By Katy Jalili
To clarify, when I talk about non-binary, I’m talking about myself, a non-binary brown immigrant.
I’m not talking about white non-binary people, as our struggles are different, and I can only advocate for my experience and those like me.
The art world (creative industries) is an inaccessible space for those who don’t fit into society’s expectations of “the ideal artist”. The art world loves to profit from something that has cultural currency. But people like us never chose to be culturally relevant.
In 20 years when non-binary isn’t the fashionable trend in the media anymore, we still will be the same person, living our lives and making art, we don’t stop identifying as trans or a person of colour when we’re not fashionable anymore.
I worry about the day that being non-binary or brown isn’t going to be a factor in my work’s relevance, at the same time I disagree with the fact that those seem to be the only reasons doors open for me, but what are you to do when you’re just starting out and you can only access certain opportunities such as funding, by talking about how sad your marginalisation makes you in your work or application?
I’m a performer and a visual artist. When I started performing, I was only being booked for shows that were celebrating women, or people of colour only in certain times of the year. But I saw my fellow performers who looked different to me, being booked for every or any night, I started to realise that the work I was making didn’t matter, it was only the body that was present, the female-looking body and the skin colour.
So I stopped saying yes to those gigs. When I started identifying as non-binary I no longer felt comfortable being in women’s line ups, because the only thing we had in common was our body part, and that didn’t make sense to my trans brain. I wanted my work appreciated, but that’s so hard when both the audience and the organisers are using your body to make themselves feel progressive and open minded allies. Being culturally relevant has its perks, yes it may mean getting bookings out of tokenism. But is that really what we deserve?
Bell Hooks once did a lecture at St. Norbert College, in which she talked about how she wished she could write about anything but race politics and still get published, she talked about how her publishers told her that the only thing that sold was what she was famous for. She then went on explaining how she wishes she could write like any white man could, write about something totally relevant to her experiences, and still be recognised and celebrated for it. It’s heart-breaking knowing even one the leading figures in feminist theory, feels like she’s boxed into only one category.
As marginalised people we are only relevant when we’re in crisis. Recently I was interviewed by a big name magazine, after hours of talking about very personal matters such as my sex, gender and family, and being told I was the only person of colour they were interviewing and how happy they were with themselves, I received a follow up email that said they decided not to publish the interview, which is not un-common in the journalism industry, but It was disappointing for many reasons, one being that I felt the pressure to open up about personal issues to someone who I didn’t know and wasn’t convinced cared about trans people enough. They told me that they were going to publish it next time there’s a big relevance in the media. Which is code for, we’re waiting for the next time a trans person is attacked in the media, to use your story for click-bait. This is just one of many examples of how our creativity seems disposable. Does something tragic need to happen for us to be recognise as human beings who deserve support? And where does that leave our creative crafts?
If the creative industries don’t make space for us, we need to make our own spaces. I don’t believe anymore in waiting to be recognised. Because I recognise myself and my community, we are relevant every single day. So now I’m creating my own opportunities.
Last June I co-founded Genderfvcker a drag competition centring non-binary drag performers, It was a one of a kind experience, we had performers from across the UK travel to perform at our competition. It was so heartwarming to see all the amazing performers destroying the binary through their art, it made me realise how much spaces for experimenting and making art mattered for non-binary people. We deserve to be relevant and celebrated every day, not just when we’re in crisis, but when we also are high achievers.
Last autumn I launched my own club night called Femmi-Errect, which centres queer, trans people and people of colour. We celebrate ourselves by giving space to DJs performers and showcase art in a party environment. Our next party on Dec 14th is celebrating FemmeBoys, showcasing both UK based and international queer talent.
We need to celebrate ourselves and not wait for outside attention. We don’t need a hero. We are our own heros.