by Verena Mandragora | Follow
Orlando was inspired by the novel Orlando: A Biography written by Virginia Woolf. The book is considered as a feminist classic as the protagonist, a poet who lives for centuries, meeting most influential people in British society, changes sex from a man to a woman and finally even giving birth to a child, teaching us that gender - or what society wants to make up believe - is not important.
Living in a world, where sex or not-even sex or non-sex should not matter at all girls are still be taught to be nice, good-looking, not to speak up and be just strong with the „weapons of the women“: their looks and acting strategically, most likely behind a man. Watching news and articles, about important gatherings in politics, usually show the same scene: about 20 men dressed all in black suits are smiling into the cameras of journalists and press and the one colorful dot in the middle is that one woman, that made it into politics - often referred as cold as ice or neglecting her family because she dares to work her way up.
On the opposite we want boys to believe that they need to be strong in order to count as an honorable man. He has to care for the family, protect his children and wife. Oh, and while showing some feelings is pretty much accepted, we´re still debating if homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt kids.
Some months ago a judgment was settled in Germany. It confirms that third sex DO exist. Previously thousands of born hermaphrodites were operated as newborns into male or female, sometimes even against the will of the parents, always with missing consent of the newborn child. The new sex is called INTER and can be registered in your passport. What sounds minor is a big deal to thousands of people that had been forced to decide if they are male and female.
However, biological sex has nothing to do with the gender you´re feeling. Genderqueer includes identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine. Thinking outside the gender binary was a novum throughout the last centuries. And although the novel orlando might be influenced by historical crossdressers, it was the 20th century when women finally dare to wear pants, cut their hair, when it gets slowly accepted that there are more options than the classic family of father, mother, and children. Still fighting against those social norms, it´s still challenging for trans genders or other people that do not fit into the grid of masculinity or feminity.
Virginia Woolf's ORLANDO is set throughout centuries but was written in the late 1920ies, most likely inspired by her own relationship to Victoria „Vita“ Sackville-West. Both were members of the Bloomsbury Group, which was known for its liberal views on sexuality. The two were involved in a sexual and romantic relationship that lasted for a decade and ended up as a long-lasting friendship after that. Vita´s son, Nigel Nicolson, referred to the book as the „longest and most charming love letter in literature“.
So taking all this inspiration from the forever living ORLANDO and transforming into a pretty clean and simple photo shoot leads to a basic, but painting like light set up that reminds of the arts of the old Netherlands from the 16th and 17th century: Warm colors that blend together, a pretty natural color palette without any super popping surprises are the basics when it comes to the choice of styling thinking of famous artists like the Brueghel family or Hieronymus Galle. The timelessness ORLANDO is crucial also for the styling in our story: The wardrobe takes inspiration in the Victorian 19th century and could be called even a bit old - fashioned. Ruffles and floral embroidery stands against clean silhouettes. A very strong Dandy look, invented in the 1920ies and recurring in the 1970ies, contrasts the playfully exaggerated hairstyling that could suit a desperate housewife from the 1950ies … or even be found in the baroque ballrooms of Queen Anne in London in the early 18th Century. Our model invites us into this story of contradictory parts, plays with the cliches we put on her - and is even super bored of it. And I agree with her. We need to overcome our cliches, our grids that press us into forms we think we need to fit into to belong.
Belong to what? Those ideas of feminity and masculinity we referred above? Being male, female or inter? Society needs to overcome such patterns and let people be happy with their own way of life. Hurting no one should be the only issue we care about through all decades, genders and sexes. And not assuming that our opinion is the ultima ratio.
It is not only about acceptance. It is not only about a mindset. We finally need to open up our own laws is it about adoption into rainbow families or even to get started - about gay marriage. Yes, it is about rights, and yes, it is about equality. And even Virginia Woolfs ORLANDO needs to fight for his right over the property of her own land when returning as a woman. While speaking about differences, we should actually talk about similarities. Let´s think about what connects and not what separates. Not only in gender and sex, but also in feelings and emotions.