How does gender identity impact us? As a student of psychology and creative people, I find that to be a fascinating topic – especially as it relates to artists.
How does our identity impact how we express our creativity?
One aspect of gender and identity is androgyny.
Actor Tilda Swinton once commented:
“The other day, I was going through the airport security and I was searched by a male security guard. I’m very often referred to as ‘Sir’ in elevators and such.
“I think it has to do with being this tall and not wearing much lipstick. I think people just can’t imagine I’d be a woman if I look like this.”
Janet Mock is a New York Times bestseller author, advocate, TV host and more.
A Guardian [UK] article notes “Mock used to call herself the great pretender. When she left Hawaii to go to New York, she decided to keep her past to herself.”
She says, “I had to pretend, or withhold parts of myself. Specifically my trans-ness. I had to pretend I was any other 21-year-old.”
The article writer and interviewer notes she “was helped by the fact that gender is relatively fluid in Hawaii. The word “māhū” denotes a third gender.
“It is a pejorative for gay men and drag queens, but it can also have a sense of the sacred attached to it.”
Mock says, “My mom, growing up in Hawaii, saw trans people existing every day. She didn’t know they were trans. She was just like: ‘Oh, that’s such-and-such who lives on the street.’
“It was the norm to have people who were not male or female; people who may be in the middle somewhere.”
From Interview: Janet Mock: ‘I’d never seen a young trans woman who was thriving in the world – I was looking for that’ By Simon Hattenstone.
[Photo is from her Facebook page.]
One of her books: Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me.
In his post From George and Lennox to Gaga and Lambert: Androgyny, Creativity, and Pop Culture [in his Psychology Today blog “Beautiful Minds”, 2009], psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman points out:
“Explicit displays of androgyny are everywhere these days, from the hip thrusting performances of Adam Lambert to the motorcyle riding feats of Lady Gaga.
“So let’s take a step back and ask: Is such an expansion of behaviors good for society? Or, as some have suggested, will it cause the downfall of civilization?
“Is all this individual excess making us a more narcissistic society? What about the potential benefits for creativity?
“First things first. Psychological androgyny has been no stranger to artistry.
“Let’s take a little trip down memory lane. The 1984 Grammy Awards was a momentous occasion. … Highly androgynous musicians Boy George and Annie Lennox competed for the best new artist spot and Michael Jackson cleaned up with seven awards…”
[Photo: Lady Gaga said “I don’t see myself as ever being like anybody else. I don’t see myself as an heir.” From post Lady Gaga: Honor Your Unique Identity.]
“I’m half man, quite frankly… I’ve never been a girly-girl.”
Natasha Henstridge [TVGuide.com interview, unknown date.]
“I’m not really a good cook. I want to just watch people cook; I stare at them. It mesmerizes me. I’ve always had that with girl-oriented things. Ever since I was a little girl, I thought, “I’m not a real girl.”
“Because I have a big brother and was raised by my dad. I didn’t have any sisters. So I studied girls all the time when I’d be at sleepovers, like I’d go in their bathrooms and check out their toiletries, so I’d know what girls used…
“All the characters that I do on the show [“Saturday Night Live”], I realize they’re all drag queens, which is really just a guy trying to be a girl.”
Maya Rudolph [BUST magazine Ap/May 2005]
Angelina Jolie mentioned Marlene Dietrich. Other gifted and talented “tomboys” include Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck, who “often utilized her androgyny to create complex characters who challenged male authority and chafed under restrictive gender roles.” – From post: What Is Power And Empowerment?
Women in power roles
“You don’t have to play masculine to be a strong woman.” //
“It seems like when women are kicking ass it’s because we have some superpower. What’s so great about Ripley, from Alien (1979), is that she’s just a kick-ass woman.
“For younger women like myself growing up in the 1980s, to see something like that was really empowering so I really want to find roles like that for that same reason, so that other girls will be able to say, “Wow, she is a totally relatable woman who’s able to be strong and kick butt.”
Mary Elizabeth Winstead [imdb.com]
[Photo from her Facebook page.]
Michelle Yeoh has performed in a series of martial arts films including “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000).
In an interview, she commented about the popularity of the film: “It’s good that now the Western audience would have a different image of the Chinese women. Where for a while, it was very stereotypical — the demure, very quiet, strong in a very silent way.”
She also noted, “If you read a lot of Chinese literature, there have always been very strong women figures — warriors, swordswomen — who defended honor and loyalty with the men.”
