Obvious that the author does not know the first thing about non binary people, says activist.
An interview on national TV, RÚV, with the writer Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl about his new play, “Hans Blær”, has caused quite a stir in the Icelandic queer community. The protagonist of the play is the non binary trans person Hans Blær and according to the non binary activist Ugla (Owl) Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir it is obvious from this interview that the author does not know the first thing about non binary people. But what is it exactly that people are upset about in this interview?
“I think that the main thing people are upset about is the connotation it creates—that being non binary (isl. kynsegin) is somehow an extremity or something negative,” Ugla explains. “The interview reveals little about the play itself, but from the interview it’s quite clear that they lack an understanding of non binary issues. Not only are they using the gender neutral pronoun hán (English equivalent to the singular ‘they’) wrongly, but the word ‘transi’ is also used in the interview, which is a very outdated and old school word that isn’t really used anymore, except as a joke between trans people to make fun of how ridiculous it is. It’s connection with ‘trannie’ is highly offensive.”
“There are so many misconceptions and hate that we face every day, and this representation will surely not foster understanding …”
What do you think of the playwrights description of the character?
“The character is described as a very extreme character that over steps boundaries, alienates everyone around them and is generally a very unpleasant and willingly meant to shock and disturb people. The fact that they are also made non binary, plays right into the perception that being non binary is something freakish, strange or some sort of a delusion. There is no chance that the person is made non binary in order to humanize them or make them seem approachable and friendly,” says Ugla. And Ugla is not finished.
“It’s also a case of representation. Non binary people are so rarely represented in popular literature, media or any field and only now are non binary people getting a voice in the media. There are so many misconceptions and hate that we face every day, and this representation will surely not foster understanding or allow people to see non binary people as people wanting to live their lives. If anything, it enforces the idea that non binary gender identities are extreme, not real and something to be looked down upon.”
In the interview Eiríkur says that becoming a net troll that aims to respect no boundaries Hans Blær is getting back at the society that excluded him, is that a stupid approach in Ugla’s opinion?
“In my experience, trolls are usually people who are prejudiced and bigoted and usually have a lot of privilege in society and have never had to fight for their rights or inclusion in society. So yes, I would say it doesn’t make much sense to me.”
Is it your opinion that cis-gender writers should not write about non binary characters, at least not when they obviously know as little about them as this writer seems to?
“I think that cis people need to realise that representation of trans people and non binary trans people in particular has been extremely negative in literature, film and the media. They need to realise that representation shapes public opinions and views and if it’s not done right, even with the best of intentions, it can end up harming us and our cause. People need to realise that trans people should be the ones telling these stories, and if people want to create stories about trans people, they need to involve us in every step of the way. Otherwise it’s going to end up enforcing stereotypes and potentially harming a group of people as it contributes to prejudice, stigma and discrimination. People need to realise that they have a responsibility towards the minority group they choose to create stories about, and it should not be taken lightly,” says Ugla and points out that this comic describes perfectly well the issue we have here.
When cis people want to create content about trans people: Comic by Sketchshark.
Are you going to see the play?
“If I’m in the country when it’s being shown, I might pop by to do a live tweet from the performance. I’m sure that would be quite the thread.”
Do you have any message for the playwright?
“Just this: If anyone is looking to make a book, play or film and they want to involve a trans character, my line is open for consultation or cooperation. They can also contact various organisations such as Samtökin ’78 or Trans Iceland to ensure their representation isn’t damaging or harmful to the trans community.”
Main photo: Screenshot of a poster promoting the play “Hans Blær”.