Libertății Square is an area with a special history in Timișoara, dating back to the Middle Ages, when it was the point of convergence of the trade routes around which the city was founded. The Garrison Command, located on the edge of the square, is another significant historical area that has been documented since the 1700s and has had several military functions over time. The building currently houses part of the Chronic Desire exhibition. To visit the works of art there, you must go through the archway in the middle of the building, reach a cold, sombre hall, climb the first flight of stairs and continue up the second flight, until you see the following text: You ask a friend, who asks a friend, who asks a friend, who asks a friend, who asks a friend, this is how things are done. It is a work by artist Harun Morrison that could be included in a discussion that has become one of the hot points of debate in the public space in recent years: that of redefining gender beyond the male-female binomial.
Created by Morrison, a resident artist of London, this work is inspired by a conversation he has had with the artist Ana Kun, which described how things are done in Timișoara. The following information is written on the label: The use of the letter “x” at the end of words instead of the specific gender vowels is an attempt to include the entire spectrum of gender identities and to avoid the predominantly masculine norm in the Romanian language. This text accompanies the description of Faces without Hands, a work exhibited on the first corridor of the exhibition’s visiting route, as well as Morrison’s other two works displayed in the Garrison Command.
According to Corina Oprea, co-curator of the exhibition, the letter “x” is used by the queer community (LGBTQIA+) instead of the masculine or feminine ending, as a social convention not currently regulated in the vocabulary of the Romanian language. It was Morrison’s choice that the text be translated into Romanian “in the non-binary version”. This opens a dialogue about how Romanian artists and curators adapt to the discussions held globally about gender and sexuality. “It’s just like in English, which uses they/them to avoid gendered identification. Latin languages, especially Romanian, is strongly gendered. There are other variants, all three expressions can be used. For example, instead of muzicieni [a masculine noun in Romanian – translator’s note] we can say muzicieni/muziciene/muzicienx. It is the only work that uses this non-binary language”, states the curator.
Placing Morrison’s works in the historical space of the Garrison Command is relevant for the significance of the discourse that prevails in his art. In addition, it brings to attention another aspect of the exhibition, one on which the curators Cosmina Goagea, Corina Oprea and Brîndușa Tudor worked in a subtle way, with a lot of effort and without publicly communicating it: the option to avoid masculine plurals. All the texts describing the exhibition have been written in such a way that they do not pay more attention – at the language level – to one gender over another, and take into account those who identify themselves as non-binary (neither male nor female). Consequently, the phrase 35 artists present in the exhibition, which may have been common before, was replaced with 35 artistic presences, a formula that includes any existing or future genre.
The use of a letter like “x” instead of the male and female endings is becoming increasingly common. Social media platforms such as Instagram or Facebook offer their users the option to customize their pronouns using the non-binary version as well as many other possibilities of expressing one’s gender identity. It is an already widespread practice especially among teenagers and young people who want to facilitate dialogues with others or control the way they are addressed. It has also become a custom among the hundreds of Hollywood artists who identify themselves as non-binary or agender, asking people to call them they/them. In British academia, professors have already started asking students which pronouns they prefer to use in conversation, to respect their choices. And there are plenty of other examples that attest to the fact that the gender revolution will continue to change the world as we know it in the years to come.
Although this seems like a new topic for debate or a Western invention, the discussion of the third gender has been documented in history for over 2000 years in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, the two American continents, and the Roman or Byzantine Empire. The gender topic – neuter or genders other than masculine and feminine – is controversial and usually elicits two types of reactions: some people tend to position themselves for or against gender identification beyond the male-female binomial, while others don’t understand the discussion because it is far too recent, niche and rarely explained in a language accessible to non-digital natives. In Romania, there are almost no sources to enlighten us about this debate, but we have a very good example from abroad, the Gender Talk podcast, which was launched in March 2020, can be listened to on Spotify and includes conversations with various people who discuss about the gender revolution openly and use an accessible language.