Being misgendered

-Are you finished with these, sir?
-I’m female.
-I apologise.

I am still irked by that. She could not see my face, I think. My waterproof jacket is fairly unisex but fastens the feminine way. That wig, again, is clearly a woman’s wig, the woman’s side of the line, even if it’s fairly close to the line. It’s a well-marked line.

Now, I am thinking some day I will have the energy for the follow-through:

-I apologise.
-Well, don’t “Sir” people unless their gender is clear! There’s no point in having “All-Gender Toilets” if you misgender people!

It didn’t really- well not really really– bother me until later, when I was in the Turner Prize exhibition, which this year is all video. They are close to documentaries, in parts. Naeem Mohaiemen’s work is a history of the Non-Aligned movement, worth seeing from beginning to end, though it is on three screens and has the feel of looking at an art work. To me; some commenters said that’s not art that’s documentaries.

Charlotte Prodger’s work is 33 minutes long, and consists of video taken on her phone, with bits of her diary read as voiceover. She had had a job near Banchory, and I wondered if anyone else in the room had been there, or at least through it, like me. She is lesbian, at least sometimes she presents Butch, and part of the voiceover says how at the ferry terminal she was washing her hands in the toilets and a party of women came in, and one went out again to look at the door, then said “I thought I was in the wrong one for a moment”. And how wearing it was when people asked her who her girlfriend is. “Is she your daughter?” Eventually she said “She’s my friend” and thought, now I’m closeted as well.

There is paradox here. She (I checked her pronouns) is misgendered repeatedly, and the thought that a woman could be her partner is seen as remarkable, yet she is up for a huge accolade, notoriety in the right-wing press, and £40,000 if she wins the prize. Highbrows like me, and the odd idiot who goes out and writes the comment “That’s not Art!” on the comments wall, (Actually that’s so stupid, surely it must be irony?)-

onywye, I am watching this Installation feeling intense powerlessness exacerbated by her frank admission of failing to respond to being misgendered, and the middle-class white straight men, well, it might just go over their heads. What’s this wumman on about?

On the comments wall, I took two pieces of paper marked in large letters


and scrawled, “Charlotte was misgendered in the CalMac lavs. I was misgendered in the Tate Gallery Members’ Room” on one and “I have the


to say I exist” on the other. Then I took lots of wee pins and stuck them all over these pieces of paper, skewering the word “Power” and each of the “I”s.

So there.

Waiting for the film/installation to start, I sat by a low table leafing through the books there. One is on queer art, another is a selection of the poems and essays of Audre Lorde specifically for the British market called

Your silence will not protect you

So now I have a book of Audre Lorde, to help me be an ally to ethnic minority people and, perhaps, help me survive.

What if I had shouted out in the showing that I had been misgendered? There were workers in the Duveen Gallery working with children, with suggestions as to participate in art, and when I said I too like to be playful the man gave me a pair of drumsticks. I noticed how the sound they made was different hitting with the tip or the middle of the stick, and investigated the sounds. I could break people’s absorption in the art work, and that distraction would be like Brecht’s alienation technique, they would see it in a new way. But the rooms showing the videos are carpeted, and I just hit the sticks together occasionally, very quietly. And if I had shouted, people would be too well-bred (or something) to show they noticed.

I had a fabulous day. I also spent hours with the Burne Jones exhibition. Pieces here come from the ordinary displays a few rooms away, and from as far as Stuttgart or Melbourne. Is not Madeleine Vivier-Deslandes utterly beautiful? There were so many beautiful things. There’s Perseus stealing the Graeae eye, on oak, and his armour is silver, and their dresses gold. The grey sisters are young, here. One has her pretty face and empty sockets turned to us. There’s a huge tapestry, of Gawain contemplating the Holy Grail and his two companions blocked by three angels from approaching. The trees are dark, and the wild flowers Botticellian. So, the Pre-Raphaelite descent into myth and fancy, before Freud, how ridiculous- except Madeleine is, perhaps, “chimeric, disordered and suffering”. All those buttons on her cuffs undone, and that bodice, so easily ripped. I went in ready for my irony to be exercised, and was entranced- and just a little disturbed. Just now and then.

Turner Prize exhibition “Not Art!” shock

Rain, steam and speedThe other artists in the exhibition had videos. One gave me a moment of surprised delight. An ink line- animated, we do not see the pen- joins dots in a grid. The line lengthens, then suddenly appears to bulge and change shape, joining more and more dots. There you go. I don’t know if it’s art (well, I think it is) but I know I liked it.

The projector was odd, and I spent some time examining it. It points sideways, not at the screen but at a small mirror at an angle, which reflects the light upward to another mirror, which reflects it towards the screen. The narrow film is held taut above the black projector. I could see unfocused colour on the mirror, a blurred misrepresentation of the image on the screen- a cup, from above. It was made or altered for this installation, in a black room. I was intrigued, trying to puzzle it out, though I came to no conclusion.

Duncan Campbell’s other film had a series of African art works starkly lit against a black background, while a white female voice read an essay. I could disagree with the voice- that the Nigerian constitution echoes Kant and Voltaire is not a sign that Colonialism continues, because Kant and Voltaire are world heritage, too great to be merely European. I could argue that is a patronising judgment for Campbell or the woman to make, more acceptable from a Nigerian. I would say it is not Art: it is writing, or a documentary, a film, “The Arts” but not for an art gallery. I would say that. So there. There were far more people watching this than the other videos.

The other videos were more what I am used to, as the video installation in an art gallery. The film lingers on a book of photos, parts of which have been scratched out. Where the photo showed a man lying on the floor, I could not tell whether the boot on his face was part of the original photo, or filmed on it, but a boot on a face is horrible. A wild flower caressed a woman’s face- we could not see who held it- and her open mouth, then her labia and anus. Not suitable for teenagers. I felt detached, and was self-conscious about myself with this art work: attempting to be open to it, wondering if the feelings it evoked were the point- mainly in my case disgust and puzzlement. It gives me a safe space to feel these things, like a horror film.

I loved the voice on the second artist’s film. It was beautiful, sounding to me urgent, wanting to convey to me its feeling of excitement, though the repeated words did not make clear sense. H thought it sounded “needy” and I wondered how that related to my own experience.

Then we went to the Late Turner exhibition, which was crowded out. H saw Rain Steam and Speed– through a huge crowd, it took patience. The mythological paintings seemed to us lit from different places: there is the moon in a night sky, reflected on the water; there is a city up a steep hill, seeming lit by bright sunlight from another direction. Agrippina brings home the body of Germanicus, and I saw the figures as relaxing, as with a picnic. It is possible not to get 19th century art too. I loved the members’ coffee bar. It really does not need all those arches and supports, the pillars and capitols. Even the corridor to the loos, sky-lit and dark panelled, was a sensual experience.