Gender Diversity Creeping Into Society

For so long, we have only been able to choose our gender from a dichotomy: male or female. However, within the past two years, there has finally been some progressive activity towards recognition of multiple and varying gender identities. One of the most popular social media websites, Facebook, created a multitude of gender options for its users at the beginning of 2014. Now, in 2015, there are a few progressive universities following suit. While not as diverse as Facebook’s options, the University of Vermont, the University of California, the University of Albany, and Harvard University have all taken steps towards more open gender expression and recognition. While the simple pronouns of he and she may not seem important, to many people in the world, these small recognitions are giant leaps forward in gender acceptance.

Referring to someone not by their name, but by their gender pronouns is so second nature to the human brain that most of us put little to no thought into it after we see what a person looks like; more often than not, we recognize an abundance of masculine or feminine qualities in a person which is then followed by an immediate and subconscious assignment of the pronouns “he” or “she.” What a good chunk of people do not realize, though, is that there are a significant number of individuals who either do not identify as the gender those individuals outwardly express or who do not even identify as the traditional male or female genders.

“Gender’s very flexibility and seeming fluidity is precisely what allows dimorphic gender to hold sway.” -J.J. Halberstam

As we have read from Leslie Feinberg, transgender habits, thoughts, and ways of life are not new concepts or practices, and, in fact, they have not only been around in most documented cultures, but they have even endured through the worst of hardships. This furthers arguments made by J.J. Halberstam as well; Halberstam understands that we as a society don’t have strictly male and female identities, but rather masculine and feminine qualities which we designate as male or female. Consequently, this leads him to ask why we don’t already have multiple gender expressions and identities in our society. Perhaps we, as a society, have made little progress due to the male and female categories being “so elastic” as Halberstam describes; or perhaps Feinberg’s gender continuum already exists—not in the form of multiple gender identities, but rather with these “elastic” categories of male and female. Maybe this is why the gender binary has endured for so long; maybe the elastic male and female continuum is adequate. However, contrary to what the mass populous has deemed satisfactory for so long, many people and institutions have determined the current gender binary to be sub par.

“It is apparent that there are many ways for women and men to be; everything in nature is a continuum.” -Leslie Feinberg

Fortunately, in the past two years, progressive institutions have taken steps forward to queer our normative culture by forcing alternative gender identities into our binary system. These institutions are not simply radically suggesting that individuals should have more than two options when trying to identify one’s gender; instead, they are recognizing these identities by enforcing the various identities under the domain of their own institution. While not standardized between the institutions, each is making small steps towards a, hopefully, national change.

Examples of Gender Pronouns

Some Facebook Gender Options

Recognition as simple as a third gender of neutral—like that at the University of Vermont—or just the option to choose your own gender pronouns—like Harvard University—could make a drastic change in the lives of transgendered and gender-nonconforming people. These smaller changes nationwide could be a more conservative addition to our society’s tight gender binary; after people get used to the small changes, options to have multiple and varied gender options like that at the University of California and the University of Albany—universities at which students can choose between six or more options ranging from the standard male to trans woman to gender-queer—could be a progressive outlook for the future. Although our society may never get to official public recognition of the 50+ gender options listed on Facebook, these institutions are creating a path for future movement in gender expression.

If we’ve learned anything from the past, it is that gender differences and ambiguities exist within the seemingly everlasting male/female binary. We may be destined to stay within dichotomies, but I think we are starting to see that change is eminent. Because of these small, yet revolutionary, changes in gender recognition, I believe these institutions deserve a spot in this archive.

Yanis Marshall

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24 year old, Yanis Marshall became a sensation after a video titled “Spice Girls” went viral on Youtube on June 30th of 2013. But it was not the nature of the song that made him famous; it was his dance moves in several pairs of nine-inch heels. The video features the now famous Parisian choreographer, Yanis Marshall, fiercely dancing all over parts of Paris.

Yanis is originally from Vallauris, near Cannes. He is currently a choreaographer, teacher and dancer and has been dancing since an early age. At the age of eleven, with the help of his mother who was a director of a dance association, he passed the auditions for the Dance School called Rosella Hightower. It is here that Yanis began to train in Ballet, Contemporary, and Jazz.

