The two key findings from this project are outlined on this page:
1) A new way of thinking about gendered identity is being proposed. That is the idea of gendered intelligence.
2) A model of practice has been developed, which opens up space in which gender, sexual orientation and age can be explored in structured, productive and sensitive ways with participants of a wide range of ages.
Gendered Intelligence: thinking about gender
The name of the organisation, Gendered Intelligence draws directly on the idea of there being a gendered kind of intelligence: a form of intelligence akin to Howard Gardner’s eight intelligences espoused in his theoretical work of 1983. Where Gardner suggested that people possess a range of different areas of potential such as spatial, musical or interpersonal intelligence, within Gendered Intelligence’s projects such as INTERarts, the suggestion is that a person’s primary experience of the world might be connected to gender, making them more acutely gender-aware, or more attuned to gendered expressions in the world. The manifestation of this would be an increased capacity for understanding one’s own and others’ signifiers with regard to gender expression. This recognition or privileging of a particular strength within project participants is then part of the process of their participation and engagement. By acknowledging the intelligence about gender that resides within the individuals in the group, those aspects of their selves are regarded positively and with value rather than with derision. Judith Butler reminds us that
[T]he critique of gender norms must be situated within the context of lives as they are lived and must be guided by the questions of what maximises the possibilities for a livable life, what minimises the possibility of an unbearable life, or indeed, social or literal death. (1999: 8)
The INTERarts project opened up a space to critique gender norms as they intersect with age and sexual orientation. These are norms that are situated in the complex contexts of the participants’ lives as they are lived everyday. The INTERarts project offered a temporary space and time where participants could experience support and respect and the possibility of a ‘livable life’.
It was the coming together of a group of 30 LGBTQ participants with something to say, that made this work significant. Following Dwight Conquergood’s (2002) argument about the position of knowledge in research we can articulate the corporeal knowledges of the participants in the INTERarts project. Not only in these performances is there a sharing of a particular perspective on being in the world, but also a sharing of a bodily praxis with a community who may be more able to feel this knowledge, as Conquergood says:
The state of emergency under which many people live demands that we pay attention to messages that are coded and encrypted; to indirect, nonverbal, and extralinguistic modes of communication where subversive meanings and utopian yearnings can be sheltered and shielded from surveillance. (Conquergood 2002:148)
Conquergood is speaking here of the surveillance of the ‘dominant’ (and specifically the anthropologist). The art work created serves not only as a way of articulating a particular experience of age, gender and sexuality but that it also demonstrates a kind of knowledge or a way of knowing and showing (Conquergood 2002: 152). Through this kind of ‘coming together’ that these workshops and the exhibition brings about there develops a kind of fringe hegemony – one that has the potential to foreclose identity. However, equally, in the case of this project such hegemony enables participants in the community to articulate a particular experience of the world within the terms set out by the community and they do this not just with words, but through bodies and through art.
At the moment of sharing their physical presence and their art work (the film, painting, photography, live performance etc), there was a public announcement of a legibility that is most often not articulated in such a direct public manner. Through this articulation of legibility, a legitimacy of a private corporeal praxis emerged in a celebration of the visible public bodies of the participants. A visibilising of the intersections of age, gender identity and sexuality.
The Model of Practice: using the arts as a methodology
In order to create the space in which gender, sexual orientation and age were explored in the particular ways they were explored we deployed a model of practice that we have been developing and evolving through each of our projects since 2006.
The collaborative nature of drama, performance, and art-making brings people together. But what does the public performance of the self do, that closed workshops and projects alone don’t or can’t do?
At the planning stage, the potential use of a range of arts mediums initially included photography, video, installations, sound and creative writing, although this expanded to include more traditional arts based media such as painting to accommodate the interests of older people in particular. This followed a concern that focussing on new media alone would not attract sufficient numbers of older people after the project team had visited two weekly group meetings attended by Opening Doors members (groups for older lesbian, gay and bisexual people as part of Age UK). Some of the people at these meetings specifically asked if they would be able to paint with oils and canvass. Nevertheless, many of the older people did engage with new media in producing pieces for a final exhibition, which for some represented one of their first experiences in working with new media, and contributed to the learning experience.
Yes, I did a piece with a young trans man and I am an older lesbian so we both wrote a piece, a text and then we lip-synced each other and I found it really good.