From my article Warrior Women On Screen.
Photo: Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016).
In another article, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman refers to “important female androgynous entertainers such as Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Annie Lennox” and comments that “physical androgyny was creative in the 80s because it was actually innovative. It did challenge gender stereotypes.”
But, he adds, “The psychological aspects of androgyny seem to have been lost on many performers in this generation, who think they are being creative and unique simply by the way they dress, the way they twerk, or the way they so-called ‘blur the lines.’
“When in fact, all the research suggests that it’s psychological androgyny, not physical androgyny, or stereotypically masculine or feminine displays of behavior, that is associated with creativity.”
Among other research Kaufman references, he notes:
“In 1980, Weinstein and Bobko found that above an IQ of about 115, IQ was no longer correlated with creativity as measured by a test of the ability to form remote associations and a measure of the ability to generate associative uses. What was related to creativity? Androgyny.”
He quotes these authors on how this might be working for creative people:
“In being androgynous, especially in a sex-stereotyped society, a person would need to be open to experience, flexible, accepting of apparent opposites, unconcerned about social norms, and self-reliant — exactly those traits identified with creative persons.”
Blurred Lines, Androgyny and Creativity By Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific American, Sept 1, 2013.
Scott Barry Kaufman is scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He is author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined and co-author (with Carolyn Gregoire) of Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind.
Artists like Annie Lennox above may find creative power in “blurring the lines” of traditional gender appearance and behavior, but what about people who are younger, or making choices because they don’t ‘fit’ gender norms?
A news article on this topic commented:
“In exercise books, sports line-ups, or in the simple act of going to the bathroom, school children have to answer the seemingly simple question, ‘are you a boy or a girl?’
“For Canadian school kids who exhibit cross-gender behaviour or presentation, this question is not only limiting, it’s the source of angst.
“Childhood gender independence, or gender creativity, is often viewed as an abnormality in need of a cure – but it’s that attitude that needs to be fixed, according to Concordia University political science professor, Kimberley Manning.
“The majority of gender independent children suppress their identities because of societal pressure. In reality, it’s at this young age that these kids need the support and freedom to explore who they really are so that they have a better chance to grow up to be healthy and happy adults,” she says.
From gender identity disorder to gender identity creativity, Concordia University via Medical Xpress, October 11, 2012.
In a post on this topic, Anna Kang notes “Research discovered that children exposed to traditional gender roles developed constricted gender views and behaviours, inhibiting the development of divergent thinking and creativity.
“On the other hand, those who displayed bigender traits showed creative thinking and even higher emotional intelligence.”
The research, according to Kang, is in the book Promoting Creativity in Childhood: A Practical guide for counselors, educators, and parents by Nanolla Yazdani Ph.D.
Musician Wendy Carlos was born Walter Carlos. She “oversaw the development of the Moog synthesizer, then a relatively new and unknown keyboard instrument designed by Robert Moog.
“Carlos came to prominence with Switched-On Bach (1968), an album of music by Johann Sebastian Bach performed on a Moog synthesizer… She composed the score to two Stanley Kubrick films, A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980), and Tron (1982) for Walt Disney Productions.
“In 1979, she was one of the first public figures to disclose that she had undergone gender reassignment surgery.” [Wikipedia]
The Danish Girl
As Wikipedia summarizes the movie: “In mid-1920s Copenhagen, portrait artist Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) asks her husband, popular landscape artist Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), to stand in for a female model who is late to come to their flat to pose for a painting she’s working on.
“The act of Einar posing as a female figure unmasks his lifelong identification as a woman, whom he has named Lili Elbe.
“This sets off a progression, first tentative and then irreversible, of leaving behind the identity as Einar, which he has struggled to maintain all his life.”
Wikipedia page on The Danish Girl (film).
Photo: Lili Elbe, Painter (1882–1931) from Biography.com.
“Gender creative kids are also sometimes referred to as gender nonconforming, gender variant, gender independent, transgender, and in the case of Aboriginal children, two-spirited.” – GenderCreativeKids.ca.
“We live in a majority-enforced gender binary world.” Lilly Wachowski
The Wachowski siblings have written, produced and/or directed a series of powerful, visually and thematically exciting movies including the Matrix series, V for Vendetta, Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending and the sci-fi series Sense8.
Their credits in past years were as The Wachowski Brothers, or as Andy and Larry; they are now Lilly and Lana.
