Girli

We interviewed GIRLI, the young, fearless, London-based singer/rapper/producer making rappy, bratty, sugar-dance-pop

DtL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this, based on your experiences in the music industry?
Girli: My gender has definitely had an impact on aspects of my career – as a girl in a male dominated industry, there’s a lot of “lad” culture which means you get left out or your music gets shunned just because you’re not a dude. I’ve lost out on support gigs and collaborations because of being a woman, but also the fact that I speak my mind and I’m a girl means I get way more s*&! for my songs than men who are outspoken in music. But then, at the same time, I feel like because I’m a girl saying important stuff through my music, people sometimes also pay more attention than they would than if I was a guy. It can swing both ways.

DtL: What themes inspire your writing process?
Girli: Mostly my friends and their dramas – I love listening to people’s conversations and observing their traits then writing songs about it.

DtL: Did you ever experience bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you dealt with it?
Girli: Yeah, I was pretty badly bullied when I went into secondary school in year 7 and 8 by a group of girls, but also in primary school I had a girl I thought was my friend who actually was really manipulative and gross to me and made me lose loads of confidence. I was really scared to go into school for a long time, and my school were crap about dealing with it, but I busied myself with things, like music, studying, family and hobbies. I also started hanging out with better people and then the ones that bullied me stopped bothering me because they saw I didn’t care anymore.

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DtL: What advice would you give to someone who may be experiencing bullying right now?
Girli: My advice would be to anyone going through the same thing to find someone or a group of people in school, whether it’s a counsellor or a schoolmate, who gets you and can help you see that those people don’t matter. You need to find your real friends, because then the people don’t matter anymore.

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Girli: Chill out, don’t worry so much about school, go out and meet everyone.

DtL: What is it like to be a woman in 2016 and what needs to change?
Girli: It depends where in the world you are. In the West, we have made so much progress but still it’s s&%t. So much change still needs to happen with equal opportunities, sexual safety, the pay gap, the way the media puts pressure and humiliates women; the list is long.

DtL: What advice would you give to young people wanting to get into the music industry?
Girli: Just go out and do it. And f*&! what anyone else says. Write songs about anything, record them at home, put them on the Internet ASAP, then go out and play them to people. Cause a riot.

DtL: What is it about the colour pink?
Girli: No clue. It calms me down and revs me up. 🙂

DtL: What is next for GIRLI?
Girli: Loads of new music, GIRLI.FM 2 (my radio show/ mixtape), and a U.K. tour with my buddy Oscar!!

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Girli: Read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – it’ll change your life !!

 

http://girlimusic.com/

Pidgeon Pagonis talks us through their journey of discovering they were intersex

DtL: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey so far?
Pidgeon: At an early age, my mum told me, “You were born with cancer in your ovaries, and the doctors had to take them out to save your life. This is why that scar across your abdomen is there. It’s also why you won’t be able to have a period or have babies when you’re older.” I had no reason to believe she might have been lying.

Knowing I couldn’t have kids when I grew up made me really sad. While playing with Barbies and dolls, I often mourned the fact that I wouldn’t ever be able to have a “real” family. I often felt ashamed that I wasn’t like the other women in my life. In 5th grade, a doctor prescribed me Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) medication. Soon after, my body began to show signs that it was entering puberty. I also had a “bladder issue” during that time and underwent a surgery for it—or so I thought.

DtL: When/ how did you discover you were intersex and what impact did that have on you?
Pidgeon: I didn’t learn that I was intersex until I was 18 and finishing my first year of college. Before this, I believed the lie doctors made my parents tell me: I was born with cancerous ovaries that were removed shortly after birth.

My professor had a slide on the projector about an intersex variation called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). Everything on the slide seemed to match up with my life. Everything, that is, except the bullet point about people born with this variation having XY chromosomes.

“I looked at myself in the mirror, pulled my hair back with the palm of my hand, and studied my features wondering if I was indeed actually a boy”

 

I was declared female at birth (DFAB), and since I grew up in a society where the sex and gender binary was, and still is, rigid, I struggled to wrap my head around the fact that I—a “woman”— might have XY chromosomes. Yet, my gut told me that AIS must be the reason why I couldn’t get a period or have kids and I did indeed have XY chromosomes. I went back to my dorm with a nervous feeling in my stomach. My mother recently received paper work from my children’s hospital since I was 18, and couldn’t technically be seen by their Pediatric staff any longer. I called my mother and asked her to open up that paper work and tell me if she saw anything about a diagnosis.
“It says, Androgen Insensitivity…,” she confirmed over the phone. My breathing stopped and my mind went blank. To say my world fell apart in that instant would be an understatement. Everything I thought I knew about myself, and the world around me, became jolted. I looked at myself in the mirror, pulled my hair back with the palm of my hand, and studied my features wondering if I was indeed actually a boy.

A few weeks later, I was lucky enough to meet an intersex guest speaker who my professor invited to speak in my class. The intersex speaker, Lynnell Stephani Long, let me know I wasn’t alone, and encouraged me to get my medical records from my children’s hospital which was conveniently located across the street from my university. The first page of my medical records stated that doctors diagnosed me as a male pseudo-hermaphrodite with 46XY chromosomes when I was only 6 months old. After being told my entire life by family and physicians that I was a girl, reading that doctors declared me a male pseudo-hermaphrodite knocked the wind out of me.

“My medical records stated that doctors diagnosed me as a male pseudo-hermaphrodite”

 

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I also learned that I didn’t have cancer in my ovaries as an infant, but that doctor’s talked my parents into letting them remove my internal testes when I was one in a procedure called a Gonadectomy. The reason? They told my parents I was a normal girl, but only partially developed, and so they needed to remove my partially developed ovaries or “gonads” in order to prevent them from turning cancerous later in life.

