Trans-genderism and Virginia Woolf

A partial transcript from Episode 21 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Scroll down to listen to the full radio show.

Regarding the #IStandWithJKRowiling, I should say I’m not a fan of her books. That’s just personal taste, I realize that Harry Potter means a lot to a lot of people.

But in terms of trans-genderism, may I suggest Virginia Woolf instead? Not only was she revolutionary in experimentation with form and content, going against the norm of the novel during the Victorian Era and pioneering the stream of consciousness style of writing. But she was also modern-minded in her exploration of such themes as gender and sexuality in her books.

Actually, Woolf was a lesbian I believe. I’m not entirely sure whether she identified herself as such outright but she reportedly had affairs with women, especially with Vita Sackville West, who was an author herself, a prolific diarist and a garden designer. She also inspired one of Woolf’s most celebrated and modern-minded novels known — Orlando.

If you haven’t read it, it’s difficult to kind of do its narrative justice both in terms of content and form in just a few words. Essentially, it’s the story of Orlando, and it’s a fictional historical biography that spans almost 400 years in the lifetime of the title protagonist. And all throughout the book’s length, the protagonist constantly changes sex.

So, I suppose the novel explores such things as how gender roles are defined within society, confusion about gender and sexuality and all such things. There are a couple of lines that illustrate that, including the opening lines: “He–for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it–was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.”

In another part, Woolf wants us to understand the force of gender roles in her own world and writes: “When the boy, for alas, a boy it must be – no woman could skate with such speed and vigour – swept almost on tiptoe past him, Orlando was ready to tear his hair with vexation that the person was of his own sex, and thus all embraces were out of the question.”

But it’s a wonderful book and I would recommend it, particularly for anyone who is looking for some type of representation or comfort about their own sexuality and gender in classic literature. Sally Potter directed an awesome version of the book in 1992, starring Tilda Swinton, that you can check out in case reading is not your thing.

But as far as I’m concerned, and in terms of how I feel about this whole thing, if you do stand with J.K. Rowling, that’s cool. But I, on the other hand, stand with Virginia Woolf.

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