Despite his artistic ability and love for dance, in an interview with Great Rhys Alexander, Yanis claimed to leave for Paris France in search of independence from modern contemporary dance.

At the age of 19, he left to New York City where he experienced his first class of a style of dance called Street Jazz, with Sheryl Murakami. She is an artist that he claims “gave him a wake up call” and continues to inspire him till the day. After years of unhappiness in many different styles of dance, Yanis found a home in the style of Street Jazz.

Much like Voguing, Street Jazz roots from stricter dance styles. It evolved from informal settings like nightclubs, schools and on the street. Street jazz dance was inspired by traditional dance performed outside of professional studios.Jazz dance, modern hip hop and funk make up this style of dance. Elements of the rigid robotic movements, the marked spins often found in breakdancing and the fluid movements of hip hop, like in Sheryl Murakami’s music video below, are key components of the Street Jazz dance.

As for the heels. Whenever Yanis is asked why he dances in heels his response is famously always “why not?” Despite the humor in his response, one thing is certain, men dancing in heels or simply wearing heels is not a first.

Men originally wore high- heeled shoes. As early as the 10th century, men wearing high heels became a trend amongst the upper class. At the time, high-heeled shoes were not a signifier of gender. It was not until the 18th century that men discontinued the trend and the high-heeled shoe was soon after established as a ladies shoe. Ever since then, high heels on men have not made a comeback.

The long standing societal acceptance that high heels are only for women are what have made seeing dancers like Yanis Marshall famous. He is an excellent advocate of the “social evolution” we speak of today. He can “werk” those heels better than most women can walk in them but unfortunately the world has long been a witness to the slow but sure consistency of gender binding norms.

Yanis says heels are his speciality. Since a young age he loved to wear his mothers heels. Dancing in heels for Yanis makes him different, and he admits to not being shy one bit about his heels nor the fact he is gay.

“Just be you and if people don’t like it, well F*ck Them”

But despite the use of heels whenever he dances, Yanis is not transgender nor seeks to become a women.The use of heels for men to dance in is simply sexy and artistic to Yanis and he encourages both men and women, straight or gay to dance in heels whenever he teaches a class.  He also has no plans to label men dancing in heels any sort of style of dancing because he hates labels or boxes.

“Gender” By Thiago Antonucci

Thiago Antonucci is a relatively unknown artist who recently became a powerful hit to those who tumbl (Tumblr blog users). A photo series on Behance.net was released called “Gender” by the artist. The series was then picked up by tumblr user irakalan. The cartoon picture of the user irakalan bears an uncanny resemblance to Thiago Antonucci. I suspect that the two could be the same person but Antonucci seems to be keeping a low profile. Maybe in an attempt to make his work more powerful by letting it take the center stage instead of him as an artist.

I dived into the depths of the internet (something I would not recommend) to find Antonucci but only surfaced with an old facebook and barely used twitter account. The tumblr account that I suspect could be Antonucci, is fairly filled with other art and beautiful things, but nothing biographical that would help me in my search. I came to the conclusion that I would have to let the art shine through and be the main topic of this post instead of the mysterious Antonucci.

Before I go on posting these beautiful and powerful works of art, I will warn you, there is nudity and in some cases could be a trigger for trans individuals who suffer from this bodily disconnect.

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In these photos, individuals are depicted naked and holding up photoed genital of another to their body. Some are shown as couples and others are shown as individuals who are struggling alone. Only one photo features an individual whose genitalia is not replaced. Instead, the person is holding up the face of another. These eight photos are not just beautiful but they also create a powerful thought process in the audience. it shows the feeling of disconnect that many trans individuals may feel. I myself find this feeling so hard to relate to because it is something that I have never struggled with but these photos give a visual representation of that feeling. Many of the authors that we have read and discussed have felt these feelings or discusses them in their work. I think it helps not only the class, but any audience member, to see this work and imagine the feelings that go along with it.

