The Paulo Foundation Invitational Exhibition
Curated by Elis Hannikainen
Exhibition Laboratory Project Room, Lönnrotinkatu 35, Helsinki
4.8.-27.8.2017 Open Tuesdays to Sundays 11-18
Opening 3.8. 18.00, performance by Vappu Jalonen and live music by Johanna Porola
Supported by The Paulo Foundation / Paulon säätiö and Arts Promotion Centre Finland / Taiteen edistämiskeskus.
This page is updated and the publication text is edited below continuously during summer 2017
content note: suicide, self harm, genitals
“Here on the gender borders at the close of the twentieth century, with the faltering of phallocratic hegemony and the bumptious appearance of heteroglossic origin accounts, we find the epistemologies of white male medical practices, the rage of radical feminist theories and the chaos of lived gendered experience meeting on the battlefield of the transsexual body: a hotly contested site of cultural inscription, a meaning machine for the production of ideal type. Representation at its most magical, the transsexual body is perfected memory, inscribed with the “true” story of Adam and Eve as the ontological account of irreducible difference, an essential biography which is part of nature. A story which culture tells itself, the transsexual body is a tactile politics of reproduction constituted through textual violence. The clinic is a technology of inscription.
Given this circumstance in which a minority discourse comes to ground in the physical, a counterdiscourse is critical.”
Sandy Stone, The Empire Strikes back. A Posttranssexual Manifesto. 1987
the clinic. data collection. patient interviews.
standing at the shore of an ocean of data. usable bits flushing at the beach. fishing boats taking trips to retrieve some. people taking skinny dips oblivious to the material they immerse in.
paper after paper after paper after paper after paper. so many papers later, so many years later, so many meetings later. so many frustrating months of waiting later, i get a paper that is not aware of all the things i have said tens of times before.
this is a dance. a torturous dance piercing slowly to every particle of my existence, jerking it back and forth, hanging it on a thread.
this paper is a questionnaire from the hormone clinic. it’s a questionnaire for men who try to get their partners pregnant. i see the title: “questionnaire for men” and start crying. i am a trans woman three years on hormones. the questionnaire asks if i use or have used hormones, ie anabolic steroids.
i am very interested in whether they have found trans women who use anabolic steroids.
there are more questions: do i have erectile dysfunction. thank fuck i do, otherwise i would triple my androcur dosage. how long have “we” tried to get pregnant? who is this we that is trying to get pregnant and why am i asked this? how do people get pregnant in plural? do people get pregnant through sex in 2017? how often do we have intercourse? never. we? i am lucky to be a part of a “we” but if they didn’t know anything about me as is apparent, how could they assume this? they are the only place in finland who officially administer hormone replacement therapy for trans people, and they don’t fucking have a trans specific questionnaire but start off by grossly misgendering their patients.
they have so much data on me. and so little resources to be familiar with the data. they have interviewed me countless of times. they have laid the stigma of a mental disorder, a borderline personality on me. maybe the hormone clinic didn’t have access to that data. maybe they didn’t know i was referred to them for being a trans woman and they could not make the assumption from my name, because you never know, and the social security number is gender coded.
gatekeeping is very expensive. more expensive than providing the healthcare that gatekeeping is supposed to sanction. gatekeeping is the practice of limiting access to trans specific healthcare by making the process long and complicated. the process can be very invalidating and harmful to trans people.
suffering is fascinating. but no one wants to suffer. people want stories of suffering to frame their own non-suffering. or to compare to their own present or past suffering.
the existence of data does not equal the use or usability of said data. years of gender identity clinics later i still get a paper from them that says i’m a man and it makes me nauseous and ashamed. data is worthless if it is not read.
having removed myself as far away as i could from the category of man, i feel a shock of nausea every time the label comes back to haunt me.
possession of data is power. ignorance to data is power. the possession of data is the possession of the possibility to read it, a constant threat on our privacy. what can be a counter power to this dichotomy? refusal to give out data is to exclude oneself from much of contemporary society. here is all my data, but who will read it and what will they learn from it?
pills pills pills i went so many years in my life without pills and i was so miserable. if there was no two-gender system, would there still be a need to physically transition? for me, probably, but it would be less of a deal.
a lot of people concentrate on the issue of forced castration of trans people in finland. it is a huge issue, but it’s not the point. i made the decision to castrate myself chemically when i first started taking mail order hormones some years ago. i have held an axe on my nutsacks, thinking about chopping them off. freud would have something fucked up to say about it i’m sure. but it felt kind of normal to me. i had my balls on a chopping block and the axe was resting on the skin. i knew i wouldn’t do it, but i was this far. a lot of people have done auto-orchiectomy. i keep fantasizing about it. but the point is self-determination and gender autonomy, not castration. not genitals.
pills to shrink my junk and make it feel less, yes please. pills to round my cheeks and make my skin glow. pills to grow breasts and lessen body hair. progynova and androcur, lucifer our lord.
structures keeping us in place and in pace. persistently living as if one was already free is the greatest revolt, as david graeber has said.
the soft, tender tissue of my silky dick turning outside in as I push it into its shaft and inside my scrotum. the tender hardness of one testicle at a time squeezing into the canals that welcome them in a firm grip. external to internal. cis to piss. it all dissolves.
