Each day, both consciously and unconsciously, we draw upon all sorts of items that allow us to manipulate our bodies and express our gender identity. In February 2014, as part of LGBT History Month, the Science Museum launched a new case of objects that seeks to demonstrate a shift from seeing gender only as a boy/ girl binary towards viewing gender as something much more dynamic. The case can be seen in the Who am I? Gallery
Society has often viewed gender as a binary – an exclusive classification of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’. Yet, this concept isn’t always inclusive. Science plays its part in distinguishing ‘boys’ from ‘girls’, but science can also be used to empower us to express who we are.
Science has played its part in categorising the psyche – the internal sense of self and emerging behaviours, which is really crucial when we are thinking about gender identity. Science has also established understandings of sex and gender through endocrinology – the study of the effects of sex hormones on the body. Today, transgender people are able to use science and medicine as tools to help them express who they are through psychotherapy, hormone therapy and surgical procedures.
This case seeks to show how we all have experiences of conforming and not conforming to societal expectations of being a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’. What makes up your gender?
‘Coming out’ of the closet has become a metaphor for when we share something about our private selves to the public world. People come out as lesbian or gay because the assumption is that everyone is straight. People come out as transgender because there is an assumption that everyone identifies with the gender that they were assigned at birth. But people come out as all sorts of things these days – you can come out as a knitter, a stamp collector or a techie-geek!
Michael Warner is a queer theorist. In his book Publics and Counterpublics he says,
‘We blame people for being closeted. But the closet is better understood as the culture’s problem, not the individual’s’ (Warner 2005, 52).
This case has been created by young transgender people from Gendered Intelligence. The objects in the showcase demonstrate how we all use objects and do things to our bodies in order to express our gender identity and/ or to conform to gender norms. Which of these objects do you use?