I chose this as my archival project because of the lack of information on Antonucci. I think this series is important and I would hate the lack of the artists face to make this series forgotten. I also think that it helps redefine gender as a nonbinary idea. What I really like is that not all the person’s genitals are covered. by allowing breasts and a penis to live on the same body, this series is gender fluid and tries its best to include all the genders in the spectrum.

As this archive is constructed, I believe that powerful and thought provoking posts will be added and a wonderful collection will be established.

 

KAZAKY

Kazaky is a synthetic-pop, dance heavy, Ukrainian-based boyband that came together in Kiev, Ukraine back in 2010. Current band members consist of Kirill Fedorenko, Artur Gaspar, Artemy Lazarev, and Oleg Zhezhel. Famous for their 5.5-inch custom stilettos, the band first gained momentum towards the end of 2010 with the release of their first single, “In the Middle.” The song transfixed audiences across the world as members started out in more masculine clothing and then transitioned to a more androgynous appearance with their infamous heels. Their second single, “Love,” further expanded their popularity, with the music video reaching nearly 5 million views. The band has now produced two studio albums (The Hills Chronicles and I Like It (Part 1 + 2)) and numerous music videos. Unsurprisingly, the band members even appeared in one of Madonna’s music videos, “Girl Gone Wild” – Madonna obviously has a pattern of including backup performers that can dance significantly better than her. In addition to their studio albums and music videos, Kazaky has been featured in numerous high profile publications due to their bold and intrepid taste in fashion.

With backgrounds as trained dancers, group members are famous for their intricate and synchronized dance moves that draw upon many different styles and cultures. Kazaky’s choreography consists primarily of acrobatic dance, voguing, and waacking. Members of the band contrast gender with their high stilettos, hyper masculine physique, dark sensual androgynous fashion, and runway style dance choreography. More interestingly, band members intentionally keep their sexual identities hidden, only pointing out that some members are gay while others are not. In a response comment on one of their Youtube videos, member Oleg Zhezhel states, “the reason we never answer this question is because we try to keep a kind of mysterious charm.” Member Kirill Fedorenko adds, “We are unbiased in terms of being pro-straight or pro-gay. There is no gender-related implication. It’s all about the dance and the movement.” In addition to adding a level of curiosity, the band’s decision to withhold their sexual identities can be seen as a form of protective secrecy against their anti-queer, fascist political state.

On March 4, 2013 the band released a new track and video, “Crazy Law”.

Although not confirmed, it’s been speculated that the song and video are responding to the anti-gay propaganda legislation coming out of Russia. While synchronously dancing in intense leather and kink-spired clothing, band members promote ideals of self-love, desire, peace, and gender-nonconformity.

“Why am I feeling? This is a crazy law
You can have many looks, even how you’re born
Why am I feeling, this is a crazy law
I’m not trying to show you something wrong”

In the opening lines, band members question the validity of Russia’s homophobic legislation. Emphasizing a dynamic, non-singular attitude towards outward appearance, more arguably gender, the band rejects typical static, singular, and dichotomous stereotypes of gender. The band members argue that their performance and appearance is not unnatural, but instead a valid and real identity. Towards the end of the song members sing:

“Keep your dreams, keep your plans
All of this things you have is nice

The crazy best it’s now with us
Your body disappears don’t come up
Look around a lot of noise
Never gonna lose your voice”

Band members again reiterate a sense of anarchic validation towards individuality and separatism. They encourage listeners to maintain eccentricity and self-advocacy despite living within a controlling and repressive environment. Though Audre Lorde argues for a new modern understanding of the erotic from an empowering female perspective, one could connect ideas from her writing to members of Kazaky. Kazaky’s performances can be seen as a source of erotic power, and a sharing of that power with their viewers. With their androgynous, gender-bending looks and outward projection of multi-faceted sexual identities, members refuse submittal to traditional gender and sexual expectations. Instead, members foster power from within themselves and from within their differences and similarities. They search for new understandings of the erotic and attempt to bring that power to those stripped of it by oppressive political structures.