REVIEW: Rewriting Gender

By Press Room Contributor and Marketing Manager Katie McAllister

Sunday – 11am-12pm, Vinyl Cafe

Towards the end of the Rewriting Gender panel, Alison Evans, Yuki Iwama and Frank Candiloro told us to remember that they were by no means experts on writing gender.  They reminded us they were still very much learning the way to write non-binary stories, and that this was okay.  No one is an expert immediately in this subjective, transformative experience and it is fine to make mistakes along the way.  It’s fine as long as we are confronting them, and learning from them.

The panel confronted a lot about social expectation and rewriting the dominant narrative surrounding gender in the hour we had at the Vinyl Café.  They started with a discussion of writing gender into their work.  Frank explained that as a comic artist, working in a visual medium, xe had to be conscious of drawing characters that were complex enough that meant their gender couldn’t be assumed from one image.  Yuki told us that, even though we shouldn’t, we still have a tendency to tie in someone’s gender with their body when we should never assign gender based on how someone looks.  Representing this dichotomy is challenging across different mediums.  When it came to fiction and non-fiction, Alison explained that she was always very careful to be clear when she wrote from her perspective that her views were hers alone and not always indicative of a wider experience.

This was because, as the panel went on to discuss, gender is such a deeply personal experience.  Given that trans issues aren’t widely discussed, it makes them even more difficult to accurately represent on stage or on the page without personal experience.  Yuki talked about how the current cast of her play is made up of actors who have all experienced trans issues in their own way and so can authentically present the story.  Alison told us that no one in her novel is gendered unless the main character knows for certain their gender.  It’s about little disruptions, she said.

It can be a huge disruption; Frank went onto say, simply being a trans person in this political climate. The visibility of being trans, xe said, was an incredibly difficult space to navigate.  On the one hand, you needed to visibly express your gender to be validated, but on the other hand, it was an incredibly dangerous position to put yourself in when you lived in a society that was still struggling to speak openly about trans issues.   Which is ironic, because this white, heterosexual society was the one to introduce a gender binary in the first place, when most other Indigenous cultures had been openly gender fluid.

Yuki added that the English language doesn’t help.  This language that we all write in was created by white men and is incredibly gendered, incredibly masculine.  We are at a point, the panel agreed, that we needed to start changing the language we used around gender and basically throw away the concepts and words that we have grown out of.

They also agreed it was difficult and often painful to outgrow old experiences and expectations.  Yuki said it was basically like pulling shards of glass out of your body as you come to confront the racist, sexist parts of yourself that you must change.  We are all flawed products of institutionalised racism and sexism, Frank added that coming to terms with his own gender didn’t mean he could simply wash his hands of all of the toxic masculinity he had been conditioned by.

So, where to from here?  The panel agreed it was about writing against a dominant narrative, working to give trans people the space to tell their stories and to always consult the people whose stories were being told.   They agreed this was a tricky space to navigate.  But a space in which we all had a role to play.