Yet, that wasn’t even the most egregious thing I read. I also learned that when I was only four years old, surgeons removed my slightly larger than average (then again, what’s average?) clitoris in a procedure called a Clitorectomy. Sound familiar? That’s because Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM) are similar procedures.

Lastly, I discovered another surgery I underwent when I was 11, for an issue with my “bladder”, was in fact a vaginoplasty. It left me with with scar tissue, nerve damage and lots of shame regarding my genitalia.

“Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM) are similar procedures”

 

DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying? If so, can you tell us what happened and how you handled the situation?
Pidgeon: When I didn’t go through puberty at the same time as the other kids in school, some started to pick on me for being “flat chested”. I was also tormented by some because I was hairier than others, and some took it upon themselves to constantly point out my “moustache” and other hairy features. Lastly, kids would sometimes make fun of me because I was part Mexican saying some really hateful things about Mexican people to me and in front of me. I internalised these messages and began to hate myself. I lost a lot of respect and love for myself. It began a very dark period.

DtL: What advice would you give to those who may be experiencing bullying/prejudice/negativity because of attitudes towards their gender identity?
Pidgeon: Ignore them. Go on tumblr. Focus on your passions. Read affirmations. Link up with other people like you if you can in support groups online or in person. Smile every time a hater hates on you because it means you’re doing something right. You’re amazing. They are hurt people and remembering this can help give you a little bit of understanding into why they are doing the things they are doing. But, you can’t change them, you can only change yourself and how you react, so focus on your healing.

“My physicians performed medically unnecessary, non-consensual, nerve damaging surgeries on me in order to prevent future distress (aka gender dysphoria), and in turn created the exact outcome they claimed they were trying to prevent”

 

DtL: What is it like to be intersex in 2016 and what needs to change?
Pidgeon: I’m 30 now, and it’s been 10 years or so since I first read those records. I’ve never come to a place of acceptance about what they’ve done to me—and I likely never will—but I have come to accept, and even embrace, that I was born intersex like 1 in 2,000 people out there. While I embrace being intersex, I also mourn what the medical industrial complex did to me to prevent me from ever knowing what it would be like to experience this world, especially intimate
relationships, with the beautiful intersex body I was born with. My physicians performed medically unnecessary, non-consensual, nerve damaging surgeries on me in order to prevent future distress (aka gender dysphoria), and in turn created the exact outcome they claimed they were trying to prevent. This needs to end, like yesterday.

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Pidgeon: I would give myself the instruction on how build a time machine, travel to year 2016, download and listen to Princess Nokia’s Tomboy track off her EP titled 1992 —which has a verse that says “With My lil titles and my fat belly” and listen on repeat. Also, let yourself know that you’re going to figure it out and come to accept everything—it’s going to be okay one day.

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Pidgeon: Getting an award from the white house with my dad in the audience.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/680PAGONIA_web.jpg”]

 

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Pidgeon: After coming to terms that there is no going back—that there is no magic pill or surgery that could bring my original body back—I set my sights on making sure other intersex kids won’t have to go through what I went through.
Initially, anger was my driving force and I channeled my rage into fuel for my activism. It kept me alive during a time when suicide felt like a constant looming alternative.

A few years after discovering the truth, I was invited to participate as a young intersex activist in a then brand new intersex youth organisation called Inter/Act. My involvement with Inter/Act – which eventually evolved in a job with the organisation as the youth leadership coordinator led to opportunities that afforded me the ability to advocate for my community on a national and international level. In doing that type of advocacy work I was able to come into contact with intersex activists and allies from all across the globe.

“Suicide felt like a constant looming alternative”

 

Meeting other out intersex individuals was a struggle at first. For the longest time, I only really knew one other intersex person and that was Lynnell (the guest speaker in my class). Eventually, after giving some talks in the city, I was able to meet a few intersex people who have either outed themselves as intersex in the q&a, or came up to me afterwards and disclosed in private that they too were intersex.

Now, it seems like everyone’s intersex—JK. But for real, it’s a lot easier it seems to come across people who identify as intersex, and I think that has a lot to do with all of the work intersex activists and advocates have been doing since the early 90s. Today, you can literally turn on the TV and watch an intersex character on the MTV show Faking It! There just seems to be so much more intersex information out there today, then 10 years ago, thanks largely in part to social media.

 

www.pidgeonismy.name

@pidgejen

Vesper blogs about identifying as non-binary

Life would be easier if it came with a guidebook.

If it did, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me 27 years to realise that I didn’t actually have to subscribe to society’s assertion that everyone is either male or female. At the very least, ripping the book to shreds in a fit of rage would have made for great stress relief. Then again, had there been such a book I probably wouldn’t have grown up to be the person that I am today and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Hello, my name’s Vesper. I’m a 31 year old non-binary person who’s here today to tell you that gender is a much more beautifully complex thing than society would have you believe. That some people, such as myself, are neither male nor female but a different gender(s) entirely.

“Some people, such as myself, are neither male nor female”

 

Unlike some who struggled with the gender that society assigned them at birth from a young age, I grew up not actively thinking about gender. While I wasn’t oblivious to society categorising me as one thing as opposed to another, I was content to shrug off society’s assumptions. It wasn’t until adolescence when the background noise from society and my peers became increasingly difficult to ignore. It wasn’t until over a decade of denial and inner conflict later that I happened to come across the word “genderqueer” when researching my sexuality and all things LGBT+, which of course included the word “transgender,” a word I’d never heard of before.

