What is a “normal” gender identity? And how do visual media representations impact our perceptions of “normalcy” in regards to gender?
These questions have been the main driving forces behind all my latest research on gender, self-identity and sexuality. Through my research I came to the conclusion that there is no “normal” gender identity. “Normalcy” is in fact an illusion, a series of “performative” acts with the capacity to be reduced to mere artificial parts: make-up, gestures or style which can be taken on by any which gender or sex. Thus, the “normative” and socially accepted formula that sex equals gender equals sexuality is severely flawed. Instead, gender is free-floating and so “normalcy” in regards to any gender identity ceases to exist.
From here I suggested that we are all drag artists. We all walk, talk and act in certain ways which consolidate an impression of being masculine or feminine, thus the act of drag or drag identities shouldn’t be viewed as “taboo” or marginalized. The “real” taboo is our obsession to categorize, our need for a gender binary as well as out deluded ideas of “normalcy”. Drag performers often express more overtly “normal” gender identities and behaviours, perhaps even more so than those biologically born in that sex or gender. By over accentuating these “norms” the drag performer highlights how fictitious and ridiculous hegemonic “norms” are.
A drag queen’s appearance and identity usually consists of the following: immaculate make-up, long bouffant hair, curvaceous body, high-pitched voice, glamorous clothing, heels, and glowing skin and feminine gestures. All of these “parts” which are deemed excessive and “outside the box” are in fact almost identical to all visual representations of an “ideal” and “normal” gender identity for a woman and are even employed by the majority of biological females. Why then are the appearances of drag queens perceived as “abnormal” or “over the top”?
In reality, drag identities could be deemed as over conforming as easily as being deemed as “outside” the “norm”. Judith Butler stated in her book entitled, “Gender Trouble” (1999), “In imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself-as well as it’s contingency” (p. 137) In other words, the act of drag in all its flamboyancy and excessiveness, proves how gender really is an imitation of an “ideal” or “normalcy” which doesn’t really exist. As an outcome gender “norms” don’t really exist. It makes a laugh at what we think is “normal” by accentuating our ideas of “normalcy” and in doing so highlights how ridiculous they are as well as how simple. Gender, as stated before, is reduced to parts and can be taken on by just about anyone, even those belonging to the opposite sex. Is there anything more feminine than a glamorous New York City drag queen? I think not.
Now I have the opportunity to express all of my findings through my own photographic works. I want to photograph individuals who push the gender binary and visually challenge our ideas surrounding “normalcy” in regards to gender and sexuality. I want to photograph girls that look like boys, boys that look like girls. Have masculine “normal” male identities express feminine characteristics and postures. Have “normal” feminine females express masculine gestures and styles. I want to prove how easy it is to take on a gender or look which would be deemed “normal” when attached to someone belonging to that sex and how we instantly change our perceptions when it’s overtly taken on by the opposite sex.
In some cases, I will use make-up and styling to give the impression of masculinity or femininity. But I want to find and photograph individuals who are transgender; transsexual and intersex as well, having them appear in a way they want to be seen. I very much want the process to be a collaborative one to ensure that the final photographs I use align with how the subjects want to be perceived. I want the images and identities within them to be questioned and challenged by the audience. Is this a female? Is that really masculine? I want to create very simple portraits, the model and their appearance thus becoming the main focus. I want to photograph them in a studio using simple lighting, the colour theme being neutral: white or flesh coloured similar to the palette present in Bettina Rhiems, “Gender Studies” series. I love documenting individuals and have socialized with a few of my subjects for a while now so I may even photograph these experiences. Whether I’ll use them for the final degree show I don’t know, but it may add a bit of context and rawness to the individuals being depicted. I also perhaps want to create self-portraits expressing different identities and genders, but this would be for sheer exploration of my topic as well as a bit of fun.
Overall, I want my final images for the degree show to challenge social views of “normalcy” in relation to gender, sexuality and identity, highlighting how masculinity and femininity can easily be reduced to artificial parts: painted nails to a shaven head. Girls embodying masculine elements and boys embodying feminine elements are what I want to achieve to reveal the fluidity of gender and how anyone can embody a gender opposite to their sex. Gender is free-floating and I want by images to suggest just that.