Gender Diaries: Ryan Galowich
As the world continues to push against gender constructs, the conversation around how people are identifying themselves is constantly evolving. Each week, MILK.XYZ will feature a guest editor writing about their specific relationship with gender and, often, where it intersects with fashion. This week, we feature performance artist Ryan Galowich.
anything but he/him
What’s the first thing you notice about me?
Is it the way I move? The clothes I choose to cover myself in?
Is it my glossy red nails or the hearts stamped on my lower cheeks floating above my mustache? Maybe it’s the feminine rasp of my voice or the way my smoky scent lingers when I enter a room.
I’m always curious where people’s first perceptions begin, when my body is inevitably assumed as a vessel of masculinity.
She’s beauty, she’s grace, she’s got a mustache on her face. Everywhere I go, I’m falsely perceived as masculine. I shave half of my body, put on makeup, smoke a joint and tuck everyday before I leave the house, all with the intent of giving me the confidence to navigate the streets of New York City.
I’ve learned to rely on my own warped rendering of how we’re conditioned to socially perceive and perform femininity as a means of inclusion, but also survival. I’m constantly negotiating with the presentation of my body between what feels powerful, and what feels safe.
I often refer to myself as a proud bearded woman because it’s important to acknowledge that there is no singular manifestation of transness nor womanhood that is any more valid than the next. Drag artists from my sweet home Chicago like Imp Queen and Lucy Stoole inspire me to live my hairy femme truth and articulate my womanhood however feels the most natural to me.
The work I create often sits at an intersection of digital media and conceptual performance art that allows me to explore my body and my movements. I feel an innate limitation when exploring my femininity through static mediums. My gender is not fixed, it is constantly changing.
My body feels choreographed to perform a routine of gestures such as shaving, tucking, putting on makeup and more that I’ve had to learn over time, but these actions have since become a second nature to my body. It’s taken time to accept these gestures and learn to love my movement, but the more I explore it every day, the more I feel it serves as a vessel to carry my femininity wherever I go.
Processing my transness makes more sense to me in motion. When I create my artwork, the forms I choose are ephemeral; to translate visually my perception of my body in a specific moment, which like every moment, comes to an end. By the time it takes me to complete a video project or a performance piece, my thoughts on my gender could be in a completely different place then where the piece began.
I generally find it tokenizing to pose for photographs when my femininity is the thematic focus of the piece, because it feels so forced and adds pressure to each position. When I allow my body to perform movements instead, it lets me rely on gestures that are familiar and comfortable to recall from my everyday movements. The process of portraying my femininity through movement feels more natural and fluid. When a photo is taken of my body in motion, the movement is no longer present, but the individual frames expose something new. A still image taken of a gesture makes the movement itself invisible, while simultaneously exposing a new, undetected frame as the final product. What that single frame is capturing to me is the motions of gender expression that my body manifests when I accept my physical presentation and my feminine movements.
Sometimes I wonder if these gestures are defined by how we perceive them on the bodies around us, or by the way we perform them on our own body? Regardless, they’re both agencies of adhering to and resisting socially conditioned movements. There’s something inherently radical in the way my body moves. A quick walk to the bodega can be misread as an act of political rebellion because trans bodies and trans movement are still rarely seen as normal. Depending on the social location of a body, aspects of identity regarding gender, class, race and more are socially reproduced through normative mundane movements. Reassigning those gendered movements onto my body creates something that disturbs public spaces, often leading to verbal or physical responses that can turn my walk to the bodega into a run back to the apartment.
It hasn’t yet been normalized to witness feminine movements naturally portrayed onto a masculine-perceived body, or vice versa. Maybe it’s because it takes an untaught physical labor to untangle and retrain the body of its socially engrained gestures. Social environments often don’t allow these movements to just leave the body. Resistance to normative movements offers new ways for the body to move, as well as new ways for the body to be seen.
Mobility is a privilege, a tool, a reflection of social standards and a site of exploration that determines how we navigate our lives. My gender is expressed through the way my body movements are ephemeral. Knowing that I’ll move a certain way now, a different way next week, and a totally unimaginable way in a few years is exciting.
prioritize your body
explore the ways you move
and don’t forget to love yourself.
Images courtesy of Sonja Briney; assisted by Ross Myren and Mary V Benoit
Stay tuned to Milk for more Gender Diaries and see our previous installments here.