The Othered Gender Takes the Knife/Unmaking Space

Our society identifies with and values art, people, and stories as concrete things, rather than movements or processes. Anyone who moves between definitions or exists outside of normative space is marginalized. In turn, we are so bound up in abstractions and stories of our own making (which are informed by a cultural paradigm and personal environment) that we are often alienated from our own experience.

The film short “Unmaking Space” was created for my Drawing I final at Portland Community College with Sasha Miljevich, in which I had complete creative freedom as long as the project contained drawing. The film is an edited long shot of myself drawing with charcoal on butcher paper reversed, so as to ‘undraw’ a kind of autobiography until I am left with only a clean roll of butcher paper. The meat paper itself is a metaphor for these abstractions: they help feed us and our processes, but they also are the wrappings for something that has been killed: once a story is set about someone, even ourselves, changing that story becomes difficult. This film explores the issues of taking up space: how much space do we need? How are certain people shamed, marginalized and essentially then trained to take up less space? Finally, how do the stories we tell of ourselves take up space within, hindering growth into a new space? 

Part of the exploration of this project is my profound discomfort with being the subject of attention and essentially taking up space. To be the subject of this work is an exercise in taking up space. How do our own stories about ourselves prevent us from a spontaneous spaciousness? Personal experiences of lack of housing (living in my car or squatting in warehouses, for example) have prompted questions about access to literal space in the world or community from the perspective of social justice. Also personal experience of physical and sexual assault and being transgender has heightened my awareness of what it means to take up space within my own body or even feeling like my body belongs to me. Having lived most of my life socialized as a woman, I was trained to not take up space and to trivialize my own experience

The painting “The Othered Gender Takes the Knife” was the last assignment for Color Theory, in which we were to map any kind of data using color. Being transgender and having recently lost a dear friend to suicide, I decided to bring attention to the astonishing rates of suicides and attempted suicide in the transgender/gender non-conforming population. The green lines represent suicide attempts by males per age group, the red lines represent females per age group, and the purple line represents suicide attempts of transgender/gender non-conforming persons of all ages (not enough data exists to break it down into age groups). I was frustrated by superficial media analyses of the high rate of trans/GNC suicide attempts, which suggest mental illness is the root cause rather than lack of social support (i.e. we are killing ourselves because we’re crazy, not because we don’t have a safe place in society). It reminded me of the similarly superficial analyses of “black on black violence.” So I included social factors leading to this phenomenon, such as lack of adequate housing, health care, and frequent exposure to violence in the home and by police, exposing discrimination as a root cause, as well as age groups in gender, in order to also expose the sexism behind the high suicide attempt rate of young cisgender women.

I am thankful and honored for the opportunity that the scholarships I received from these works have brought me. These scholarships helped me to focus exclusively on creative work during my last term at Portland Community College and earn an associate degree.

2017 iPhone pictures 050 (2)

Legend to Data in Painting


Published by b.vonraven

Billy is a writer of songs and words and a painter and a draw-er.

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