Ollie Renee Schminkey’s poem, “Boobs,” illuminates the idea that gender is a social construction. In this piece, Schminkey addresses the body in terms of the physical anatomy, the person in terms of identity, and society in the form of friends and generalized others. As such, it is a great piece for examining basic issues in the conflation of gender, sex, and sexuality and its psychological and sociological impact on identity.
As sociologists explain, one’s sex is determined by the anatomy. In the United States, we tend to have a very rigid binary classification of sex, either male or female. This is determined by physical body parts, hormone balance, and chromosomes. Gender however is best explained as the status of socially determined roles given to people based on their sex. Until recently, it has been taken for granted that the gendered roles of girl and women belong to females, while the roles of boys and men belong to males.
What the poem “Boobs” does very well is present an identity and narrative that ruptures the inherent link between sex and gender. Schminkey declares “I am not trapped inside my body/I am trapped in other people’s perception of my body” to a loud applause from the audience. This calls upon the symbolic interactionist theory, which looks critically at how groups create meaning to understand social situations. At the most basic level, such understanding informs one’s perception of reality. As this relates to sex and gender, Ollie Renee Schminkey poses a real challenge not only in how society understands the experience of transgender folks, but in how the quest for understanding can further subjugate people. This phenomenon is demonstrated three times: first, by Schminkey’s own question of the body; second, the people who insist that it is not up to an individual to identify their own gender; and third, by Schminkey’s best friend who questions the decision for a double mastectomy.
“Boobs” is a great example of how spoken word poetry helps rupture ideas that are so deeply embedded in society. These are often some of the most difficult concepts to teach. More significantly, these are also some of the sites which most greatly oppresses marginalized communities. While I appreciate the voice Ollie Renee Schminkey can give for transgender, transsexual, and other groups within the queer community, this piece also calls for deep reflection. For me, identifying as a cisgender male not only ensures that I acknowledge the privileges that my sex and gender fitting the ideal pairing society brings, but helps ensure it is not taken for granted as a normal standard that all people will belong.
Be sure to check out the link below where Ollie shares a discussion on the poem “Boobs.”