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.
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.