Androgyny, to me, has always been the essence of intelligence and beauty. I grew up following female cross-dressers from internationally popular stories, but as it turns out they are a staple in Romanian fairy stories as well. In these tales, they reject men in favour of being who they want to be: working, travelling or meeting interesting people. Being a tomboy myself, I can tell you this is only part of the story: the rejection happens only on the surface, and is aimed at society’s restrictions. She will not be bound to such misery. Underneath however, a tomboy is a true romantic, and her warrior persona is aimed at discovering the one who is right for her on all levels (usually a wise man who is not afraid to show feminine qualities). Discovering one’s true partner was in fact the original aim of Martial Art contests, long ago. Warrior women or female knights are referenced in various cultures around the world, such as the Onna Bugeisha in Japan (the name itself suggests their skills are simply another form of art) or Persian women’s cavalry units.
In Romania, when pre-Sumerian Cucuteni Culture first introduced male cross-dressing figures, “religious canon was loosened and artists began to take charge of their own art” (Monah, 2011). The mythical ancestor in Cucuteni Culture is a hermaphrodite (the Primordial Ox mentioned in the Zoroastrian Avesta). Since there is still a local rain-making custom that involves men wearing dresses and flamboyant adornments, I suggest that the Cucuteni male cross-dressing figures were religious performers, a reiteration of a primordial “gesture” with significance for the community. It seems to have terminated the need to maintain a prestigious image, as in the beginning Cucuteni Culture thrived on accumulation of prestigious objects.
Apart from an Ox, our ancestor was also associated with a Serpent, symbolic of water and gender-fluidity (snakes can change their gender). The reconnection with this image was important, as increasingly oppressive patriarchal cultures were brought about through the use of animal farming (following the primordial disaster which had made conditions on Earth much more inhospitable). Freedom of thought and appreciation of the wild had begun to fade away. In farming, there is a program of exploitation applied distinctly to male and female animals, and also to the humans charged with their care – so there was an increased view that only strictly male or female animals were indeed “good” and that the only reason for their existence was to be used for human needs. Anyone that would free a slave from these conditions of misery was deemed an enemy of the correct order of things, such as the few remaining Upyr (psychic partners) making appearances at dance events in villages.
Today, billions of us unconsciously strive to be reunited with a world we have forgotten, paying large sums of money for fantasies that merely skim the surface of realities long ago. This is not the problem, however – the problem lies in how, being caught in the act of escaping through fantasy, we immediately feel ashamed and reject the importance of having such dreams in our lives. Portraits of Androgyny is a series about people who, by contrast, maintain that ability to be beautifully lost in thought.
1. The Rose of Versailles/1997. The story of Lady Oscar, an androgynous-looking woman raised as a boy at the court of Marie Antoinette, was popular in many countries including Saudi Arabia. The animé is from 1979, referencing the fashion of that time and back-sending it to 1789, during the French Revolution. My style of placing together different scenes from a character’s “destiny” helped me understand their essence. In this case, it was not fitting in on any political side, historical changes, and figuring out one’s true feelings amidst all that turmoil.
2. Medusa/2002. Ink on smooth-finish paper, cut-out. One of my first attempts to draw Brian May of Queen, who (in his words) appeared “androgynous, esoteric” to American audiences. In Greek mythology, Medusa is misrepresented as evil due to her mortality, suggesting that a secret is missing from elite knowledge (from their belief in classical dualism). For me the image had been just a funny joke, but the video for the song Resurrection actually shows May with Medusa hair “rising” from a prison of ignorance to visionary shamanism. The arrival of YouTube hadn’t happened yet.
3. Tomboy/2003. Watercolour, collage. In Zoroastrian mythology, Zurvan was an androgynous being who created Time and would also end Time by projecting Ahriman into the Abyss. This painting happened in response to literature class, where male writers were always given preference, and analyzed by other male writers we were expected to quote in our commentaries. Yet I could relate much better when I was allowed to do it directly. Issues such as depression were very familiar to me, but a genius was traditionally male and was believed to have no true mate. By contrast Nature, the creator of all genius for her own protection, always has mating in mind. “Projecting into the Abyss” means to travel to the point of origin and awaken to spectrum of sexuality as an important factor in fulfilling the intellect. So it is not high intelligence which causes depression by (supposedly) never being matched with another person’s; it is internalized cultural bias (e.g. someone having racist thoughts without wanting to) which causes the brain to attack itself.
More information is available through depth psychology (which addresses the overlooked passivity, not just the “incorrect belief”), and the “body budgeting” chapter in constructionist neuroscience. If you suffer from depression, please refer to these sources.
(to be continued)