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Creative Consciousness Challenge 2021

2021 Winning Submissions


True Expression by Karena SaulFirst Place: Karena Saul, “True Expression is the Necessity of Life”

Gender studies has found its way into my artwork quite often in the last two years. As someone who is nonbinary, it has always been a struggle to find my identity.  Most things in media are defined as male or female, boy or girl. This created a feeling of alienation once I realized I was in a grey zone of self-identity.

My conflict with my gender identity began when I met someone who was nonbinary for the first time two years ago. I was raised in a sheltered home, so I didn’t understand there were more than two genders until I came to college. Once they explained everything to me, it was as though I had been struck my lightening. I continued to do my research on gender identity until I concluded why I always felt wrong in my self-expression.

Once I realized I was nonbinary, the next step was to come out to everyone: a tall order in Eastern Kentucky. I knew my parents wouldn’t understand, since they believe that sex and gender are synonymous. I started small by telling my brother and my partner. Both were supportive and I am eternally grateful for it. As time went on, I told more and more people in my life. I even changed my pronouns on Facebook to my preferred ones.

It seemed I had reached the end of my rope in my expression of identity without outright outing myself to my parents. This led me to want to explore my gender identity in some of my personal artwork. I knew this would be a slippery slope since my parents adore to see my artwork, but it was finally time to take the step that scared me the most. I have always struggled to find the right words to explain how I felt about my gender identity. Turning to my artwork to say what I could not, I created a painting three months ago that is the closest I can get to expressing the feelings of attempting to find myself in the vast world we live in.

When I began the process of sketching out my painting ideas, I turned to my professor at the time. He helped guide me to a better way of expressing the ideas I needed, and in the end, I created a painting I am proud of. The painting, “True Expression is the Necessity of Life,” depicts a younger version of myself deliberating what pronouns and outward expression I desired to have. It is in the form of shopping at the grocery store, where I can pick and choose the produce I desire to have in my basket of life. There are some fruits that aren’t quite ripe yet, but maybe someday they’ll end up in my basket, when the time is right.

Misgendered by Gretchen ProbstSecond Place: Gretchen Probst, “Misgendered”

My piece depicts a nonbinary person (female presenting, they are wearing a binder) being shot in the chest by pink and blue arrows. I wanted to show the pain that being misgendered, or even struggling with your gender, causes. My piece is also hand embroidery, which is not appreciated as an artform as often because it’s historically been seen as a woman’s hobby. My piece collects different aspects of gender studies by showing the struggle of being misgendered, and by simply being a medium done mainly by women.

Third Place: Elliot Lobdell, “Loveless Girl”

Link to song:

I am Elliot Lobdell, and I wrote “loveless girl” for this competition. I am writing about the pressure I’ve felt my entire life to find someone and settle down. I know from talking to other women over the course of my life that while this isn’t a universal experience, it’s certainly something that several women have gone through. When I didn’t have a date to homecoming my freshman year, I had my worth as a human, questioned. When my cousin didn’t have a senior prom date, I heard my friends calling her a prude. When my mom divorced my dad, my ex boyfriend, called her unlovable. This is something women have been dealing with for decades, and something that weighs heavily on me as I recently became single for the first time in three years.

It wasn’t until I found some really good friends that I realized my self-worth should not be defined by who I am with. I sincerely hope that someday I’ll find someone again, but now I recognize that the idea that if I don’t, it’s my fault is something that someone years ago made up, and people now are discovering the consequences of.  This is one of the many pressures put on women that gender studies is trying to logically look at, and pick apart. The journal “the ‘problem’ with single women” by Shelley Budgeon says that, “Compared with men, women experience greater pressure to conform to the ideology of marriage and family because conventional constructions of gender emphasize caring and dependence as a central element of successfully performed femininity.”  Heteronormativity is causing women to feel like they are worthless when they aren’t relying on others. The idea that being independent makes you a lesser person comes from the belief that women are weak.

Oftentimes women don’t even realize that these feelings of worthlessness are coming from external pressure. To be entirely honest, I didn’t. I thought that the worthless, the hurt, and the shame came from me. That it was pressure placed there by myself and I was the sole cause of all my problems.  It wasn’t until I started reaching out to other afabs, women, or female presenting people about my issues that I realized that other people experienced this as well. It didn’t take much research to come to the conclusion that a good chunk of women suffer this doubt after a breakup. I needed to write about the thoughts I was struggling with -- the idea that “maybe I’m meant to be alone,” that I knew I was anything but alone in feeling.

I hope that one day women don’t feel shame when it comes to being alone, and recognize that they are not unlovable simply because they aren’t in a relationship.