Art piece: Gender Performativity by Levi Nelson

Levi Nelson, Gender Performativity, 2020. 47 x 73 inches. Acrylic on canvas.

I always appreciate seeing Levi Nelson’s new works, which he frequently shares on Facebook (go be a fan!)

He describes this piece as an exploration of “gender peformativity.”

The term gender performativity comes from Judith Butler’s book “Gender Trouble” (1990), where they argue that being born male or female does not determine a person’s behavior. Instead people learn to behave in certain ways to fit into society. The idea of gender is an act or performance. The way we choose to talk, walk, dress, is what Butler calls “gender performativity.” What society regards as a person’s gender is just a performance made to please social expectations and not a true expression of the person’s gender identity.
I am interested in the intersection between 2 Spirit Indigenous Identities, which sees gender as a spiritual component, or what Butler might call a “true gender identity,” and where this meets the act of performing our feminine and masculine roles to one another.

*This painting is on view at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, in the group show, Resurgence: Indigequeer Identities
October 21, 2020 – January 24, 2021 

I recently read Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed. Doyle was a thought leader and cultural icon and Christian mommy blogger who then left her marriage to embrace her love of US soccer superstar Abby Wambach. In Untamed, she writes about this, AND she writes about confused fans who approach her at open mics and admit to finding this all a bit hard to follow.

“Why is everybody gay all of a sudden?” asked the woman.

Doyle writes about how she replied:

“There are wild mysterious forces inside and between human beings that we have never been able to understand. Forces like faith. Like love. Like sexuality. We are uncomfortable with our inability to comprehend or control these mysteries. So we took wild faith – the mysterious undefniable ever-shifting flow between humans and the divine – and we packaged it into religions. We took wild sexuality – the mysterious undefinable ever-shifting flow between human beings – and we packaged it into sexual identities. It’s like water in a glass. Faith is water. Religion is a glass. Sexuality is water. Sexual identity is a glass. We created these glasses to try and contain uncontainable forces. Then we said to people: Pick a glass – straight or gay. So folks poured their wide, juicy selves into those narrow, arbitrary glasses because that was what was expected, slowly suffocating as they held their breath to fit inside… Maybe we can stop trying so hard to understand the gorgeous mystery of sexuality. Instead, we can just listen to ourselves and each other with curiosity and love, and without fear. We can just let people be who they are and we can believe that the freer each person is, the better we all are. Maybe our understanding of sexuality can become as fluid as sexuality itself. Maybe we can stop trying to find common ground and let everbody be the sea. They already are, anyway.”

That came rushing into my mind when I saw Levi’s image – the flow, the fluidity, all the expressions of life, so radiant.

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