I presented My Jender is Tree at PechaKucha Night Vol 15: Perception hosted by Creative Santa Fe at SITE Santa Fe on Thursday, November 10th. You can watch the 7 minute presentation or read more about the affirmation of my gender identity and embrace of my true name, J P 제피, in the related post.
A note about my pronouns
My pronouns are s(he), (he)r, we. "S(he)" is pronounced the same as "she" and "(he)r" is pronounced the same as "her." I use the parantheses to enclose "he" in honor of my masculine spirit that dances in tandem with my feminine spirit in a female body. I am often referred to using they, them pronouns, but these don't feel quite right for me as a bigender person. I was relieved to create my own and the editors of publications honored my pronouns earlier this year (links to these articles are at the bottom of this post).
The awkwardness of my pronouns is intentional. It is a reflection of the way it feels in my body and the way I am perceived by others. Their distinctiveness is apparent when my pronouns are spelled on a page, yet they also align with standard she, her pronouns when they are used verbally. This is also an accurate reflection of me - I sometimes (and sometimes not) slip into being read as a cis woman. It depends on the environment and on the person perceiving me. It also depends on if the environment is safe enough for me to be in my true form.
Because of this slipperiness between the visual and auditory representation of my pronouns, the machine generated closed captioning of my presentation was removed from the PechaKucha presentation. The platform couldn't accommodate non-standard pronouns and I was misgendered and erased throughout the presentation in the closed captioning. This is a metaphor for what genderqueer people experience daily in a world of systems built for normative representation. The words "Asian" and "Korean" were uncapitalized in the closed captioning. It stirs grief, this consistent erasure and diminishment. I also recognize the irony: these systemic, unintentional oversights elucidate the experience that I detail in this very presentation. For anyone interested, I have posted the transcript below. This too was removed from the PechaKucha website upon my request because the words "tits" and "dyke" were deleted by the profanity filter. I requested this removal because I've worked hard to access my body as whole and belonging rather than profane and in need of editing.
J P’s perception of self has evolved since young adulthood. This presentation explores a 28-year span of cultural and gender identity evolution through self portraiture and trace the inception of J P’s work with abstraction and symbol. S(he) is flattened into an aesthetic abstraction as an Asian faced, female bodied, queer person and this erasure prompts bodily responses of hiding, even as J P’s gender is exteriorizing. At times, s(he) is not perceived as a woman, and this is a deft read on (he)r person. J P is trans-bigender and exploring collective perceptions of what it means to be transgender, asking, “Is there ‘objective’ truth in gender identity? What if I am something else entirely?” This is where the vibrations between truth, beauty, and identity are leading (he)r. J P longs to Be seen as simultaneous and poly-tonal, and this will only occur if s(he) is perceived. Explore Being as integration of cultural and gendered traits, the intersection of this world and beyond, and experience the indistinct territory where J P’s story dances. It will change your perception. This story is one in which the main character that materializes is an alchemical body with a masculine spirit and structure in tandem with feminine spirit and form.
Here I am at 23 years old.
I’d like you to perceive this young person.
What do you think of (he)r?
No doubt you see (he)r ethnicity and gender first.
An oddity and object-like.
S(he) has many perceptions projected onto (he)r skin.
S(he) creates armor to defend (he)rself.
Red, angry hair.
What else? There is loss. Grief.
Defensiveness against assault.
Where is the room to be soft and supple, of vein and blood and bone?
These self portraits from my early adulthood say a lot.
I am as young as 18 up to age 25.
In art school my classmates focused on my Asian face and full figured female body.
But I didn’t take these to be about race or gender.
I was just trying to understand myself.
And trying to understand how to have tits.
This may seem dense to you, but remember that I should also be allowed to simply Be and exist.
You can see how much I fluctuated, in presentation, in my weight, in trying to understand my female body, and utterly confused by it.
I often look like I am in drag.
There was horror in my female body, but I could also use it to attract attention and affection.
I was hiding but trying to be visible.
It is a complex occupation, and impossible.
I have struggled for safety in body and soul as an Asian faced, female bodied, queer person.
The pandemic heightened this, but it is not new energy.
There isn’t room in American society for Asian female bodied people to exist in a relaxed state.
How could s(he) orientate (he)rself to a distorted space?
I’m invisible, until I’m not.
Love you long time.
Short, ugly, yellow dyke.
Contortion / conforming.
Invisible / hypervisible.
Object of desire / an ornament to smash.
I responded to this flattening.
Trying to be tangible, but also angry and defiant.
Hurt at being mis-perceived.
This is a response to existence on a flattened perceptual field.
This is a response to negotiating safety in an unsafe environment.
I needed respite. I stopped taking photographic self-portraits.
I went completely into abstraction and color exploration.
This is where I have always felt safe and seen, embraced by color and my spirit allies.
My work became more precise and skillful.
So did my perception.
I began having perceptual color experiences that I call ColorSight.
It opened me to liminal in between spaces.
I began traversing borders into other realms, places translucent in the blacklight and laced with color.
I’m already in between - with culture and gender - so this happened naturally.
The in-between is a fraught space in a binary world.
It is exhausting to be in the world and constantly mis-perceived.
Whose responsibility is it to perceive?
Whose body does the mis-perception land on?
A mis-perceived existence is unsafe.
I am tired of being mis-perceived and holding the responsibility to teach you how to perceive me.
I am most tired of being treated as a disembodied aesthetic object.
It’s also been unsafe to be perceived fully in both of my genders.
I am often terrified.
I displaced this onto my sculptural work.
They’re portraits of me too.
Male structure with female skin.
I long to Be seen as simultaneous and poly-tonal.
I am an integration of cultural and gendered traits.
I am Korean and white.
Like my sculpture, I am female bodied with a masculine spirit and structure.
In today’s society, we call this transgender.
I am trans-bigender.
Both male and female, simultaneously.
You read me as yellow, but I am yellow, orange, red stripes. And grey, blue, green, taupe, neon. So many stripes.
There is such beauty in the undertones.
These next four works are portraits of trees and of human souls.
They are in flight. A flight of souls.
Trees reaching for the stars.
Right now you are wondering what the connection is to trees.
I am trans, by human terms, but that’s limiting.
I am also a tree.
Many trees have male and female blooms all at once.
I climb and have a spiritual relationship with a community of trees near my home.
And I am in community with you, even through mis-perception.
The human world created tension, projection, feedback for me to engage with being bicultural and bigender.
But it was the trees that taught me what I am.
They perceive me as energy and do not flatten my Asian face.
I am safe to be me, both male and female, because I am with kin.
Do you recognize me yet?
Am I perceived?
You must perceive yourself in order to perceive me.
The trees have taught me so much, including that my shape and pace as a tree is an honoring of the Shape of Me: a person who is bigender and bicultural and a site of integration.
S(he) didn’t have space to be, this young person.
S(he) kept getting erased and looked through, or flattened and projected on.
S(he) responded by sinking into abstraction, both in (he)r work and in presentation. There is a love of abstraction, of minimal beauty and symbol.
There is comfort in rebellion.
Hiding in loudness.
I recreated the photo of me at 23. I’m now 46.
There is no need for artifice anymore and I am done hiding.
I sense that queer, transgender, multicultural people are the link to our liberation beyond gender and race. It is between plant, animal, human, natural form, spirit, cosmos.
It is bigger than we can possibly know.
This image is an honoring of 23 year old me and of me beyond half life after half a life has passed. It’s me in a tree. My tree self realized.
My Jender is Tree.
J P is a tree.
My blood is tree.