In her article on the artists, Rebecca Keegan writes:
“I interviewed the Wachowskis twice — once in 2012 and once in 2015 — and was struck by their unusual mix of intellectual voraciousness and Midwestern unpretentiousness. Lana, with shocking pink dreadlocks and a ready laugh, could talk for hours about anything from 9/11 to “The Illiad” to my red, patent leather purse.
“Lilly, who had not yet transitioned, was more reserved, but acerbically funny, and gender-bending in her presentation, wearing dark nail polish and a flowing head scarf.
“On screen, Lana and Lilly have presented a nuanced view of gender, going back to their first feature, the 1996 crime thriller “Bound,” which centers on a clandestine affair between two women. In “Cloud Atlas,” they cast some actors to play the opposite gender.
“We wanted this feeling that we’d get the dissolution of borders and boundaries,” Lana said when I asked her about that casting decision in 2012.
“The whole system of understanding what the other is — man, woman, white, black, Western, Asian — there are all these barriers to understanding the human-ness that’s underneath these distinctions.”
“To interview the Wachowskis on the topic of gender was to get schooled — they foisted my questions about female directors and action heroines back on me, pushing me to probe deeper.
“Yes, women are getting some roles, but they’re basically playing men,” Lilly said to me.
“Can you tell a story where the main character is a woman who doesn’t have to beat people up and be stoic and emotionally withholding?” Lana asked me.
“Can you tell a story where a female character uses just her intelligence and her empathy?”
What I learned about gender — and compassion — the last time I interviewed the Wachowskis By Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times Mar 9, 2016.
[Photo from Lana Wachowski on Coming Out: ‘Once You Accept Who You Are, You Will Always Be More Free’ by Antoinette Bueno, ETOnline March 09, 2016.]
Filmmaker Lilly Wachowski writes:
“Being transgender is not easy. We live in a majority-enforced gender binary world. This means when you’re transgender you have to face the hard reality of living the rest of your life in a world that is openly hostile to you.
“I am one of the lucky ones. Having the support of my family and the means to afford doctors and therapists has given me the chance to actually survive this process. …
“So yeah, I’m transgender. And yeah, I’ve transitioned.
“I’m out to my friends and family. Most people at work know too. Everyone is cool with it. Yes, thanks to my fabulous sister they’ve done it before, but also because they’re fantastic people. Without the love and support of my wife and friends and family I would not be where I am today.
“But these words, “transgender” and “transitioned” are hard for me because they both have lost their complexity in their assimilation into the mainstream.
“There is a lack of nuance of time and space. To be transgender is something largely understood as existing within the dogmatic terminus of male or female.
“And to “transition” imparts a sense of immediacy, a before and after from one terminus to another. But the reality, my reality is that I’ve been transitioning and will continue to transition all of my life, through the infinite that exists between male and female as it does in the infinite between the binary of zero and one.
“We need to elevate the dialogue beyond the simplicity of binary. Binary is a false idol.”
Second Wachowski filmmaker sibling comes out as trans by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times, 2016-03-08.
A few related articles
Lana Wachowski Reveals Suicide Plan, Painful Past in Emotional Speech (Exclusive Video) by Seth Abramovitch, Hollywood Reporter magazine 10/24/2012.
“Cloud Atlas co-director Lana Wachowski is breaking her silence on her traumatic childhood. In a funny, honest and deeply moving speech delivered at the Human Rights Campaign’s gala fundraising dinner in San Francisco, Wachowski revealed painful details related to growing up transgender.”
The Complex Personality of Creative People – Creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi notes, among other qualities, that creative people “May defy gender stereotypes, and are likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other as well. A kind of psychic androgyny.”
Androgyny and acting – Maria Bello: “I love to play with gender roles; I find that really fascinating.” Also quotes by and about Barbara Stanwyck, Mira Sorvino.
See many more quotes on the page Androgyny / gender.
In his book The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, Steven Pressfield writes about a number of challenges we may face as creative people, including our fear that we can transcend the mundane, to “become the person we sense in our hearts we truly are.”
He thinks “This is the most terrifying prospect a human being can face,” because it removes them (they imagine) from all the “tribal inclusions” their “psyche is wired for and has been for fifty million years.”
This post is a selection from my book “Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression” – follow the link to see more excerpts.
Virginia Woolf declared that an ideal writer ought to be “woman-manly or man-womanly…
“Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.”
Actor Charlize Theron “is very much a whole person, very feminine, but at the same time strong and masculine. That’s one of the reasons she can play anything.” – Theron’s producing partner, Meagan Riley-Grant.