The instant I discovered that there are, in fact, more genders than male and female, everything changed. While this may sound cliché and exaggeratory, the best way I can describe it is that it was like having gone through life for 27 years without glasses not realising just how blurred my vision had been until finally seeing it in focus with glasses for the first time. Everything made perfect sense! I was (am) neither male nor female, but a different gender entirely! I am maverique, one of many non-binary genders which are neither male nor female.

“I ran into criticism and rejection of genderqueer and non-binary people”

 

It wasn’t long at all before I started trying to immerse myself in LGBTQIA spaces online and no sooner had I done so than I ran into criticism and rejection of genderqueer and non-binary people. As someone who was brand new to discussion of sexuality and gender in general, it was incredibly hard not to internalise such negativity, especially since it was coming from people who I saw as my “senior” in the community. At the time, it was especially hard because the internet was my only means of accessing LGBTQIA spaces. Feeling under attack in the only space that I had caused me a lot of pain. However, having finally found words and a sense of commonality that made me feel comfortable in myself for the first time in my life, I sure as hell wasn’t about to let take that away from me. I chose to retreat from such spaces and create my own on Tumblr and YouTube.

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It’s been 4 years since I was first able to put a word to my gender. A lot has changed and yet it hasn’t at the same time. I’ve watched as so much growth has taken place within online non-binary and genderqueer communities and even as the identities themselves have grown and changed. In 4 (relatively short) years, I’ve also seen online LGBTQIA communities in general grow, change and yet remain the same. There have seemingly been shifts in the negativity and bullying, but at the end of the day it’s essentially the exact same hurtful thing it has always been, sadly. Unlike before, however, I now have access to offline LGBTQIA spaces. I’m also out to select family members and friends, which has brought with it new challenges.

“I actually never intended to come out to anyone in my extremely religious family”

 

Truth be told, I actually never intended to come out to anyone in my extremely religious family. I ended up being outed time and time again in part thanks to my own social media presence. Make no mistake, being outed is a pleasant experience and I do wish things had happened differently, but 2 years after my first outing to my minister of a mother, I’m finally in a place where I can look back on it all and be glad to be where I am now. My being non-binary continues to be the biggest thing that my family struggles to understand and come to terms with about me, but things have improved a lot in 2 years.

Navigating LGBTQIA spaces as someone who is neither male nor female continues to be very challenging at times. That said, every day awareness and support of non-binary people grows. More than ever, non-binary people are carving out spaces for ourselves and I’m incredibly grateful for this. It means that even when faced with negativity elsewhere, there are spaces for us to retreat to for support and affirmation when need be. I’m so proud of how far things have come for non-binary people in 4 short years. There is still a long way to go, but I’m more confident than ever that we’ll get there.

“Self-care and self-awareness are perhaps two of the most important things I’ve learned since coming out to myself”

 

To exist in this world as a non-binary person is a challenge. Even more than that, life itself is an act of defiance. There are days when that fact makes it all the harder to get through the day, but there are also days when that fact can be empowering for me, making me love myself and everything that I am all the more.

Self-care and self-awareness are perhaps two of the most important things I’ve learned since coming out to myself. If you’re non-binary, genderqueer or otherwise struggling to navigate and survive in this society that we live in, I encourage you to take time out of life for yourself. Shut everyone and everything else out and check-in with yourself. Acknowledge how you’re feeling, allow yourself to feel that way and love yourself because of, or in spite of it. Be kind to yourself because you’re just being you and you’re doing your best. That’s more than enough.

Society in general, including the LGBTQIA community, has a lot of learning to do. In the meantime, keep being as awesome as you are. Let those of us who are in a position to try and help society learn, who are able to offer support/encouragement to others, do our thing.

“Navigating LGBTQIA spaces as someone who is neither male nor female continues to be very challenging at times”

 

Perhaps you’re reading this not as a non-binary person yourself, but as someone who’s curious and wants to learn more. There’s a lot that someone who isn’t non-binary can do to support those who are, but in my humble opinion one of the biggest things you can do is listen. Tips on what you can do to be a good ally to non-binary people can be found in the things that we say.

I may be but one non-binary person among many, but I’m one non-binary person among many who can genuinely say that things have gotten better for them and who is determined to help support and raise awareness for non-binary people. Stay strong! And hit me up anytime.

Written by Vesper

Follow Vesper on YouTube

Melissa Brooks on defying gender stereotypes in rock music

DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying? If so what happened and how did you deal with the experience?
Melissa: Yes. Until I reached my late teens, I always felt as if I was an outcast. I felt outspoken, and I always stood out from everyone else growing up. I had a weird sense of fashion in middle school and a weird personality to match. People didn’t get that about me, so I got picked on. In high school, I jumped from friend group to friend group, but I never felt like I really fit in with anyone. I remember my freshman year of high school, when meeting new people I would stick my hand out and say, “Hi, I’m Melissa. I’m the next Lady Gaga.” People really gave me s&*^ for stuff like that. A lot of my so called “friends” were mean to me because I was so passionate about my music career, even when I was just a young teen with nothing but a notebook full of poetry and chord progressions and dreams. My senior year of high school, I ditched all of the people who would talk badly about me. I spent a lot of my time alone in the band room, playing piano and writing songs. I transferred all of the bad energy from what people would say about me, and prove them wrong in my lyrics. I taught myself that I needed to speak up about what I felt and what I was dealing with, and I felt most comfortable doing that within my songs.

