The Kiss My Genders exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre was the site for my create date this week. This exhibition was unsettling in all the right ways, as expected. What I didn’t expect was to emerge asking myself the question: Is being a woman still a gender issue today?
A little background. Gender is a topic that interests me, intensely. I have an MA in women’s studies and for many years lectured in creativity and culture at the women’s studies department at University College Dublin.
Many people have forgotten how the concept of gender emerged in the 1980s and 90s as a tool to interrogate and criticize power dynamics. Feminists peeled apart the fact of being female (having certain biological organs) and the social construct of being whatever a woman was supposed to be.
Kiss My Genders shows how far the concept has drifted from that original social and economic critique.
Kiss my Genders
As you probably know, the create date is normally taken alone but this week I brought my daughter along, to this important exhibition on this important topic. She is an artist whose collective regularly examine themes of transgender and non-binary identity.
I felt sure we’d have a lot to talk about afterward and we did.
The phrase “kiss my genders” originates in a song “Transome”, a celebration of trans identity by Jam Rostron (formerly Janine), the English electronic musician and producer, better known by their stage name Planningtorock. “I get excited about terminologies around fluidity or liquidness in sexuality and gender,” says Planningtorock, who uses the plural personal pronoun they or their, rather than he or she, hers or his.
Excitement about fluid identities dominated this show, which features 30 artists and spans 50 years. It’s often thrillingly exuberant and flamboyant. There is some amazing fabulous art. Lots of thought-provoking images around non-binary gender. Lots of fluid (and sometimes brutal) sexuality. Lots of (mostly male to female) transsexuality.
Collectively the work combines into a powerful questioning of stable gender identity and mounts a challenge to anyone who hold an entrenched gender position.
But I did find myself asking: what about women?
Is Being a Woman Still a Gender Issue Today?
Gender as a concept has relevance around much more than the mutable human body and the joy of sexual transgression. What about other social, political, occupational, geographical and historical experiences?
What about work? Family? Children? Care? Money? What about gender as a concept to interrogate social and economic power? What about–if it’s not too old-fashioned and unartistic to ask–inequality?
Having said all that, I did love this exhibition, especially the work of Amrou Al-Kadhi and Holly Falconer, Jimmy Desana, Martine Gutierrez, Peter Hugjar, Zoe Leonard, and Victoria Sin, who expresses perfectly what this exhibition does brilliantly, exploring as it does “how we create narratives about ourselves, including about gender and race, the ways we think about being human.”