• The Hyena Women:  Beyond and Within the Gender Binary
  • The Hyena Women:  Beyond and Within the Gender Binary
  • The Hyena Women:  Beyond and Within the Gender Binary

The Hyena Women: Beyond and Within the Gender Binary

In sex education, I was told that masturbating would create irreversible fetishistic behavior. For example, fingering myself while wearing yellow rain boots would allegedly prevent me from experiencing an orgasm with another person…unless I was wearing some yellow rain boots. This orgasm, furthermore, would be deemed a product of a woman’s inherent desire to procreate and to be cherished as a future mother. Thundering beneath these myths regarding sex is the terror attached to the notion that women might crave sex strictly for pleasure. Bodies, physical intimacy, and fluids are censured and replaced by moral didacticisms that are quietly misogynistic and loudly fundamentalist. Without direction, I stumble my way through a sexual reality that is dictated by a heteronormative gender binary.

My work is a counterpoint to this binary and a playful backlash against a sex-negative environment. The dominant discourse in America supports a “sexual utopia” in which there are only two sexes—male and female—and one sexuality—straight. Sexual intercourse is defined by a male penetrating a receptive female. Anyone who violates this standard is ostracized and persecuted. Not only does this heteronormative gender binary encourage the “male gaze,” the objectification of women as sexual tools, it enables a hierarchy (in which straight males are at the top) that uses sex as a vehicle for maintaining power over women and the LBGTQ communities.

The potency of this binary is revealed in how it expands beyond human relations and affects perceptions of sexual behavior in animals. The matriarchal spotted female hyena has been formerly dismissed by wildlife experts as freakish, savage, and backwards because she has an enlarged clitoris that resembles a penis when it is erect. Female hyenas are also socially and physically dominant over males. It is, therefore, safe to say that hyenas are the “queers” of nature.

In my drawings, the sexual encounters between and among the anthropomorphized hyenas occur in an indexical space, detached from reality, and maintain an iconic presentation. Rather than conforming to the assumed “sexual utopia” that has been forced upon me, I am creating sexual confusion. Hermaphrodites, lesbians, dominant females, transgendered males, and queers engage in a pleasurable mess of sexual activities that debunk patriarchal notions of what defines sexuality, gender, and sexual intercourse. Historically, feminists and queers have employed the language of photography and video to convey themes that parallel my own; however, my intention is not to support a solemn or angry counter to the male gaze, for I feel sexual pleasure as an aesthetically pleasing subject should not be compromised. The blunt coloring-book quality of my work emphasizes a sex-positive culture, one in which sex is a mutual interaction for all genders. When the so-called object’s pleasure and equality are the goal, then what becomes of the male gaze and the object?

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