A group of young trans people from Gendered Intelligence worked with an artist to produce The Transvengers: a web comic that will feature in the forthcoming Institute of Sexology exhibition at Wellcome Collection. In this series, Jason Barker, the artist in question, writes about his experience of working with the group. In this post, he describes the process of developing the theory which underlies the comic, and society, today.
I missed the train to London one morning and so bought myself a large coffee. I was doodling on an envelope, thinking about the project and about “normality” in terms of gender and sexuality, how it’s constructed to keep us all on the straight and narrow and what happens to people who don’t fit the pattern.
I have often thought that being different from what is considered normal can give people a unique view of the world. It’s like Neo, the character from the Matrix, becoming aware of the construction of what everyone else considers reality, or when Toto pulls back the curtain and Dorothy sees that the Wizard of Oz is just a human being playing a trick with smoke and mirrors.
I drew a simple diagram of the expectations that people have when a child is born. The first question most people ask when a baby is born is “what is it?” meaning which sex has it been assigned, the assumption usually being that there are only two possibilities. From there, the rest of the paradigm clicks into place. For example, a female assigned person is expected to behave in certain ways, do things that other female assigned people do and be exclusively attracted to male assigned people.
Later on I drew this diagram for the group and named it “The Paradigm of Heteronormativity”. When we were discussing how we wanted people to feel when they’d finished reading our comic, one person in the group said “I’d like them to see the paradigm”. And so the Paradigm of Heteronormativity became the deadly foe of the Transvengers. We drew on real life experiences to demonstrate how the paradigm effects us as trans people on a day to day basis, how we’re all up against people’s expectations and what is considered normal by society.
Jason is an illustrator, animator and film maker. Look out for the rest of his posts about the project.