Judith P. Raynault studio

Binary Schminary

This month I'm taking you on a journey to show how one idea leads to another, and how other people's art is forever inspiring. Let's dig right into it!

Night Stroll

The inspiration started with this image I found while researching another project set in the 1920's:

Two young men wearing knickerbockers (such a great word!), 1926.
Source: Men’s Fashion in the twentieth century. From frock coats to intelligent fibres, by Maria Costantino, 1997

I thought these two looked very cool, and that frankly I'd be happy to wear their outfits. Which made me think about the women who wore 'masculine' clothing in the 1920's. Among the various reasons for them to dress so (practicality, entertainment, to be subversive, to get a better pay by passing as a man, because they felt like a man, or to show sexual preference), I wondered if some did so because they would identify today as being non-binary. The term didn't exist back then but it doesn't mean that the feeling of not belonging to a specific category didn't. So I decided to make the characters gender neutral.

Women in masculine clothing in the 1920's

Then I visited the exhibition Feeling Good by the artist Joy Yamusangie at the NOW Gallery in London (on until June 5th, I strongly recommend going if you can and it's free!). Joy goes by the non-binary pronouns they/them and their work for Feeling Good is inspired by the 1920's jazz clubs, which felt like such a fitting coincidence with my piece! I took inspiration from their night-time paintings with strong light beams and decided to set my illustration at night.

Art by Joy Yamusangie

I don't understand why non-binary people's presence is enraging to so many. Their existence doesn't hinder anyone else's, so why are people angry? Just because we have to learn new pronouns? I do understand that the concept of not feeling like a man or a woman can be hard to wrap your head around, since most of us were taught from infancy to see the world in a, well, binary way. I also understand that it's hard to get the pronouns right, mainly because of the aforementioned reason. Especially if your first language is French, in which even objects are gendered! I'm rather happy that the gender neutral pronouns have come about since I've been living in the UK, because it looks like a minefield to get it right in French. But at the end of the day, learning how to use gender neutral language is a way to be more inclusive for all human beings.

I still often get the pronouns wrong though. There was a non-binary person on The Great Pottery Throwdown this year and my mother-in-law referred to them as 'she'. Wanting to correct her so she would know in the future, I said "Actually she's non-binary so you should say 'they are..." Thus using the pronoun 'she' myself. 😬 But I'm sure that I'll get better at it in time.

Judith xx

Illustration close-ups

Podcast recommendation

I love language, I think it's fascinating how it evolves, how it influences how we think, how different languages borrow from one another and how the environment and culture impacts it. Helen Zaltzman's The Allusionist talks about all of those things and more.

The latest episode I listened to was about the word Asperger: who it was named after, why it should be called something else, and the stigma around terms like Asperger’s syndrome and autism. Fascinating, entertaining and educational.

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© Judith Poitras-Raynault 2024
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