Collection diplôme Design Mode 2021 de Mathilde Vanlint,"Quand les Enfants Parlent les Adultes se Taisent"
© Miguel Pozpide Pazó
Queer attitudes
© Magali Le Mens

Queer attitudes, subversive images and persistence of codes of feminine/masculine binarity XXth-XXIst centuries

January 2022 to December 2024

Leading institution: HEAD – Genève
Requérante: Elizabeth Fischer
Co-requérante: Dr Magali Le Mens, lecturer in art history at the University of Rennes 2
Financing: Centre Maurice Chalumeau en sciences des sexualités - CMCSS, Université de Genève
Co-financing: HEAD – Genève

It is a story that is believed to be exclusively minority, and yet it also concerns all majorities. The Queer attitudes research project is interested in images and gaits that subvert gender binarity, mainly in the fields of art and fashion. It explores the artistic, performative and clothing proposals that - from the end of the 19th century to the present day - have made it possible to imagine, embody and represent possibilities of existing beyond the feminine/masculine binarity. These proposals have come up against, and still come up against, the deconstruction of this duality, in a world that has accustomed us to visually seeking out and recognizing - even unwillingly - the elements considered to be masculine or feminine.
While the common practices in force until now connected sexuation, sexualities and allure, fashion had a signalling function: personal appearances were sexualized. The binary codification of gender re-confirmed a heteronormative symbolic order. Since at least the trial of Oscar Wilde at the very end of the 19th century, queer attitudes signaled an emancipation from these categories and a belonging to sexual minorities. Today, it turns out that everything is more complex, appearances are being redefined, freeing themselves from sexuation and inferred sexualities, which history and queer culture in particular, allow to contextualize.

In this research project, the question of images and appearances is central. We have gathered a corpus of artworks, prints and photographs of people who can be designated a posteriori as non-binary, from scientific publications, the popular press and fashion and advertising catalogs. Photos, videos of performances and various shows complete this corpus, in order to explore how within these productions are subverted or perpetuated the binary codes that guide our representations. Field interviews with people actively engaged in the subversion of binary appearances, whether through performance, art or fashion, will serve as a counterpoint to the analysis of the iconographic corpus.

This research will allow us to understand how images and gaits - those considered the most eccentric, strange, queer, freakish, and openly non-binary - have allowed, in recent history, to shake up the visual codes known as feminine or masculine. This eccentric origin being forgotten as these new norms are massively adopted.  This project will thus allow us to understand how it is possible to free ourselves from the feminine/masculine binarity in appearance and representations, by tracing the course of the historical stages of this quest for emancipation from the end of the 19th to the 21st century. The originality of this project lies in the fact of including the study of fashion and images in the loop of knowledge on sexualities, which, until now, has been focused mainly on general history, sociology, history of science, or philosophy.

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