Beyond The Binary: Artist Joan Explores Gender Identity & Expression

Beyond The Binary: Artist Joan Explores Gender Identity & Expression

How many times have you felt a discord between how you are feeling on the inside and the face that you have to put on for the rest of the world to see? Quite a number of times I hope. More often than not, we do it quite voluntarily, and sometimes, effortlessly. This leads me to a bigger question – how can human beings be so effortless in playing out a character so different from his or her own personal self. The question lingers on in my mind, until I realise that we are not always who we are on the inside. Sometimes we are simultaneously many different selves who do not identify with each other at all. At other times, we are nothing at all – just a void with no essence.

Now, that is a disconcerting thought, and too unnerving for the human mind to contend with. It eventually dawns on me that it is the same void from where stories develop and ideas come to fruition. It is what has beset the human being since the birth of civilization, and led him to the question – “Who am I?” - that would keep coming back to him in recurring patterns of obscurity and clarity for the rest of his life.

Let me introduce you to someone who has tried to answer this question in his own special way. Born in a beautiful village near Darjeeling, Joan Dominic Rai, who goes by the name @thewhitehairedguy on Instagram, is someone who likes to tell stories. His stories revolve around how he sees himself more than anything else. As a gender-fluid person, he does not identify with any specific sexual identity, but rather sometimes with both the sexes simultaneously or with either of them, or sometimes with neither. “Gender-fluidity is both a state of mind and body. I am someone in whom both the sexes co-exist.”, he confides.

The contradiction in his identity has stirred him to create numerous stories about the different selves he associates himself with. He captures the multiple layers of his personality with the help of storytelling through fashion. In a spontaneous recollection of his tryst with fashion, he reveals, “I was introduced to the idea of gender fluid fashion very early in life. Being very petite and tiny somehow made me unconsciously more inclined towards womenswear than menswear, as it fit me better and also gave me more options to choose from. Later in life however, after a lot of self-searching and struggles with my identity, I was able to break out of my mould and start exploring myself through different kinds of clothing. I had finally found my voice. It was powerful and liberating.”

Nevertheless, things have not always been easy for him. He talks about being “weird” and “different” in one breath as if they were one and the same thing, carrying with it an inherent assumption that “different” is “weird”. It is possibly an instance of a slip of tongue from a person who has been brought up in a society which condemns anything that breaches the code of heteronormativity. Living in a society which fails to appreciate the idiosyncrasies of an individual has flung him to the receiving end of innumerable slurs like “queer”, “faggot”, “fem” etc. However, when a certain someone asked him whether he was a “girl-boy”, he did not quite take it as a slur. Rather, he was amused by the description and connected with it on some level. It gave an accurate insight into how he felt, and what it meant to be a gender-fluid person.

Going forward, he has created and re-created himself through fashion and given shape to his various selves through a unique form of storytelling. Each of his creations reverberates with the question, “Who am I?”. and lives on to say, “I am the stories I tell.”

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