Portland Center Stage presents Hair at the Armory Portland Oregon

Gender Deconstruction: Transcending the checkbox

Hannah Krafcik kicks off a new series of essays for ArtsWatch about gender nonconforming and trans experience.


Selfie at the Waterline Studio. Photo by Hannah Krafcik

Although I usually write about other artists for ArtsWatch, today I write to you, dear reader, in order to share a little more about myself as I kick off a new series of written and photo essays called Gender Deconstruction: I am a person in search of understanding, a researcher working across too many practices to list here. In spite of all the systems telling me to just pick a career, an artistic medium, a life path, I allow my research to take as many forms as it must. I grow in the direction it leads me, toward writing, art-making, and investing in the many relationships that make up my life. This intuitive evolution comes into my experience of gender as I transcend the checkbox that I was assigned at birth. Even the term “nonbinary” fails me, but I fall back on this in lieu of telling everyone I meet that “amoeba-like” is truly the ideal descriptor for my gender nonconformity. 

Gender Deconstruction: An ArtsWatch Series

I came to Gender Deconstruction by happenstance, picking up the series in the wake of genderfluid ArtsWatch writer and photographer Dee Moore, who had instigated it. Moore is a freelance journalist and an artist, like me. I am grateful for their initiative and feel the work’s pressing nature as I carry it forward, for it is not something I would have conceived of my own volition.

pattern recognition. Photo by Hannah Krafcik

I am out as genderqueer, but I am not forward about it. Some people tend to cling to their initial perception of my gender (femme or female), a fallback for ascertaining the kind of labor that can be coerced from me such that I must inadvertently hold a place in the web of power that starves capacity for imagination. But I firmly assert my chosen pronouns (they/them) when the opportunity presents itself, because this is an easy way to challenge what others expect of me and test their willingness to change. I have spent my entire life failing to live up to others’ expectations and desires of me. Now, I revel in my own failure. All of those expectations—including the performance of gender—are unrealistic and oppressive to who I am still becoming. 

I embark on Gender Deconstruction as someone living with invisible disability and neurodivergence who has been labeled by the medical industrial complex as autistic and obsessive-compulsive. Because of this, I often write with quiet disdain for social convention and flattening language. I spend time thinking about how I was introduced to the world through labels—words I had to accept that described what I and everything around me was, foreclosing on my own experience. Now, I feel into myself and my surroundings in preverbal and subterranean ways, relying on sensory input and intuition. I reserve the right to create new rhetoric for my experiences and to adapt my way of being accordingly. In this way, the series will invoke my own neuroqueerness

Light-leaked image of sensory detail. Photo by Hannah Krafcik

I also worry that aspects of my lived experience will obscure the depths of Gender Deconstruction. For instance, I fear my whiteness, class privilege, and status as a non-op genderqueer will pollute my interpretation of my interviewees’ words as I write. But this anxiety finds itself quickly overridden with urgency of the moment, spurred by unsettling anti-trans activity including recent legislation and media coverage. I do not have the heart to dwell on all of this bureaucratic harm, but it drives the project. 

My fear fades further away with memories of affinity I felt during past interviews with Maya Vivas, Pace Taylor and other gender-nonconforming artists whose work I admire and relate to. I encourage readers to seek out their own points of affinity with Gender Deconstruction interviewees, to look for traces of themselves (whether or not it relates to gender), and to connect these dots toward coalition-building and solidarity across difference. 

Sculptural elements fabricated as part of Aesthetics Project, a Performance Lecture created in collaboration with Emily Jones. Photo by Hannah Krafcik

In developing stories for Gender Deconstruction, I strive to remain an open conduit for whatever my interviewees want to share. Trans and gender-nonconforming individuals continue to be policed, denied proper care, and robbed of body autonomy. It is dangerous to be gender nonconforming, to be out and to transition—especially for People of Color as well as Disabled and transfeminine folks. And so the interviewees of these stories do not owe any explanation of their gender experience by agreeing to participate in this project. My first interviewee, Lawrence/Lawren Oliver iii, eschewed discussion of gender altogether, preferring instead that we talk about art-making and memory. While gender was an impetus for this essay, its confines were not the subject.  

Following this precedent, I hope Gender Deconstruction will offer more complexity in lieu of labels and categorical distinctions. I hope the series will leave space for story subjects to show who they are multidimensionally—without feeling the need to “be” anything or show up in legible ways. I also hope that you, dear reader, take in the wisdom and creativity of these interviewees and feel thankful, as I do, that they are willing to share whatever they feel called to share.

Hannah Krafcik (they/them) is a Portland-based interdisciplinary neuroqueer artist and writer whose work emerges from ongoing reflections on social patterning and censorship, (over)stimulation, perseveration, and intuition. Their practices span dance, writing, new media, and sound design. Hannah continues to be influenced by their collaboration with artistic partner Emily Jones.
Photo credit: Jo Silver
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