My written response to “The Institution of Sexology”: An exhibition at the Welcome Trust

Seeing the vaginas/vulvas portrayed in this space I feel strong genital dysphoria. I am not the ‘woman’ that is being portrayed here. What is it that I find so upsetting about these portrayals of the female body?

The chopped-up-ness? There is never a full body or person, only the vagina severed from the rest of the image. As if all vaginas were represented by this one image.

I feel dirty and disgusting.

Images of the biological, anatomical, scientifically observed genitals MAKE ME FEEL HORRIBLE. I feel violated and nauseous.

There is no poetry here.

My body has had readings forced upon it that I did NOT invite.

I feel in danger of my body being repossessed. Re-owned. Chopped up, dissected, voyeurised.

My body is poetry, it is artistic, I am it. I define it, learn about it, derive pleasure from it. It is ephemeral and enigmatic. It is lived flesh, it is not object.

Condensed Weekender Notes

I was lucky enough to attend Dickie Beau’s weekender workshop at Arts Admin. These are the words and images with stuck with me from it:

Fabulation images so intense they take on a life of their own by not being a fixed persona, I can be anything Face painted white – I become a screen. We normally look at the eye – wearing the white mask makes the whole face an eye Performance – the site of knowledge making // can think itself/something through // always about the making of itself to some degree // site of virtual protest to really know/understand something you need to feel it dynamic contradiction “like crossing into the looking glass” FANTASY body: the primary medium. the material carrier of the image. where are is felt, created, shared. the corpse paradox 1) listen 2) find connections 3) try things out the people who came before are in us. I am because they are. they are sewn into my bones

I am a Queer Femme.

Why are none of the images below depictions of my femme identity?

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They depict me performing gender, yes, because (I believe) all gender is performed. In all of them I am wearing ‘girly’ clothes, sometimes sexual clothes, make up and long hair – classic hallmarks of Femme. But none of these images show a femme woman.

These images were taken of me between the ages of 16 and 19. I was living with anorexia, depression and anxiety. My costume choices were not an ownership of my gender. They were chosen because I did not know I had a choice. I thought that to be successful as a girl I needed to appeal to masculine sexuality. I was known for my immaculate dress in college, but getting ready to leave the house was not a joyful experience but a stressful (and often panic-inducing) necesity.

On joining CPP I underwent a big revelation. Firstly, I wasn’t straight. Gender was a performance. I didn’t have to wear make-up, or shave, or wear heels! In fact, shaving and wearing heels was innately disempowering and showed that you conformed to patriarchal values.

218176_10152114854115644_493593983_n599097_461951453833283_2046580769_n548450_474643549230740_733198443_nI began to spend time partying in gay bars, proudly sporting hairy legs and armpits, wearing masculine clothes, and exchanging my heels for Doc Martens.

This was OK, for a while. But I began to realise that although these clothes aligned with my feminist politics, I didn’t really enjoy wearing them that much. I didn’t feel sexy or, in fact, comfortable. I knew things had gone wrong when my mum pointed out a hole in my jumper and then said “oh, don’t worry. People expect you to wear things like that”.

I realised that I didn’t want to be someone people expected to wear hole-ey jumpers.

This may all seem a bit non-relevant to my process. Who cares what clothes I wear, right? Well, I am investigating the visibility of disability, and am borrowing heavily from queer theory to do so. If clothing is an identity costume we choose for ourselves, then what I wear is an integral part of how I identify, consciously or unconsciously. And if I want to understand how I relate to disabled and queer identities, investigating my costume choices is important.

I had been putting less and less effort into my appearance, denying myself the pleasure of getting ready and feeling sexy, because I though it was “un-feminist”

AND IT ISN’T!

Here is where Femme Identity comes in. For me, femme identity is reclaiming  the “ideal’ female aesthetic perpetuated by patriarchal value systems. As highlighted by Iris, author of Bossy Femme blog ;

“Femme is defiance. Femme ignores the male gaze & tells patriarchy to fuck off. Femme is a refusal of the pressure to be thinner, whiter, pimple-free, wrinkle-free, smaller, quieter. Femme says that we’ll take the short skirts but you can keep the catcalls to yourself.”

For me, it is recognising that I am not woman, but perform woman. And I can perform by my own rules. Femme does not dictate who I love, lust for or sleep with, and it does not tell me what size/shape/color/class I need to be. It simply allows me to be ‘girly’ and feel sexy without betraying my feminist politics.

As stated in the Femme Shark Manifesto,

“FEMME SHARKS RECOGNIZE THAT FEMMES COME IN ALL KINDS OF SIZES AND EACH KIND IS LUSCIOUS. WE WORK TOWARDS LOVING OUR CURVY, FAT, SKINNY, SUPERSIZE, THICK, DISABLED, BLACK AND BROWN FINE-ASS BODIES EVERY DAY. WE REALIZE THAT LOVING OURSELVES IN A RACIST/SEXIST/HOMO/TRANSPHOBIC/ABLIST/CLASSIST SYSTEM IS AN EVERY DAY ACT OF WAR AGAINST THAT SYSTEM.”