Throughout this essay, I will be discussing postmodern influence on gender studies, identity, and the arts surrounding performance. There is an idea relating to postmodernism in that it revolts against the absoluteness of any phenomenon, and it could be suggested that postmodern feminism holds the entire spirit of this. Specifically focusing on Dickie Beau’s Lost in Trans, using playback and the art of lip syncing to project these views and championing people who feels as though they are removed from society due to what is perceived to be as ‘normal’. Texts such as The Double Negative and Gender Trouble will aid my discussion.
There is an idea within postmodern feminism that it lacks gender, that it introduces a new kind of ‘Utopian’, gender-free paradigm. This introduces the question of how essential sex and gender really are and how it has become an issue of controversy, with many of the ‘categories’ the world is split into, being decided for us before we are born. These series of classifications come with unspoken rules, mindlessly assuming that each person will follow their unwillingly chosen path. However, postmodern attitudes have allowed freedom to explore other paths relating to identity and gender. Creative figures such as Dickie Beau present not only a voice, but a chance to reshape ones self and produce a manipulated identity which an individual is comfortable offering society. Expressive figures in society, and growing movements and cultures can have a tremendous impact on progression. Giving people a voice and pushing the boundaries of social norms can develop a wider audience, in turn creating a larger understanding. Publicising cultures can push society to identify with them. Beau can mould cultural attitudes, with productions such as Lost in Trans being representative of many people’s struggles with identity. “Beau is totally inhabited by these voices, and through that loses his own identity, becoming a puppet for all their wants and desires” (thedoublenegative, 2013) A clear metaphor for the controlling nature of society, taking people’s individual identities and producing puppets to live in a way that is considered ‘right’ – “the risks of the mutability of human identity, the risk of losing the original identity” (thedoublenegative, 2013)
Fig. 1 Lost in Trans (2013)
“Theoretically, liberal feminism claims that gender differences are not based in biology, and therefore that women and men are not all that different — their common humanity supersedes their procreative differentiation.” (Lorber, 1997:9) Postmodern feminism has started a movement that makes the world a place where both men and women can be anything other than human, and push against the stereotype without consequence. Throughout Lost in Trans, Beau discusses the issues that come with not following the ‘typical path’, and highlights how ingrained people’s ideas on humanity are. Anything differing from the everyday pattern is considered taboo, and Postmodernism being a gender-free paradigm challenges this, leaving past generational teaching outdated. Media and technology have allowed unapologetic expression of identity, and provide a gateway for people to explore different possibilities and develop a wider understanding than that of what they have gained from their parents or similar influence. “When someone has rejection from their mother and their father, their family, when they get out in the world they search. Search for someone to fill their void. I know this from experience, because I’ve had kids come to me and latch hold to me, like I’m their mother or like I’m their father, and talk to me and I’m gay and they’re gay and that’s where a lot of that mother business comes in, because their real parents gave them such a hard way to go, they look to me to fill their void.” (Lost in Trans, 2013) Ignorance surrounding gender is slowly becoming eradicated, with wide spread exposure from a young age. This brings up discussions amongst young people, as they teach each other information they have gotten from peers. What a young person is taught can be heavily dependant on the stance of the most influential people in their lives. As Beau emulates the personalities and identities of individual’s characters, he somewhat empathises with their experiences, channelling voices he sees as being misrepresented and misunderstood. “I used to hustle in New York to make my money. I was with a guy, he was playing with my titties until he touched me down there. He felt it and he seen it and he totally flipped out. He said ‘you fucking faggot, you’re a freak, you’re a victim of AIDs, you’re trying to give me AIDs.. what are you crazy?! You’re a homo I should kill you.’ You know, stuff like that and like, I was really terrified so I just jumped out the window.” (Lost in Trans, 2013)
We are what we ‘perform’. Identity has a dual nature and we have two versions of ourselves. Our ‘true self’ , and who we present ourselves as to society. If gender fluidity is not recognised, many will feel they must condition themselves to develop a certain identity, rather than present an identity they have unconsciously. However, this comes with a counterpoint. If we perform and declare our gender, we participate in it’s construction, as we have accepted our place as a member of a gendered social order. There is also the question of whether the death of Sex/Gender will lead to the death of feminism? The whole feminist practice is marked by an endless conflict for a ‘separate identity’, affirming oneself as a female before the entire society. When postmodernism talks about the removal of the boundaries between sexes, it eventual kills the element of ‘an identity for women’. Without there being a difference between men and women, there is no need for feminism and it becomes a paradox in itself. “It is a weapon using its potentials for the deconstruction of itself. It’s a self destructive entity.” (Butler, 1990) Feminism is to take hold of femininity and allow it to stand for anything rather than society’s paradigm of the word. To lose the gender of women would be to adapt and mesh to become one social being – which would ultimately eliminate all struggle to produce a strong outlook on ‘the feminine’. Would the dilution of the female form produce a more masculine world and take away from all progress, despite the disappearance of gender?
Feminism is to take ownership of femininity and allow it to stand for anything rather than society’s paradigm of the word. Whilst femininity is solely dependant on each individual, to lose the gender of women would be to lose femininity. Resulting in an adaptation to mesh as one social being which would ultimately eliminate all struggle to produce a strong outlook on ‘the feminine’. If there is no capacity for an outlined idea of gender in society, why should the performance and assertion of it be accepted? Without defining gender-specific features, self-expression becomes limited to simply our ‘likes and dislikes’. Additionally, if an individual’s identity is reliant on and strengthened by their gender, will removing this factor dilute their presence in society and potentially produce a society of people that mimic each other, purely replicating trends without any present identity. The abolition of gender leads to the disappearance of expressing oneself through gender and performance of your chosen identity.
If a person is told they should not express their gender, it puts the same restraints on them as having to conform to gender stereotypes. Being controlled by society in a passive way is thought to be emancipating, but it still puts restraints on peoples freedom of expression. Although it is thought to be liberal, completely oppressing gender stereotypes juxtaposes freedom of choice, oppressing people that choose to be what is considered stereotypical. This attitude reverses all progress, as it still controls people’s identity choices and aims to create a ‘new stereotype’, creating one identity for all.
Ultimately, it raises the big question as to whether our gender identity is predetermined or shaped by our experiences and culture. The idea of a person’s masculinity and femininity come into question and the definitive ideas of each become blurred and less set in stone. Referring to identity, gender is performed by people based on the social norms, and what is considered acceptable. Depending on the culture and environment someone is in, can have a major impact on the expression they choose. Society has forced men and women into ‘social constructs’ of gender, categorising them to distinguish men and women from each other – but these heteronormative categories have no basis in reality.
Butler, Judith (1990) Gender Trouble. London: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Inc.
Lorber, J. (1997) ‘Gender Reform Feminisms’ In: Judith Lorber. The Variety of Feminisms and their Contribution to Gender Equality. Oxford University Press. pp 9
Lost in Trans (2013) London: Southbank Centre.
thedoublenegative (2013) The Double Negative [online article] At: http://www.thedoublenegative.co.uk/2013/11/a-voice-heard-by-all-dickie-beau-lost-in-trans/ (Accessed on 15/04/17)
Figure 1. Lost in Trans (2013) [photograph] At: http://www.lukasdemgenski.co.uk/Dickie-Beau-Lost-In-Trans-Stage-Installation-2013