Older lesbian woman.
This participant created Queer Voices film, inspired by Gilliam Wearing’s work. See the Strategies page for more on the processes involved in identifying a creative idea and proceeding to make a piece of video art based on these two participants’ lived experiences.
Visiting potential participants at the older men’s and older women’s groups was an important step in gaining participation from older people as it gave us as project workers the opportunity to discuss the project, address questions, and provide reassurance as to the content of the workshops and the arts based methods. As an organisation, we had no ‘track record’ of working with older lesbian, gay and bisexual people and we felt it was vital for us to try and demonstrate our approach, our ethos and the ways we would support people’s creative ideas. Incorporating this recruitment strategy into project planning is critical.
You can express through art in many ways because when I first heard about the project, my immediate reaction was “oh, that’s not me” but when I talked to them about it and they said “of course it’s for you, you don’t have to be an artist, you can just come and try things out” and that’s what I did…I am glad they encouraged me.
Older lesbian woman
Using the arts and methods of facilitating to bring people together and identify some of the positive experiences and the challenges that they may face in their lives enables us as a group to contribute to wider socio-cultural discourses. We use art to speak and to comment on our own experiences of the social contexts we inhabit. The productive effect this activity has is two-fold: we are challenging misperceptions and (re)shaping people’s understanding of the intersections of age, gender and sexuality and we are also creating opportunities for the individual participants to use art as a medium of expression, regardless of the extent to which that becomes public:
Art is part of our cultural life. Cultural performances and behaviours are often homophobic, transphobic or kind of sexist and misogynist and for us we want to open and disclose that, this sort of is a cultural norm, if you like. It is not easy to do because you cannot always see this kind of behaviour and people have a poor understanding of what it means to be LGBT. I think art is a really good way to represent and visualise these norms in a really subtle way and to challenge what we would call heteronormativity and hopefully this education through arts will shift people behaviour on how they treat older and younger LGBT people.
Art lets people show their inner selves instead of just outer selves that people see all the time…so being in touch with your state of being or state of mind…art is a good way to do that.
Younger transgender man
However, running an arts project was not without its challenges. While participants were encouraged to work together in pairs or larger groups, many worked alone; this may have impeded the intergenerational learning component of the project for some. From a pragmatic level, it also meant that a number of volunteers were needed to be on hand to assist participants with their art pieces, particularly those participants using multimedia equipment.
It’s like spinning plates and you have to keep them going – people using software that they just haven’t used before – just so much going on that you need that many people on it.
In addition, the usage of different media meant that not all the participants worked in the same space at once. Those using video and editing equipment worked alone on their pieces, which again may have impeded the experience and the intergenerational component of learning, although none of the participants interviewed in the evaluation expressed this opinion. However, had there been restrictions placed on the number of arts media available for participants, this in turn may have impacted on recruitment of participants.
I think it would be interesting maybe to form slightly larger groups because I do think that some people doing editing spent a lot of time on their own and in the future I need to manage better the expectations of people going down that road. And I think people might have felt lonely at times, but they were also committed to finish off their products and I think they were really happy about what they have achieved.
Participants were neither required to work in pairs or to attend all sessions. As it was important to establish a safe environment where all participants could express their views and opinions, each workshop began with an induction session. For those participants who were regular attendees, this would prove to be repetitive. In addition, different people attending different sessions may have compromised the development of social relations between participants, and may have impinged on the development of a group dynamic and identity. Some participants in interviews reflected that they appreciated the natural way in which bonds between people were allowed to develop, although some did reflect that it wasn’t the lack of paired work that impeded the development of social relations, but the short duration of the project. Nevertheless, over a third of participants (9 of 26) reported an improvement in the way that they mixed in social situations, which suggests that the project did successfully foster social relations for many involved.
Finally, both participants and project workers reflected that the arts represented a concrete theme with which to bring people together. There was a consensus that bringing people together simply to discuss their issues would not be enough for a project to succeed and the arts theme and the final exhibition gave the project focus.
Yes, I think that the art focus is fantastically important and I think that…I think it…because there is going to be an end product it focuses people and avoids some of the self-consciousness about what we are here for and some of the feelings of slight artificiality you can get in getting people together just to discuss, although that in itself it can be valuable, but I think it was particularly that it had the art focus.
Older lesbian woman