What struck me when I read Judith Butler’s ‘Undoing Gender’ was the issue of "autonomy", to function as a 'normal' human being within society. As a woman I feel a huge pressure to conform to this idea of a 'norm'.
Who you are is so important within society, as well as being able to distinguish with words what your social identity is. However, if your identity is not something recognizable then there can be a lack of growth and a limbo. I am interested in these rules of being that can cause a lot of restriction, etiquettes, judgment and a feeling of conforming...
What are the rules and definitions regarding gender in society? Our very ideas of what is deemed right and wrong is something taught and learned from an early age. She talks about Trans-people who are seen as something separate from the ‘norm’, and are not portrayed as a part of normal society. The dilemma very much starts at the early stages of childhood, when the child is indirectly educated that they are ‘wrong'. A transperson will experience inadequacy, low self-esteem, low status, hyper self-awareness as well as discrimination. They are essentially outcasts and this image is projected onto them by a fixed and "binary" society. Butler writes
"Although we need norms in order to live, and to live well, and to know what direction to transform our social world, we are also constrained by norms in ways that sometimes do violence to us and which, for reasons of social justice we must oppose" p206. The psychological violence and self-harmful emotions are what I discuss in my art.
Butler suggests a “social transformation” is necessary, a “radical democratic theory” that “seeks to extend the norms that sustain viable life to previously disenfranchised communities” p225. The ideal is what Butler calls the "universal community of humankind" p227.
She “identifies norms as the basis of a possibility of community or, indeed any understanding that humans might hold in common. But it is this finding commonness in a biological sense that is so damaging and it should be more of a human and emotional connection. Something which is less physical and more internal” p217. Instead of looking for physical differences, look for human similarities. This is why I use emotion in my art for I feel it is the only way to talk about my issues in a way that is not antagonistic.
We seek recognition in the other person as a way to be accepted into a community. However if you are aware you are different or a minority compared to the ‘norm’ and you do not get this affirmation it can make the individual feel alienated.
“norms are what govern “intelligible” life, “real” men and “real” women. And if we defy these norms it is unclear whether we are still living and whether our lives are valuable” p206. In a 'cage' you are not able to live a real life. Hiding away stops the integration into society and this can lead to a stunted development and extreme insecurity. It is the need for some justice even if one cannot receive it. The need is still very much there, hidden away, in an unseen cage.
I want to expose the psychological trauma of the people I know. Many artists have perhaps dealt with sexuality and identity on a physical level such as Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe, but I find this lacking in terms of my own understanding and views.
However, I do want to encourage more understanding and respect towards those who are seen as different from the norm. Everyone deserves to have the best quality of life and this includes the mental and emotional health.