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Genderfication

"Could art survive this radical upheaval?"

Are we sophisticated enough to understand story without viewing it through the lens of gender? Curly Fernandez believes it's time to find out.

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Genderfication

Date: 22 Aug 2018

Recently my employer organised a flu shot me. It made sense. I work in paediatrics.

The first question I was asked when I presented myself was about my gender. Was I male or female? Standard hospital documentation.

I said, ‘that’s a tricky question for me, I don’t know… I’d prefer … gender non-conforming.

The nurse smiled, looked flustered, scanned my by body and said, ‘we’ll go with male.’

The nurse wasn’t at fault. There were only two (binary) options.

This sorting question has been asked of me recently by many other service providers and retailers, from meditation retreats and casting agents, to the Australian Tax Office and my bank.

Genderfication premiered in 2016 at a bar in Redfern.

There, with a group of open actors, I explored the idea of gender-blind casting, as in not restricting the actors gender or biology to that prescribed by the text.

This time round, with support from the City of Sydney, WEAVE and the University of Sydney (Dr. Jessica Kean, Gender and Cultural Studies) we’re investigating whether art itself can be non-binary.

Linearity and theatre go hand in hand. A beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s drummed into us, and widely acknowledged as a basic foundation and a diagnostic tool.

Breaking this classic structure, artistic work is seen as abstract. This carries its own stigma. In order to satisfy, stories orientate, complicate, then resolve. Using society’s knowledge of artistic works can we get a deeper contemporary understanding if that structure was purposefully broken? Are audiences sophisticated enough to understand story without relying on this tenet?

Young people today are organically sophisticated with concepts of gender.

My 11-year-old son recently came home and was tossing through some Saints names for his confirmation sacrament. Part of the preparation is that you take on a Saint’s name whom you admire, then identify with that name during your spiritual life.

He chose the name Cecila. I asked him what drew him to the name. He said the gender of the Saint was irrelevant. What he loved was that Saint Cecila was subjected to vicious torture and that she continued with her beliefs, regardless. To him, she was like a Marvel superhero.

I asked if other class members liked the choice, he looked at me blankly, as if to say, ‘yeah why wouldn’t they?’

This fluidity and gender non-conformity is common among young people. As a Clown Doctor in paediatrics and as a tutor for ATYP, my experience is that the vast majority of tweens and teens choose not to be labelled within the current binary format.

At the Leftovers, we believe we are custodians of art, meaning our first priority is to continue to protect, grow and take responsibility for the expression and application of human creative skill and imagination. We feel it is now time to tackle art by being non-binary within traditional and classic formats.

Can an audience understand a playwright’s story, regardless of the artist’s biology and gender?

Can this go beyond gender-blind casting and pronoun changes?

Can we take linearity, the artist, the playwright’s story (inclusive of binary and contemporary gender neutral pronouns or non identification) and radically shift every perception from every possible prejudice, and then to shake it out for the audience to glean their own meaning?

Can we trust an audience to do this? We believe so. Could art survive this radical upheaval?

Shall we collectively take part in the birthing of a new art form?

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