DtL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this, based on your experiences in the music industry?
Melissa: If someone wants a certain career path and they work hard towards their goal, they will earn it. Whether you have a penis or a vagina really shouldn’t be a factor in landing your dream job; however, as a woman, unfortunately sometimes we have to work harder for some people to take us seriously. I’ve had employees at venues say to me, “Are you the merch girl?” and they just assume that the guys in my band are the only members. Men will underestimate, but I do not let it discourage me, and girls should not let it discourage them either.

“Whether you have a penis or a vagina really shouldn’t be a factor in landing your dream job”

 

DtL: Have you ever experienced sexism/stereotyping in the industry based on gender? If so, how did you deal with it?
Melissa: A lot of mainstream rock music that is played on the radio is dominated by male-fronted bands, so when a band is female-fronted, it’s almost as if it’s a novelty. “So cute and tiny!”, “Aww, how precious,” is what a lot of people will automatically assume about me. When you picture a rock show, you think testosterone, sweat, mosh-pits, which many people don’t associate with a female-fronted band. The funny thing is that I’m not so sweet on stage. Offstage, I’m a nice lady (haha), but onstage, I’m a force not to be reckoned with. I tell myself if I’m not dripping head to toe in sweat at the end of a show, I didn’t give it my all. I don’t half-ass anything. I like breaking society’s stupid little “gender norms”, especially at our live shows. I encourage girls to not be afraid to stand in the front, get in the pit, and crowd surf. I also try to create a safe environment by letting the audience know that if they’re at barrier and they’re afraid of getting decked, to come on stage with me, and not be sent to the back of the room. I want to create a freedom for everyone at our shows to feel like they can be whoever they want to be, and not because of what society wants them to do or act like. That’s what my song Girl Riot is about.

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DtL: What advice would you give to young people who might want to get into the music industry?
Melissa: Take every opportunity you can and go for it! Play every show you can hop on, no matter how small. Release music, even if they’re just demos. Use social media! It’s a blessing.

DtL: What is the most exciting thing you are working on right now?
Melissa: I am thrilled to close off our national tour with a music festival I have curated, called GRL PWR FEST . It will take place October 30th at The Irenic in San Diego, California.  I wanted to create GRL PWR FEST for an important reason, which is to inspire girls to want to start their own bands. I can’t tell you how many shows and festivals we have played where female-fronted bands or female artists are higher on the bill compared to male-fronted bands and artists. These mini-festivals feature strong females who have mad energy and can rock twice as hard as any boy could ever dream of. GRL PWR FEST is all about defying gender roles, loving yourself, being comfortable in the skin you’re in, and to inspire women to do what they love and not let who they are limit them.

“I like breaking society’s stupid little ‘gender norms'”

 

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Melissa: I would tell myself, all that you’re dreaming is going to come true. Don’t give up. Keep going.

DtL: What tends to inspire your writing?
Melissa: I honestly get random bursts of inspiration. Beautiful words will pop into my head, then lines, then poetry forms, then a melody. Once I hear the melody in my head, I hear the entire song in my head. The beat, all the instrumentation, everything. I can be in the shower and a song idea will just come to me randomly, sometimes I’ll sit down with a notebook and pen at my piano and I’ll just write what pops in my head, and other times it’s a longer process.

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Melissa: Believe in yourself and what you stand for!! Also, I can’t wait to share new music with you!

Follow Melissa on Twitter

 

Categories
Gender

Gender As a Spectrum

“Gender is not sane. It’s not sane to call a rainbow black and white” –  Kate Bornstein (American author and gender theorist)

Gender As a Spectrum is a book that challenges the notion of gender binaries and explores the lives of trans and genderqueer people in an intimate series of photographs and interviews. We spoke to photographer Joseph Wolfgang Ohlert and co-author Kaey to find out more about the inspiration behind the book and what it means to be trans and genderqueer in 2016.

 DtL: How did the idea for the book come about?
Joseph: A mutual friend introduced us. That was also the evening I photographed Kaey for the first time.
Kaey: I already knew who Joseph was and what he did, though. Back then I was working for a fashion magazine in Hamburg, I was already aware of him and his work. I‘d basically followed him from the beginning. That was about three or four years ago. I‘d wanted for a while to make a book about transgender people and wrote to Joseph about it. He already had a similar idea, and had already started on a project.
Joseph: I was sick of just model boys and model photography and wanted to start something a little more personal. During my time at high school I elected to take an art course with the name ‘Man, Woman and Individuality’, and I wanted to pick up on that again. I was out on the scene a lot and wanted to do something for the community, something which I felt was missing, something that I could make comprehensible in my pictures. When Kaey wrote to me, I was in the middle of my preparations for my final paper at the Ostkreuz School of Photography in Berlin. I’d already been dealing with gender for that, and our ideas fitted together well.

“There are more than just ‘men’ and ‘women’”

 

Kaey: Three years ago, not long before I started taking hormones, I had a phase in which I had a very strong urge to read some literature about it. I noticed there was nothing available, or just nonsense. It was absurd that there was nothing which reflected my reality, and that of many of my transgender friends. I felt that something was missing and I imagined what I would like to find. I wanted to portray people in their differences, their own identities, their personal pathways and their own words. Not written by some author conveying a story. Not from reporters or non-trans people who had written a book, but transgender people writing about transgender people. I think it‘s nicer to speak up for yourself.

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DtL: The theme of gender identity is a sensitive and intimate issue for many; how did you approach the subjects and the interviews?
Kaey: From the get-go it was clear that the book and the topics should take the personal perspective. In practice, I decided because of that to conduct the interviews via email, so as to give people the time and personal space that they each needed. Sexuality and gender are often confused by many people and it was important to show that there are all kinds of genders, and that they also have all sorts of sexualities. That gender in and of itself doesn’t explain sexuality, but raises the question ‘how do I define myself and what I am into?’

