This week it’s all about breaking down barriers, diversifying categories, and redefining the ‘norm.’
As you may have heard, Conchita Wurst, of Austria, took home first prize at the Eurovision contest this week. Oh, and she has a beard. Although a transgender woman has won Eurovision in the past, in pairing a sequinned dress with a beard, as Paris Lees argues in The Guardian, Conchita Wurst was refusing to be pushed into a box (the ‘male’ box, ‘female’ box OR the ‘trans’ box). Although any perusal of videos related to Conchita Wurst’s win reveal a plethora of negative and bigoted comments, the fact that a person so obviously defying traditional gender norms was able to win a competition based on public votes is at least a positive step towards a more accepting society.
And, on the topic of diversity acceptance (or recognition), I highly recommend this TEDx Talk by iO Tillet Wright about the problems (and uselessness) of boxing people into categories of sexuality, as the reality of humans sexuality seems to be more of a spectrum than distinct, clear categories of ‘straight’ or ‘gay.’ Wright, for example, was born as a girl, lived as a boy for 8 years, and then decided to live as a boy again; she likes boys and girls. Wright’s point is that these dubious categories should not be used to designate some people in society as second-class citizens. In a move close to my heart, Wright is using photography as a means to fight discrimination, because of the art form’s ability to illustrate our shared humanity, despite our infinite diversity.
Always on trend, Facebook in the US has recently increased the number of gender identities that people can choose from on their profiles to 56. And soon all of us in the rest of the world will be granted this same right by the almighty Facebook gods. As The Guardian argues, however, (echoing Wright’s points) perhaps it’s best just to have a blank box that people can fill in themselves because, clearly, when you reach 56 categories it’s probably time to acknowledge that the limitless range of people’s genders (and sexualities) do not fit so nicely into predefined boxes.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also recently released a Bollywood-style video combatting homophobia. The video depicts an Indian family preparing to meet their son’s new partner, only to discover that the partner is a man, and follows how the family reacts. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, explained, “As awareness grows, attitudes will change. We need to do all we can to hasten change by challenging the myths and misinformation that get in the way of understanding. That is what this campaign is about.”
Reading through all of these articles this week reminded me of an essay I wrote during my undergraduate studies. Clearly ahead of my time in 2005, I wrote:
“A few days ago, while I was ordering my usual medium, fair trade, skinny latte, with one sugar and a marshmallow on top, I thought to myself how wonderful and intriguing the world would be if we could all have our own personally-designed sexualities just as we all have our own, unique ways of drinking coffee…The notion of sexuality was born out of the realisation that sex did not have to be procreative and out of a need to classify human beings after the immense proliferation of sex-related discourses in Europe during the Victorian era. Creating the concept of sexuality gave European scientists, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists the power to define who was ‘deviant’ and who was ‘normal;’ hence the emergence of the homosexual and, eleven years later, the heterosexual…With so few categories to choose from, it is likely that the majority of us have to force ourselves – and sometimes, physically alter our bodies – to fit into the identities of ‘heterosexual,’ ‘homosexual,’ ‘bisexual,’ and ‘transsexual.’ Perhaps nobody really fits. How many people have to endure life feeling like they do not belong, before the discourses which hold the power of definition finally construct a wider variety of sexual identity categories?”
It may have taken nine years, but perhaps these events of the past week are a sign that the social change I was hoping for as a 22 year-old are finally, slowly, beginning to become a reality.