The transgendered nature of art

The Borghese Hermaphroditus, a 2nd-ce  ntury Roman copy of a Greek work. Musée du Louvre.

The Borghese Hermaphroditus, a 2nd-century Roman copy of a Greek work. Musée du Louvre.

Bruce Jenner’s transition to womanhood and the profile of transgendered model Andreja Pejić in May Vogue have got me thinking about the transgendered nature of art.

Consider Thomas Hardy – whose “Far From the Madding Crowd” has been made into a new film starring Carey Mulligan, the sensual Matthias Schoenaerts and the estimable Michael Sheen. For him to create some of fiction’s greatest romantic heroines, and heroes, he had to understand a woman’s mind and heart as well as that of a man. For George Balanchine to create some of ballet’s finest works, he had to know a woman’s body as intimately as a man’s.

Art has also long been preoccupied with hermaphroditism – the condition of having the physical attributes of both sexes. In ancient Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus – son of Hermes, the messenger god, and Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty – was a beautiful youth beloved by the water nymph Salmacis, who embraced him against his will in her pool and prayed that the two would become one.

The seer Tiresias was asked by Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of the gods, which sex derived the greater sexual pleasure, since Tiresias had seen life from both sides. Tiresias replied, perhaps imprudently considering his audience, women. Whereupon a huffy Hera struck him blind, while Zeus gave him the gift of second sight in recompense.

Regardless, however, of whether we identify ourselves as male, female, both, transgender, other or none of the above (yes, that’s another box we can check), we all need to tap into masculine and feminine energies in the Jungian sense.

And we as artists need to understand human nature across the spectrum if we are going to plumb the psychological truth that is the essence of art.