“Sexuality and gender are often confused by many people”

 

Joseph: We wanted to have questions that were pretty intimate, but it was up to each person how they wanted to present themselves and which questions they wanted to answer. Some do it with humour and eloquence, without having to reveal their innermost selves. It was supposed to be a framework, so that people had the opportunity to say what was important to them.
Kaey: Ultimately, that opened up many dimensions for us; some portraits are very detailed, while others are very playful. Some respond succinctly, others put a lot of reflection into it. Although they are always the same questions, the variations in the answers made it very exciting.

DtL: Joseph – as a cis man, how did you arrive at the issue of gender, what relationship do you have to it?
Joseph: In Berlin you’re confronted with the fact that there are more than just ‘men’ and ‘women’, especially in the scene. Questions such as ‘who am I, and what makes me different from other people?’ arise. They’re thoughts which are fundamental to my understanding of human beings and how I deal with others. I always start with myself, with looking at myself objectively. The inequities between male/female, gay/straight, trans/cis – where are the boundaries, where do I locate myself in it and how can I disrupt it? I realised that there’s no fixed aspect of my gender and my sexuality that I could define as ‘me’, but that it is fluid. You can drift. You’re not trapped at any one point even if you, as I do, define yourself for example as a ‘man’. The book is therefore for me an analogy through which to understand life. Gender is a theme for everybody, and is part of every identity.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_21.jpg”]

 

DtL: The book doesn’t limit itself to one side of gender identity, but it contains portraits of people from transgender to drag, binary to non-binary, it also includes performed, playful aspects of gender roles. What was particularly important when selecting the subjects?
Kaey: In the beginning it was my idea to make a book about transgender people, but Joseph was very connected to the community around the drag scene, having taken a lot of pictures at parties. That is what captivated him. We wanted to then open the issue up and not confine ourselves to transgender themes. It also made sense for the title of the book, and the question of how people define their gender. The hook was to present people who do that differently to the norm.
Joseph: Maintaining a balance was difficult. A lot of the work was in persuasion. These are the real lives of the people whose portraits are presented here, and that’s sometimes a very profound thing. Suddenly people show up who want to show that to the world; something that intimate. This isn’t a scientific study for which we sought and collected, but a documentary collection of portraits of personal encounters. It was primarily always about the person and not necessarily about having to have a particular facet of gender represented. I didn’t want the work to take a back seat in order to keep everybody happy. The book was important to me, but it was also a lot of fun. I would like the people to feel the same joy when they look at the pictures that I felt when I took the images, and not to think about what could still be missing.

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DtL: For a while now, transgender issues have received the attention of the mainstream media. What is of particular personal importance to you about this new attention? Do you think your book could make a contribution to it?
Kaey: As a transgender woman I feel any visibility is important. When I was 18, there was no Internet, and what is possible today is worlds apart from that. Fortunately, there is now a limitless well of information if you‘re young and don’t know where you can, or want to position yourself. That well must continue to be filled, though. Transgender people and people who do not fit into standard categories still go too much ignored. It takes many voices, and it’s good that in the book there’s no Conchita Wurst or Caitlyn Jenner represented, people who get their press anyway. The average person, unfortunately, always hears more of the ‘shock stories’. It‘s great to have a book that just shows people as people, and I think that is still relatively rare for transgender people. When we give transgender people the opportunity to speak about themselves, it lends a whole new colour to the discussion. I know from personal experience that when cis people write about you, you’re always one of the very special butterflies behind glass – something to be admired before moving on to the next exhibit. When we speak for ourselves, I find it much more authentic.

“As a transgender woman I feel any visibility is important”

 

Joseph: Transgender has always been there, it’s not a new thing or a trend. Three or four years ago, when I started with this theme, there was no Caitlyn or Conchita in public
life. The increased attention was good for the work, though, and it has further convinced me that other people are interested in and being confronted by it. Due to the greater media attention, more people dare to stand up for themselves, and our work seeks to inspire people – that they can be who they are.
Kaey: I also find it important that it’s a book and not an exhibition. A book is something wonderful, something immortal! I would like to leave something for all those who come after me. Who do you have in Germany that talks about it? The book may be international, but in Germany we have far fewer icons like Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox. Of course there are already conversations taking place about this topic in art contexts. The fact that we offered people the chance to tell their own stories themselves creates a great framework for discussion. Through Joseph’s eye an aesthetic is proposed which has nothing to do with bird-of-paradise readings, or representing people as sad freaks. Joseph has a flair for capturing people in their emotional presence. Not with a suffering gaze, but honestly. Sometimes melancholic…
Joseph: … and proud.
Kaey: Yes, proud too – it‘s a talent to capture emotions, whichever they may be.
Joseph: You can’t make a book on talent alone. Without Kaey this project would never have become what it is now. I am very glad that we found each other, with such a basic trust, and that something this valuable could come of it. We‘ve both grown through it. My photography has also evolved a lot over these two years. When you photograph someone, it is always a kind of convergence. It’s my desire to hold onto that – that interpersonal interaction of commitment that is created. As an artist, it is often as if that encounter would never have happened if I hadn’t taken a photo.

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Gender As a Spectrum is available from [email protected] 

 

Fox and Owl, Trans and non-binary couple

Fox and Owl on what it is like to be a trans, non-binary couple in 2016

DtL: Hi Fox & Owl – can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you met?

Owl: We met at the Transgender Europe (TGEU) Council in Bologna, Italy. The Council is held every two years by TGEU and is the biggest European (even international) event where trans people from organisations all over the world come together and meet, share experiences, host workshops and generally have a chance to network with one another, both personally and professionally.