“When I look, I am seen, so I exist. I can now afford to look and see.”
D.W. Winnicott, quoted in Siri Hustvedt, Inside the Room
“All of this is of the room, from the room, inside the room. It is where I found liberty in that strange place between me and you.”
Siri Hustvedt, Inside the Room
i was so disappointed when I Love Dick by Chris Kraus was not about penises. i wanted to read about the lust for dicks filling holes. isn’t that what phallocentric sexuality is about, simplified? orifices filled with appropriate fillers, eg dicks. this exhibition is also not about dicks.
my favorite artwork title is William Pope.L’s The Hole Inside the Space Inside Yves Klein’s Asshole. that title holds everything essential in it. regardless the artwork. it’s the best piece of writing i’m aware of. negation of a negation of an orifice of a very phallic masculine male artist. the gates are open and everything is flowing out and in in a hyperbolic manner.
my favorite thing on the internet is Audrey Wollen’s Girls Own the Void.
Antiphallic Dick is a black hole digesting phallocracy, sucking its eyes out of their sockets. Antiphallic Dick swipes the bets off the table of binaries between this and that like Jesus did at the tax collectors. Antiphallic Dick eats the cishets whole and shits them in the park where dogs can eat the shit because, gross as it may be, dogs love to eat human poo. At least some of them. Mine does and the smell is horrible when that happens.
We flush down our poo so we rarely get to smell it when it breaks and the soft center releases its aroma no longer protected by the slippery tension of the surface. I sometimes need to put my hand inside my dog’s mouth to get poo out if they find some. I don’t want them to eat it. It’s hard to get the smell off my hand. This is what misgendering feels like.
My ex had a childhood friend who was married to a cop. We were visiting the town where they lived and i refused to stay at their place or meet them. Now i’m thinking, did they have dogs? Would i have felt differently if they had dogs? We didn’t see them. Maybe we saw the friend but not the cop. I don’t think they had dogs. I have been at a cop’s house before though, when i was a kid. My friend’s both parents were cops. They didn’t have dogs. My friend told me about AIDS. I didn’t really understand what it was then. A blood borne disease that kills? For my kid brain that didn’t sound so special, i figured if you can get sick from sneezes, why not blood. This was mid 90’s. Now it’s 2017 and HIV is starting to be more or less under control at least in the global north. Today (Sunday 9 July 2017) i read news about multiresistant incurable gonorrhea.
I think his cop dad had some porn. The stories i’ve heard from friends about their first encounters with porn have been unsettling. (Eg. Horse porn found at a horse stable guest room.) The kind of porn you find at the bottom of the closet of a horny cop (90’s mainstream straight porn, huge close ups of dicks and vulvas and penetration, giant breast implants) is not the kind of porn i would choose to watch.
How did it feel like to see it as a child? Alienating at first. Gross. Until puberty hit home and aroused curiosity in the shape of hormone induced unwanted desire. It was still not something that would offer any platform for identification. Where does the object/subject divide happen? The porn i watch now, i feel for the performers. I’m like, yeah, i want be at that pool party. Maybe it’s the different media. I follow the people on tumblr and i read about their thoughts, i know them on some other level than just visual. I can easily contact them if i wish.
trans people and suicide. 40% of trans people have attempted suicide. i don’t have a reference on that, but that’s a number on a lot of statistics. what the hell why don’t i fact check it. because that’s not the point. the point is that suicidality is a huge problem for trans folks. i checked it it’s real. google it. i have had suicidal thoughts all my adult life and it’s something that people usually have a hard time digesting. it’s a sort of final hideout, the final solution to all the problems and that’s comforting. but it’s heavy and it’s the saddest thought in the world and it has become a habit i can’t get rid of. but maybe i’m starting to get rid of it. i think of dogs instead.
i guess it comes from the impossibility of trans existence in a cis world. that impossibility turns into the potential of personal self-destruction, because that seems easier than cis destruction. the impossibility to be seen in a cis world. do we want to be seen or is being seen just being exposed to more violence? is being seen a precondition to existing? is it enough if i see myself? how can i see myself if i don’t know anything about gender?
what did dysphoria feel like before there were words for it? before i had words for it? it felt like mom, i wish my hair was longer. not because hair length is gendered, but because my jaw looked huge to me and it’s hard to even understand why it felt huge. i just thought it should be smaller and growing my hair out might help covering it. so, covering up in order to be seen? covering up facial hair when that came about. not at first. it’s not gendered either, it’s just hair. but when it came about and it wasn’t so strong yet, i remember shaving it for one of the first times and i loved how smooth my lip felt. like a girl’s lip. now i know a girl’s lip can be stubby too.
how i wanted to work out (to have larger breast muscles) because i felt that my chest shouldn’t be flat and how i didn’t connect that with wanting to have breasts until a lot later? how i felt uncomfortable with the gendered divide of allowed interests. how a whole world was shut out of me and from me and how it continues to be so for everyone everywhere and how this goes on and on and this text has been written a hundred million times before and how people die and die and die because of all this because they are shut out their own lives because of the cis medical violence and fuck that shit and that’s why i write the same text again even if i myself have written it already several times. the cis world needs to burn.
