They #1<br>by Stephen Spiller<br>(Long Island City, NY)

They #1
by Stephen Spiller
(Long Island City, NY)

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Archival Pigment, 25 x 26.75

My work entitled “They #1” is a self-portrait that addresses non-binary
gender identity and the use of gender pronouns. The composition
offers three separate faces that suggest a fracturing, or perhaps a
changing, of identity. The central figure is an amalgam of both
masculine and feminine archetypes. The subtle appearance of the
word “THEY” identifies related pronoun issues, e.g. what it means not
only to be recognized, and referred to, as one wishes, but also the
meaning when others disregard, unknowingly or otherwise, such

Artist Statement


Recently, I heard a 30ish Black woman say to a 50ish, white, male, police officer, in a strident voice: “From now on refer to me saying ‘they’”. I knew what she meant but it seemed he didn’t, or didn’t care. In a dismissive and sarcastic tone he called her a “lesbo dyke”.

I’ve had many thoughts about that exchange. I want to raise here questions about what it means to be recognized, and referred to, as one wishes. That conversation, it seems, stimulated my desire to “sort out” “identity” issues, especially those involving gender confusion. I now think that something so simple, the use of pronouns, might play a large role in advancing civility, desperately needed in our racially warring country. That day, a pronoun “they” symbolized identity recognition, not referral to a group of people. For me, it was an audible signal - iceberg-like with most of its substance being invisible. Is it possible that understanding identity issues might even open the door to practicing empathy?

Part of the We're Doing It ALL Wrong Art Exhibition.  This artwork is available for purchase and only viewable as part of the online exhibition at