Kindergarten for me was a time before gay or straight, but not before male or female. I remember distinctly making it a point to use the single-stall restroom in our classroom immediately after a cute boy had used it. The thought of sitting on the seat and our rear-ends touching by way of some porcelain medium was my earliest sense of homoeroticism. At that time, I played with toys intended for both boys and girls. I preferred my Barbies as much as I preferred my G.I. Joes and I was equally excited about my plastic dinosaur figures as I was about My Little Pony. On the playground at recess, the whole class played ponies vs. dinosaurs, pretending we were the creatures themselves, and carrying out various missions. The boys were the dinosaurs and the girls were the ponies, but I usually wanted to be on the girls' team and therefore a pony. Maybe it’s because unlike the other boys in my class, I was actually the only one who knew much about ponies. They were powerful and elegant, particularly the one which I chose to be, Wind Whistler, who was actually a Pegasus colored in a sophisticated palette of soft pink hair and a blue-gray body with a white ribbon tied at the base of her tail.
Back then, the implications of the differences between male and female characters did not occur to me. He-Man or She-Ra? It was however the mood struck me. It wasn’t until 3rd grade, not long after emulating Rogue’s famous mid-flight pose with bent knee, that I stopped choosing to pretend to be female characters altogether. Recently, I was introduced to the work of Aiden Simon, an artist who never chose a side, and never pretended. As a trans artist, his work engages the realm of pretend critically, and poses questions that it actively neglects to attempt to answer. The shifts between media in the artist’s work speak to his interest in a sideways, non-linear evolution. Simon’s “My Little Pony” is an installation-based work composed of different elements reminiscent of deconstructed children’s pinewood play sets: a rocking horse, a castle bridge, a step stool. The piece is completely module and constantly reinvented for each new space in which it’s shown. For the particular incantation which I saw, it was presented in an urban attic setting of LMAK gallery on the Lower East Side, haunting and tucked aside, like stumbling upon a secret. The piece had been transformed into a mobile in one room, with the altered legs of a rocker in the other (which really reads as a continuation of the same work). The functionality of both pieces is ambiguous, and one which perhaps only a child would find a use for.
The mobile is large enough that it purposefully engages the viewer’s body relative to the scale, making us feel the size of small children ourselves. On it are tiny decontextualized accessories adorning the structure like jewels. I could recognize the handle of a rattle, a water wing, and various charms, but they too had been subtly extracted and combined to create decorations evoking some form of bondage. The uneasy tension of the in-between nature of the installation triggers programmed perceptions of innocence versus perversion, natural versus unnatural, as it seems to occupy a space which embodies both sides of these contradictions. In doing so, it boldly addresses the fluidity of childhood sexuality and gender-identification, before we learn to reject parts of ourselves in order to uphold sociological laws over biological ones.
Accompanying the installation are drawings of equally ambiguous forms, though they very clearly reference living shapes. They complement the larger work in the sense that they are deconstructed fractures of familiar forms, Hominid in appearance, that leave the viewer unable to rest on a single interpretation. The drawings are reduced to the most basic sensibilities of a child exploring form with a pencil and paper for the first time. Rather, Simon is focused on unlearning conventional symbology of how we depict representational forms early on, and re-engaging the idea in a non-linear modality. Like the installation, achieving this purposeful ambiguity requires a strong design element, and seems to explore social vs. biological meaning behind the gestures.
Simon says of his work, “New conditions create new possibilities and demands for new versions of ourselves… It’s using the excuse of art to transform live, which is this wonderful perversion of the way that we normally think about it.” For myself, a homosexual cisgender male, I suppose I’ll never really know the degree to which I was conditioned through shame to reject certain female qualities resulting in the expulsion of embodying powerful female characters from my playtime. In the last couple years as we’ve witnessed the trans conversation finally gain a national platform, the topic unavoidably sheds light upon deeper and more frequent cracks between the milieu of extremes which govern the everyday. If there is anything conclusive to draw from Simon’s work it’s that form does indeed always follow function, but purpose becomes muddied in society— learned and unlearned— and oftentimes the only natural response to the unnatural world is to function in a way that is deemed unnatural.