Fox: I was hired by TGEU to create 5 short films about the work they do and Owl was on a list of people that I was supposed to interview during the Council. So that’s where we connected and the since then it has been a romantic comedy, really.

DtL: Did you have any fears about transitioning?

Fox: It was fear that held me back for so long. I was scared of not being accepted, but most of all I feared it not fixing the deep sense of dysphoria, discomfort and anxiety I felt. Luckily, I took the leap, I’m still around to tell the tale and never been happier.

Owl: To me it was definitely a step that was very frightening to take – but I also felt like it was the right one. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but the alternative was even more frightening and grim. I basically would not be here if I had not made that decision and I don’t regret it for a second. I didn’t have many fears related to the transition process in itself. I was more afraid of how people would react and how I would be treated in society, because we all know that trans people are heavily discriminated and marginalised in society for a variety of reasons. We often lack proper access to health care and our human rights are being broken all around the world. Thankfully I had the opportunity to access a health care system, which is a privilege I am very aware of.

“An act of self-love as a trans person becomes a radical notion”

 

DtL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?

Fox: I’ve been medically and socially transitioning for 5 years now, so I’m past the initial wobbly years, and no longer feel like a teenager! For me, it’s about catching up for lost time. I’m a work-a-holic, so not it’s about trying to find a balance between work for My Genderation, Trans Pride Brighton, All About Trans and my love life with Owl! I’m lucky because we are both heavily involved with trans activism in Europe (and beyond) so we understand when work has to come first.

Owl: I guess my most prominent challenges were to learn how to accept and love myself. In our society, trans people are so heavily scrutinised that an act of self-love as a trans person becomes a radical notion. It’s also learning how to navigate your way around the world where you’re sometimes very celebrated but in other places deeply hated. As an activist who does a lot of work around the world, it’s very difficult to find your place sometimes. But I am in a very good place now with myself. I’ve both socially and medically transitioned and I feel in a place where I am happy with myself, and I’ve also finally found someone to share that with. And not only that but someone who understands and shares my experiences in so many ways.

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DtL: What is it like to be non-binary in 2016 and what needs to change?

Fox: There’s still a lot of work to do in public awareness of non-binary issues. We even have a battle from within the trans community, where some people feel that presenting as other than the binary threatens their own identity. We have no legal recognition. This is why Owl and I are embarking upon a feature documentary called They, which is our non-binary love story, documenting our lives, the way the world treats us (both positively and negatively) as well as the day-to-day lives of many other non-binary or gender-fluid defining individuals.

Owl: Being non-binary is very complicated, because your very being is in itself a political statement as well as being a personal experience. In a world that is so fixated on two genders and two sexes, you simply don’t get to exist in a way. Socially, we are still at such a starting point with the discussion of gender and gender identity, not to mention that we are almost nowhere legally recognised and possibilities to register your gender as anything else than man or woman is impossible. What needs to change is something very fundamental in our society; the constant binary of gender and sex is what is causing most difficulties for non binary trans people and it just causes difficulties for us all. It creates the notion that men and women are two opposites of a spectrum and that they come together and unite each other. This creates very essentialistic ideas about behaviour, expectations, gender roles and so on. So in my opinion, we need to start challenging and questioning this more actively and push for legal rights and access to health care for non binary people.

“Being non-binary is very complicated, because your very being is in itself a political statement”

 

DtL: What are you experiences (positive and negative) as a non-binary couple?

Fox: Just recently there was a massive explosion on FB as our vlog was shared on the darker side of the internet. Within 24 hours we had 4000+ hateful comments. We made this live video at the time: https://www.facebook.com/uglastefania/videos/1400204600006031/?pnref=story. Strangely enough, we’d already filmed this sketch about trans haters, so it was perfect timing to release: https://www.facebook.com/MyGenderation/videos/1253511338016869/?pnref=story

Owl: Our gender expression is mostly feminine and masculine, so when people who don’t know us see us down the street, they might assume that we are cisgender and straight. This is something that gives us a certain privilege in society as we fit into the norm in many ways and rarely have to worry about our safety in public spaces, at least not in places where people don’t know who we are. However, our identities as queer and non-binary are also very important to us, so when we are in queer spaces we sometimes notice that people seem to think we don’t belong there, because of our gender expression and the way we appear to them. They assume we don’t belong in queer spaces.

DtL: Did you ever experience bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience.

Fox: I honestly think that everyone has experienced bullying. When I was younger I was bullied for not being feminine enough. And, as a mixed race person (I’m half indian), having spent many years in the Saudi sun (our family lived out there when I was growing up), I was bullied for the colour of my skin. For many years I was very down on myself but I learned to turn that sadness around, and to create poetry, fanzines, music projects, screen-prints and film.

Owl: I think that anyone who has ever been gender non-conforming at some point in their lives has experienced bullying. I was bullied constantly for being too feminine, constantly being called gay, a fag, a sissy in a negative way. Fortunately I had friends who supported me and I become very involved with sports, as an act of rebellion and to show people that even the people they bullied could beat them at sports. I became very good and I certainly did show them what I was capable of.

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DtL: What advice would you give to those who may be experiencing bullying or feel like they don’t fit in because of attitudes towards their gender identity?

Fox: Don’t give up and live your life for yourself, nobody else. You’re only in a position to help others once you’ve assessed your own situation. Life’s too short to not be happy.

Owl: I think it’s important to remember that we are all beautiful and amazing in our own ways. Find your passion and don’t let anyone take that away from you. Don’t give up and keep going strong. Try to find support around you; what helped me the most was finding people in my position, other trans people and people who experienced bullying.

