The power of inclusive language
By Janet Jarrell
Luisé Cisneros (ze, hir), is a non-binary Mexican-Canadian artist born in Mexico City who resides in Belleville and Toronto, is earning a bachelor of fine arts degree in Sculpture and Installation at OCAD University.
The QAC team sat down with Cisneros to discuss an installation by hir at the QAC gallery and cultural hub. The installation was entitled “¿Cuano se Acaba?/When is it Over? Part II.” Cisneros created it in the style of papel picado; a decorative art form popular in Mexico made by cutting elaborate designs into sheets of tissue paper. Ze said the tissue paper symbolizes “the fragility of a life and the fragility of the LGBTQ+ community.”
According to the LGTBQ+ Danger Index for 2022, Canada is ranked number one as the safest country for people in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community to live in and visit. Mexico ranks 50th on the danger index. Cisneros said the goal in crafting the installation was to draw upon Mexican imagery and culture, personal experience, and issues facing the 2SLGBTQIA+ community to raise awareness of those issues. “Mexico occupies second place in the world for the most homicides against trans or gender-diverse people. In Mexico, the LGBTQ+ community is protected by human rights bills, the constitution, and provincial policies – but the government hasn’t done a great job of implementing systems that change the way of thinking of the majority of society.” says Cisneros.
The installation was made entirely of red tissue paper (red representing blood and life), containing some violent imagery and slurs in multiple languages. In showing those words, said Cisneros, “I’m questioning what harms more: the physical acts or the words?”
Cisneros says that the thing about language is that you learn so much about people and culture. Spanish has two grammatical genders; just as words can be singular or plural, words are either masculine or feminine. “Language has always been a fascination for me,” says Cisneros.
The power and importance of inclusive language, especially within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, is one of the reasons Cisneros changed hir name. Luisa is feminine. Luis is masculine. Luisé is gender neutral. By adding the é (pronounced “eh”) or the x, as is sometimes the practice, it removes the gender from the noun. Another example is latina (f), latino (m), and latinx (neutral).
Noun genders “have connotations, something that I actually explore in my practice, the power of language…it has always been a fascination of mine, to learn about culture through language. I like that exploration; like, how does language affect you.” Words with grammatical genders have different meanings in different cultures, and do not always translate to have the same meaning in another language. When we hear those words, we associate them with our own learned influences. Creating a neutral language challenges some of those old perceptions and how they control history. We can find weaknesses in society, something to improve on – we can learn from our mistakes.
Through hir art, Cisneros explores language, being an immigrant, being a non-binary person, and cultures both in Mexico and Canada. “When you travel to different places, you get to see the cracks – you see through those perspectives. They are difficult conversations to have when you criticize something [without creating damage]. A critique sometimes can hurt – from the hurt comes healing – from the healing, it creates something new and better.”