K. Cobain talks about their darkest moment 20 years later.
Like, back when i was in Nirvana, at the end, it was so fucking stressful and i was so fucked up most of the time. There was so much pressure to be what i was expected to be.
I was in a terrible place. I had had suicidal ideations since teen age and i still do, but that was the first time i actually acted on it. It was so fucking close but it didn’t happen. I had the shotgun and i knew there were shells somewhere but i couldn’t find them. But just feeling the cold steel under my chin and on my lips and my tongue was excruciating. I fell asleep or passed out in the shed with the shotgun in my arms, hugging my impotent death. I had zero strength in me. Moving a finger seemed impossible.
They were looking for me when they didn’t find me in the house in the morning. I tried to say i’m fine but i couldn’t move my lips. They took me to a hospital.
I could have done it in so many ways. I could have OD’d any day. I could have found those shells that day. Someone must have hidden them. Or any other way. But i didn’t. That’s a story that doesn’t get told enough. I wanted to stop living because i hated it but i didn’t. And now i’m alive and sometimes i hate my life but who doesn’t. I wish Ian Curtis were here so we could talk about it. It sucks that he isn’t, but that can’t be helped.
I’m happy to be older now. I’m happy to have the perspective. My suicide attempt was the last thing i did “as a man”. I never was one. Coming to the edge of my existence allowed me to reconsider everything. It was such a big deal back then. I vaguely knew Genesis P. Orridge, but that was the extent of my knowledge on trans people. I’m glad i went through all the shit so that others don’t have to go to the point of trying to kill themselves to realize who they are.
I love what younger trans people are doing now. Like Alok Vaid-Menon and Sadie Smith are really trashing the cis in a cool way. Kids have role models now. I hope that alleviates at least some pain. To know that you’re not alone. That you’re not wrong but the world is.
Elis Hannikainen: On Neutrality
I will swim forever.
I will die for eternity.
I will learn to breathe water.
I will become the water.
If I cannot change my situation I will change myself.
In this act of magical transformation I recognize myself again.
I am groundless and boundless movement. I am a furious flow.
I am one with the darkness and the wet.
And I am enraged. (1)
After first reading Camille Auer’s previous work, an essay titled “Monument for the Excluded”, I returned to it several times. It is an essay that also documents an intervention to an institutional space, a clinic that provides public health services for transgender and nonbinary persons. In the essay, the clinic is described as a physical space, and through its practice. Which examinations take place there; who works there; how many returns are necessary for an access to treatment. Other things are addressed, too: pathologizations, dismissals and violent exclusions.
Last year, I had the possibility as a curator to invite an artist for the Paulo Foundation 2017 exhibition. I went to see graduate shows and watched works online, all the while having Camille’s work in mind. I was convinced by her approach without knowing what her future work would deal with. The future work, ”Antiphallic Dick”, is in many ways close to the essay but it also treats the subject differently, in a material way.
What does it mean to speak of institutions and the violence within them? Dean Spade notes that administrative systems, such as institutions of health care, appear to many as neutral or benign, approachable. But those systems create and distribute life chances and do it according to their own norms and categorizations, which has deadly consequences for some.(2) To speak of violence is also to speak of policing and control. Speaking of violence means staining a neutral image that the institution would like to keep.
Email exchanges, question sheets and medical records are private documents that circulate between the clinic and the individual. In “Antiphallic Dick” they turn into material that shows how a medical institution deals with an individual lived experience. The work also brings the documents into a new proximity with a body. This proximity disrupts and complicates the documents, does something to their validity.
How the documents become readable here – at eye level, one after another, as a strange kind of serial – also reveals things about them. The institutional language appears emotionless, distorted and at times inaccessible. It has a syntax of its own. The subject is spoken of in third person, or is completely left out. (Was pretending to go to school. Has spoken to all family members.) In the reading, the language can reveal itself as inauthentic in describing an experience. At the same time, in the process of reading, it also always has the possibility of becoming ordinary and neutral language, normalized language.
In the face of this monotone and repetitive language, one is also expected to tell the same things again and again and to continue to “insist to exist”(3). Or as Camille describes, one has to keep insisting on existing when the hormone clinic hands over a questionnaire, meant for cisgendered men that want children, about the use of anabolic steroids. The necessity and endlessness of insisting are tiring and wear one out. But insistence can be performed in a multitude of ways. And as maybe happens in “Antiphallic Dick”, a body in itself can already be an insistence.
(1) Susan Stryker, My Words to Victore Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage
(2) Dean Spade, Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law
(3) Sara Ahmed, Willful Subjects