin consciously embraces, explaining of their academic and activist endeavors, “they’re not in conflict, but they’re also not necessary in conversation … [They] inform each other in some ways but they’re different spheres in my life. And that’s just how I do things.” Mcgown’s performance as the leading female role in Alcestis, last year’s dramatic production by the Classics department, however, suggests that there might well be opportunities for overlap. Chris Travis, CC ’11, a friend and former Philo moderator, puts it well: “Gavin is a great example of intersectionality.”

In spite of the breadth and depth of their commitments, Gavin remains nonchalant. “I don’t really worry about anything, to be honest,” they tell me, and I believe them.

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  • Bernardo says:

    @Bernardo Gavin is not only a fantastic human being, but also a very talented photographer. I couldn’t be happier that they did a photoshoot of me last semester and I got to know them.

  • WMH says:

    @WMH Gavin is the most lovely person.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Ahh Gavin: an AMAZING human being!!! We need more campus characters like this!!

  • A heteronormative Gavin-fan says:

    @A heteronormative Gavin-fan I’ve never even met him, but I’ve seen him at Philo meetings and on campus and think he’s simply delightful. His sartorial choices are always well-played and he is as erudite as he is dashingly witty. More Gavin, please.

    1. An accepting Gavin-friend says:

      @An accepting Gavin-friend It is incredibly disrespectful to refuse to use Gavin’s preferred pronouns when they are so clearly laid out and consistently used in the article on which you’re commenting. You seem conscious of this based on the “heteronormative” in your name. Maybe your comment satire, but even if so, I don’t think it’s appropriate to make your point at the expense of a human being.

      1. My apologies... says:

        @My apologies... are due to Gavin. I certainly meant no offense to them. You, on the other hand, can go fuck yourself, you self-righteous little shit.

        1. AaG-f says:

          @AaG-f Seeing as this is anonymous, this isn’t about my self or how righteous or wrongeous it may be.
          I don’t think I deserve such hostility for standing up against something that I know hurts someone I care about.

          1. Yes you do says:

            @Yes you do Go fuck yourself.

          2. Anonymous says:

            @Anonymous They would like to go fuck themselves.

      2. Anon says:

        @Anon Clearly the commenter was trying to be nice, and not disrespectful. Many people do not regularly interact with gender queer people (I haven’t ever before), and are not used to employing gender neutral pronouns. The commenter clearly made an oversight, not an offensive dig at Gavin. You should have pointed it ou respectfully, not with holier-than-thou indignation.

      3. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous I’m frankly quite oblivious to the appropriate vocab one should use when addressing certain aspects of gender/culture, however, the second I learn that I should/shouldn’t use a certain word, I am totally down with assimilating it into my vocabulary. That being said, I think amongst many “activists” on campus, there exists a culture of immediately pouncing on those who use incorrect terms, as if to assume that such terms are always said with motive of offending. Instead of being like “it’s incredibly offensive, zomg why do you hate different people” just be like “hey there, not to attack you or anything, it’s actually considered offensive to use XXX and it’s considered better practice to use XXX instead, as it’s a less problematic/offensive, more all-encompassing term” and more often than not, that’s what will get people to listen. I agree above that your comment came off as a sort of “let me drill into these philistines.” Just be considerate that people come from different backgrounds and use different vocab with their friends family, and attacking them for being who they are is just as harsh as their using of the term.

        1. Seriously? says:

          @Seriously? There is “heteronormative” in OP’s name. Something was going on there!

          1. Actually, no. says:

            @Actually, no. Nothing was “going on.” Seemed clever at the time. Jesus FUCKING Christ, when did Columbia turn into such a hypersensitive, paranoid, PLEASE-OFFEND-ME shitshow? Gavin’s a bright fellow. I don’t know THEM. THEY always seemed very nice and quite well-spoken. I didn’t realize that THEY had such a cult of gender-fucking pedants so obsessed with pronouns attached to THEM. MY bad: if I had known better, I wouldn’t have said anything.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous What the hell is wrong with Canada?

  • cc13 says:

    @cc13 if your comment were satire, it would be utterly brilliant. and despite knowing that its not, and was made with complete earnestness, it still makes me smile inside.

    Never change, Columbia!

    1. ahem says:

      @ahem to our accepting friend

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous why do they keep on posting random hipsters no one fucking knows?

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous actually, my apologies. i dont know this guy, but have noticed him. they should stop posting those drawings and put actual pictures!

      apologies for my ignorance

  • genuine question says:

    @genuine question does he actually prefer to be referred to by the pronoun ‘they’?

    1. M. says:

      @M. Yes, they do.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Ahem, I have a proclamation.

      From henceforth you shall refer to be as Your Majesty, changing your entire use of the English language to suit what I desire based on completely arbitrary criteria.

      Good day.

  • JJ13 says:

    @JJ13 Gavin, you’re a gem. More wonderful campus characters like this, please Bwog!

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous 1. “They” are quite the diva! 2. After being in “their” class, you learn that 15% of every class session will be devoted to hearing “their” opinion with utmost pretension. 3. A character indeed!

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Bwog has been surprisingly well-behaved. Can the stacks-dwelling trolls not handle the light of the new design?

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