“It’s important to remember that we are all beautiful and amazing in our own ways”

 

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?

Fox: Having our first broadcast on the BBC in 2015 was amazing. Having a celebration at C4, for the creation of 25 short films through All About Trans was extremely special. It was so amazing to have all the contributors there to celebrate, which is apparent in the photograph afterwards. I felt the most proud at each Trans Pride event I’ve helped put on. We’ve just had our 4th annual celebration and it’s so much work, but always fills my heart with joy. The feeling there is unlike any other.

Owl: I’ve had so many wonderful moments that it’s hard to say. I’ve achieved much success in my activism in Iceland and I’ve been a part of so many different and amazing projects all around Europe. Just to recall a few, I think it was extremely special when I was a part of a project in Lithuania were we held the first official meeting for trans people in that country. It was an amazing experience and I feel like these moments are always the most special. When you connect with trans people around the world and you give each other support. I take my pride from the connections, the friends I make and the people I reach out to and support. It also gives me so much and inspires me to continue.

I’ve also received awards in Iceland for my contribution as a spokesperson, including the science and education award from the Iceland Humanist Association (Siðmennt). I’ve also done a TEDx talk, and done TV interviews, articles and appearances around the world.

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Fox: If you’d like to see more of our work, join us on social media!!

www.youtube.com/mygenderation

[Photo credit: Alda Villiljós villiljos.com ]

Award-winning playwright, filmmaker and published author Alec Butler was born intersex and now identifies as trans. Here they blog about their experiences.

*Note to Reader: Alec uses pronouns I/we throughout the article

This moment right now is our proudest moment, to be an award winning playwright and filmmaker, a published author, a budding scholar at one of the most prestigious research universities in the world, is a dream I dreamed for myself for years.

We were born with an intersex condition over fifty years ago; there was no closet for someone like us growing up. We were both teased and threatened about whether we were a boy or a girl every day at school; bullied on a regular basis in the locker-lined hallways. The teachers did nothing; my parents worried about whether I would end up dead. Instead of dwelling on a reality where we were not wanted, we found solace in writing and making art, reading stacks of books at the local library, biding our time until we were in a position to leave a community where we were not wanted.

I left home on a quest to find other people like us, aware that there were gods/goddesses like me in myths only according to what we were reading in the encyclopedias at the library. In the Greek myths, Teresias, the doubled sexed seer caught my imagination.

“The teachers did nothing; my parents worried about whether I would end up dead.”

 

In the mid 1980’s I moved to Toronto, Canada where I lived as a butch lesbian for decades, making a name for myself as a playwright in the queer Canadian theatre scene, writing, producing and directing plays about lesbian life in the big city. Getting nominated for a national drama award while at the same time couch surfing with friends because we were homeless. Such is the precarious life of marginalised artists in this society.

In the late 1990’s while performing a monologue by Pussy Boy, a film character I was developing at the “Counting Past Two Festival”, the first literary and film festival featuring the work of trans people in Canada is where I heard the word “intersex” for the first time, struck a deep chord in the core of our being.

I researched the many intersex conditions that exist on the worldwide web.

A memory of my mother telling me about a drug her doctor made her take while she was pregnant with us bubbled to the surface. I realised we were born with the one intersex condition caused by medical intervention in utero, lucky us. I often wondered if we were the result of a medical experiment when I was a kid. Thoughts that inspired many sci-fi short stories in my mind, turns out we were not too far off the mark. Since those young fantasies of being special, or an alien from another planet, I discovered that people like us, people who identify with both genders, or none, have existed since human beings have existed, that we were worshipped as deities, that masses of people performed special rituals in our honour, we had sacred and practical roles in the community, we were wanted and desired.

“I realised we were born with the one intersex condition caused by medical intervention”

 

In North America before colonisation, First Nations recognised people like us as healers and teachers called Two-Spirits. Our mixed race family background is a result of colonisation of Canada; our ancestors are First Nations, French, Irish, as well as African on my mother’s side, my grandmother Nanny, was a descendent of the first 250 slaves brought to Cape Breton, a small island on the east coast of Canada. It was on this island in New France where the first point of contact between European and Indigenous people was established, the island where Fortress Louisburg was built 400 years ago, a huge military complex that controlled the trade routes of the New World. In was from our favourite beach at Kennington Cove that Captain Cook launched his curriculum trip around the globe in the 18th Century.

In the 1960’s a section of Fortress Louisburg was rebuilt as a tourist attraction, my father worked there as a carpenter. We lived a twenty-minute car ride down the road from what was once the epicentre of the colonisation, the main port of resource extraction from North America on behalf of the King of France. Today the colonisation continues unabated, it is still in progress. The colonised mind is the root of the mentality of people that bully; colonisation is the birthplace of feeling entitled to take what does not belong to you without asking.

Over the years, since coming out as trans we have made it our mission to decolonize our mind and our community, but the forces of colonisation have been at this for hundreds of years, destroying not only the land, cultures, food and living resources, the very spirits of the indigenous people they encountered and in the process almost wiped out the many beautiful gender expressions that have existed since the dawn of humanity.

We need to remember as Two-Spirit, gender queer, non-binary people that we are the descendants of these LGBTQI2S ancestors who were almost exterminated but they did not succeed because we are still here, that we exist as flesh, blood, guts and bones, mind and spirit, living lives of purpose and pride, we are not just myths in stories from the past.

