Uninformed political opinions took space meant for children

Artists behind the play Gender Boss say they are shocked by ‘judgment’ and ‘harassment’ they endured

The stage set-up for Gender Boss at Spazju Kreattiv
The stage set-up for Gender Boss at Spazju Kreattiv

As artists, we had been warmly approached to make a performance and creative workshop for Żigużajg centering around gender for audiences of ages 8 to 10-years-old. Gender Boss has always solely been about gender diversity, identity and expression, and has never addressed sexuality and sexual orientation, which is what many misinformed people were sadly very quick to falsely suggest. What we mean by gender diversity is that people experience gender over a spectrum. We wanted to go beyond the conventional binary narrative where pink and dolls are for girls and blue and cars are for boys.

The starting point for Gender Boss was a creative invitation for audiences to engage with creatures who embark on a journey to an imaginative world where it is possible to transform beyond stereotyped gender norms as is often seen in fairy tales. The aim was to offer children an adventurous sense of agency when invited to be immersed in a world of make believe as they are often encouraged to do when engaging in art practices. The aim of Gender Boss was to hold a safe space as well as to present an inclusive narrative of love and acceptance in the face of prejudice and conflict. No part of the artwork imposed any ideal other than this.

The reactions the title and initial description has received, has sadly reflected exactly the same fear that many still experience when expressing themselves differently from stereotypical gender norms. The performance was a multidisciplinary experience with music, video and movement and a written script on its own would not have been able to fully transmit the experience, thus acknowledging that any text we would have shared, prior to the performance, may have easily been taken out of context and judged by the same people whom we have been harassed by for the previous description. As artists and mindful people, we had a duty to keep focusing on the artwork and to take care of our approaching audiences and not feed into the ongoing fear and shame.

A more detailed description of the performance of Gender Boss was also later shared stating how it ‘explores gender diversity through the metaphor of creatures and fantasy characters inspired by popular children’s literature, cinema and cartoons.’ The performance sees two main characters, a Tooth-fairy, Toothy, who is not as dainty and graceful as her peers gets to explore her inner superhero and a boogeyman, Boogey, who doesn’t like being scary, makes his first friend who doesn’t fear him. Both characters were written to inspire admiration for their bravery in accepting themselves with all their differences for not conforming to their fairy-tale norms. Indeed, this may have potentially offered a sense of comfort to audiences whose identity may not conform to stereotypical norms. The aim of Toothy and Boogey was simply to make audience members feel less afraid and alone.

In an ideal world, Żigużajg would have been directly approached with the concerns that Julie Zahra publicly expressed. Julie Zahra was invited to come and experience Gender Boss herself and we were also very open to have a direct conversation with her. Despite such efforts, not only was there no attendance from her part but Żigużajg’s invitation was left unanswered and her bold public concerns were not followed through.

It became apparent that public political statements and opinions made without having had directly enquired about the performance prior to the performance itself, continued to fuel even more media and political attention which took up space that was first and foremost meant for the children. We did respect the following enquiries of adults and teachers who did come forward to Żigużajg directly and were given a more detailed description of the performance and creative writing and drawing workshop, some of which were also then publicly shared.

Luckily for the children, teachers and parents who did attend, Gender Boss was received with gracious appreciation and our audiences responded with ease. The idea that even fairytale characters had the possibility to transform beyond what had been already expected of them was received with excitement and joy. We were very humbled by the children’s participation and enthusiasm in writing and drawing up their own fantastical creatures embarking on their own journeys during the workshop.

Adults who attended remarked on the unfortunate misinformation that had publicly circulated prior to the performance, and instead found that it was nothing but an innocent imaginative story reflecting even more strongly how it is still a challenge for individuals to accept themselves and others as they are and be the boss of their identities.

The entire online mania, that arose before Gender Boss was performed, has been extremely revealing of the nation’s level of education and understanding of gender and the arts. As much as we were shocked by the judgement and harassment that we unjustly endured, we have also received a wealth of support from individuals who did not find such a topic threatening for any age especially when expressed safely through the medium of art and creative imagination. And for this, we are grateful.

Opinion by Romeo Roxman Gatt and Martina Georgina