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July 24, 2017 | by  | in Features |
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GENDER: THE DEATH AND REBIRTH

As a writer I’ve often found the hardest thing to do is finish a piece. Deciding when it’s done. But writing this piece I’ve found it very difficult to start. I think that’s because there’s so much to say about gender and I can’t fit it all into 1000 words. Should I talk about my personal experiences with gender? Should I rant about queer theory and words that a lot of people probably don’t know (i.e. non-binary and genderqueer)? Should I let the pictures speak for themselves? I still don’t know — maybe a bit of everything is needed.

 

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Wellington Museum has opened up a community art space called Flux. Anyone can submit a proposal about an exhibition they want to create and, more often than not, you’ll get a place. From August 1–15  I will have an exhibition on in the Flux space, made up of photos, videos, and some other interesting elements. It’s called GENDER: THE DEATH AND REBIRTH.

 

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I’ve thought a lot about gender and sometimes I struggle to find proof that it exists. How do we define it within ourselves? How do people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth feel about it? Do they feel this way because that’s how society is laid out or because they actually have that gender? Is it something to be celebrated or abolished? Why are people so quick to get angry when you bring it up?

Because I was struggling to get my own thoughts together, I asked some friends how they felt about gender.

 

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J, 19, non-binary/trans male

Okay well gender’s a societal concept primarily, I think. Like, it’s one that people can find comfort in, but also that can cause damage. So it’s not good or bad, just a concept. If you’re comforted with it, cool, if you’re not, also cool — you do you honey and all that. I experience gender… oddly. Like, I don’t entirely feel like I fit into it in a binary [male or female] sense, but I do find having a concrete label comforting, hence my self identification as a man. Like, I’d rather be nothing, but I don’t feel comfortable being nothing in today’s society. I feel more comfortable presenting (and being seen) masculinely rather than femininely so that’s what I lean towards.

 

K, 21, genderqueer

I think of gender as being fake in itself but kind of being something that you can play with and disrupt, like a set of different textures or colours that you can play with, because those ideas and tools are already out there in the world — and you can mish-mash them together in ways that aren’t traditionally expected. You can disrupt and challenge them. I like thinking about ways you can disrupt it [gender]and get people to be confronted with this invisible system that is used every day and so normalised that it becomes invisible and unable to be talked about or intervened upon. Disrupt that gender regime that we have going on.

 

W, 18, non-binary trans girl

Discovering where my gender identity lies has honestly been one of the most empowering experiences of my life so far. There’s nothing else I’ve experienced that’s brought me the same level of peace and understanding on such a visceral level. For a really long time I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I just knew that something was wrong and I was deeply uncomfortable, and to figure out what was out of alignment within myself was so relieving. I think it’s important for society to stop viewing gender as an unmoving and absolute binary, because honestly I fail to see who it benefits.

 

 

 

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I had to ask my friends what they thought about gender, because sometimes I really don’t know what I think about it. It feels so big and so small at the same time, but that’s why I undertook this photo project, so I could think about what gender means to me and others around me. Everyone I’ve taken photos of, or who have sent them to me, is transgender/nonbinary or genderqueer. What does this mean though?

The way I like to think about it is this: Gender is made up of experiences, and people have created words and definitions to explain and express their experiences of gender. You can’t deny that someone’s experiences are real, just because they differ from your own. Personally, I believe that, because gender is such a personal thing, there are as many genders in the world as there are people. No two people will experience gender in exactly the same way, no matter what. And that’s okay — I think it’s pretty cool.

 

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In my proposal for this exhibition, I wrote: “I’ll be looking at specifically gender nonconforming people, people who are agender, genderqueer, non-binary (not male or female) etc. I want to show that there is more to gender than male and female, that these people don’t exist between the two but in a different space entirely. I want to create a space for learning and interest. I’m wanting to open minds and reaffirm identities.”

The photos you see in this essay are from a series called Reflecting: Part 1 and 2. Part 1 was a shoot I did by getting people to look into mirrors, wear their favorite outfits, and just exist. I wanted to give people a chance to reflect on their identity and who they are. It felt like a very personal experience watching these people connect with themselves via their reflection. Some danced, some laughed awkwardly, and some looked themselves right in the eyes. It was a really amazing thing to be capturing.

 

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Reflecting: Part 2 is something I’ve just started working on. I’m getting trans, genderqueer, and non-binary people to send me selfies they’ve taken. It’s the ultimate reflection. It’s getting to see how people want to be seen and how they see themselves. It also shows how wonderfully diverse the world of gender is.  

The death of gender I’m referring to in the title of this work is the death of misogyny, patriarchy, transphobia, and gender roles. It’s the death of control over gender, of the right vs. wrong way to have and experience gender. It’s a “fuck you” to all the times people have been made to feel bad about themselves because of their gender. The rebirth is all these incredible individuals coming together to say: We exist. We are the new norm. And we’re not going away.

***

GENDER: THE DEATH AND REBIRTH by Kate Aschoff will be presented at Wellington Museum from August 1–15. See the “Flux At Wellington Museum” Facebook page for more information.

 

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