If I had a message to give to my past self from what I know now it would be to love myself more, by using my voice more not just bury myself in books, thoughts and dreams about how it could be different, although dreaming is an important stage in decolonizing the mind, it is equally important to speak up and act. It’s now the 21st century, trans people have made unprecedented gains in getting their humans rights recognised but a vicious backlash has ensued in response, black trans woman bare the brunt of the backlash, Trans Day of Remembrance is a mass communal memorial to the hundreds we lose to violence every year. So speaking up, not being a bystander when witnessing abuse is more crucial than ever, not just for trans people but for all people who are bullied.

 

Categories
Gender Quiz

How Sexist Are You? [QUIZ]

How Sexist Are You?

Gender equality is – and quite rightly so – a topic of fierce debate at the moment. At Ditch the Label, we believe that everybody should be a feminist. You might consider yourself completely free from all underlying sexist attitudes, but are you harbouring sexist opinions or beliefs without even realising it? Take our short quiz to find out…

Meet the GRL PWR Gang, a collective of girls set for world domination.

We interviewed Artist/Designer Elizabeth Ilsley, Photographer/Director Millicent Hailes and Marketing Consultant Jessica Riches; just three members of GRL PWR Gang, a collective of influential women who have joined forces to promote female empowerment and support other women working in creative industries. 

Founded by Kirsti Hadley and Kylie Griffiths, the GRL PWR Gang works together to provide opportunities for like-minded women to come together for girl-chat, media networking, creative support, team projects and sharing of ideas.

Their objective is to encourage and inspire other young women to access the creative industries as a potential career path, and plan to pass on their collective knowledge to the next generation of young girls via digital engagement and live events. They will soon host talks and mentor young girls on body image, beauty, feminism, social media and how to access that dream job!

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DTL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this, based on your experiences?

  • Jessica: It’s true. But if you’re prepared for that, you can be aware of it. Call it out when you see it, know your rights, educate yourself and join any organisations or unions available to you for extra support.
  • Millicent: It’s really sad. There have been shoots in the past where I have been mistaken for the assistant, and my male assistant is assumed to be the photographer, just because he’s an older guy. This has happened before we’ve even set up or spoken to anyone, so it really is based purely on gender, and who is perceived to be the most ‘capable’ or ‘powerful’. It frustrates me, but ignorance isn’t going to keep me from furthering my career.

DTL: Did you ever experience bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you dealt with it?

  • Elizabeth: Unfortunately, like a lot of people, I experienced bullying throughout primary and secondary school. I had ginger hair and have a prominent mole next to my mouth, so kids used to tease me constantly about my appearance. I was in such turmoil during that time; I tried to cut my mole off with a razor when I was in Year 8, after a group of boys wouldn’t stop calling me ‘moley’! But my god, I am so glad I never had it removed – having a noticeable mole on my face makes me unique, and it has become one of my favourite features now!
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Elizabeth Ilsley
  • Millicent: One of the many times I was suspended at school, was for not intervening in a situation when I was aware that a girl was being bullied. Maybe the teachers thought that, because I was outspoken and confident, I should have stepped in and helped the girl. My mum always tells that story to my little brother and sister who are just starting secondary school – the tale of when their older sister was a coward. I still feel really awful about it now.
  • Jessica: All you have to do is go online to see the disgusting abuse directed at people – particularly women, LGBT+ people and ethnic minorities. I work with a number of bloggers, journalists and celebrities on their personal profiles online, and it makes them want to give up their platform. All you can do is tell them to focus on the people who are positively impacted by their words; they far outweigh the cowardly, unhappy few.

DTL: What advice would you give to someone who may be experiencing bullying right now?

  • Millicent: Tell somebody right away – a problem shared is a problem halved. Don’t isolate yourself, situations seem worse when you feel alone, there are people out there who are going through the same thing as you. More than you think.
  • Jessica: You are not alone. If you can’t get a support network in real life it will definitely exist online – Ditch the Label is a great example of this. You can visit their website and access support at the click of a button if you need to.

DTL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?

  • Elizabeth: You are not ugly. You are as funny and important as everyone else at school. There is no one else like you and life will get really, really fun as soon as you turn 18. Also, stop worrying about the colour of your hair and the socks that you wear.
  • Millicent: Embrace who you are. Wear weird clothes, watch weird movies. You’re great and don’t give a s*&% if someone says otherwise.
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Millicent Hailes

DTL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?

  • Jessica: Being taken seriously as a young woman in business is hard. So many people have said to me ‘you’ve done so much for a girl so young’. They’d never say anything like that if I was a man.

DTL: What is it like to be a woman in 2016 and what needs to change?

  • Jessica: I have a very specific experience of being a woman in 2016, as a straight, white, cis-gendered woman with a degree and a middle-class background. I deal with sexist comments disguised as compliments, and have probably lost out on some income as a result of this – but I’m one of the lucky ones. There are lots of mainstream movements to make life better for women in 2016, but the majority of movements still need to broaden, listen to, and represent the needs of all women, not just those like me.
  • Millicent: Even in 2016 it’s important to remember how far we’ve come together, and how far we still have to go for gender equality and women’s rights.
  • Elizabeth: I want to keep this positive so, to be a woman in 2016 is…fun! Not in every aspect, of course, but in the main, it is incredibly fun! We are free to express ourselves, and there are opportunities out there for us – you just gotta find them.
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Jessica Riches

DTL: Is there anything you would like to add?

  • Millicent: I’m always available to speak to anybody that needs my help or advice. I might not be as good as Ditch The Label, but I’m still here!
  • Elizabeth: Enjoy being a woman – it’s a blessing, but don’t hate on men. Men are a blessing too!

Learn more about GRL PWR Gang here: Girls Girls Girls

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Read our full Gender Report here: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/gender-report-2016/

Whether you are being bullied, or you are aware of someone who is, Ditch the Label is here to help: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/get-help/