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Seahorse + Neurodivergent (ND) + Trans (Them). By George Morl.

As a queer person codes are survival. To be seen. To commune.

Polari is a secret language which was prevalent among queer circles, arriving in London's West End from Italian origins and populating theatre backgrounds which facilitated secret commune or mutual understandings. This language found foundation through Punch shows.

Punch doll, Southend Museums

One actress, Charlotte Charke, found a career following playing roles like 'Thalia' - a muse of comedy in the classical tragedy play 'Triumph of Love' by Essex writer Thomas Cooke. Charke soon saw herself attaining licenses in 1738 to run Punch's Theatre in St. James.

Her characters were often caricatures of public figures and politicians, yet despite their popularity they couldn't be closed down because no actors appeared on stage as such.

Like escaping the barriers and prejudice of law, Charke was also a cross dresser, appearing and flowing between various gender roles amongst the public eye.

These dialogues in Punch shows evolved into cockney dialect and South Essex dialect and vice versa amongst the post war era with the emergence of New Towns.

I’m fascinated by hidden languages, allegories, and symbolism. They are the traces of coded messages that we leave unintentionally for future societies to learn from, at a time we had hoped, from a time when we often fail to support or understand each other. They are everywhere. Hidden. Layered.

Coding is also a mask amongst several public layers. To mask in public as a queer person. To mask in public as an autistic person.

This is something so profound right now, these masks eroding under the exposed feelings of isolation. That urgency around striving to be understood, that yearning to be accepted, to share our experiences.

Differences of experience. Fluidity. One word that follows me everywhere is ‘spectrum’, it is an array of experiences, feelings, and existences.

Image of the painting Triumph of Amphitrite by Nichola Grassi. Painting shows amongst the waves of nymphs and skies of cherubs, the Hippocampus draws the chariot of Amphitrite, the Goddess of the Sea.
Triumph of Amphitrite, Nicola Grassi, Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend Museums

Coding is the vehicle for queer presence and to challenge social stigma. Like swans in renaissance paintings to substitute and facilitate the presence of the nude man, or the nude God, this too is the case of the Hippocampus.

Appearing in the painting ‘The Triumph of Amphitrite’ by Nicola Grassi, amongst the waves of nymphs and skies of cherubs, the Hippocampus draws the chariot of Amphitrite, the Goddess of the Sea.

Close up of The Triumph of Amphitrite by Nichola Grassi.
The Triumph of Amphitrite, Nicola Grassi, Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend Museums

In a man dominated space, Hippocampi are the namesake of Naval power, but it’s allegory is of half horse and half fish. The ‘seahorse’. A creature of the reefs that reverses the gender roles of humans. It is also the name of the region of the brain that informs learning and memory.

Like fluctuating senses and of processing, and mermaids which reject the defined anatomical categories as a being, the Hippocampus to me is the code of being both Trans and Autistic; the differing verbal processing of others, language, flux communication, and even the changing states of gender identity. Like the sea a constant momentum of movement, a continuum that never ends in the horizon. Our being merges into the sea but never ceases.

Image shows a sketch of Alan Sorrell's Working Boats from around the British Coast. The sketch depicts 7 boats, with a man on the left with a telescope surrounded by two mermaids.
Working Boats from around the British Coast, Alan Sorrell, Southend Museums

The sea is the place where we go to pilgrimage, to seek refuge, as in the book ‘War of the Worlds’ where refugees fled from London to the coast of Foulness and Shoeburyness following attack. Yet now this migration is online. Like Clause 28 which dissolved and prevented queerness in education, both LGBTQ+ audiences sought and still do online resources to learn, for visibility, and autistics too inhabit online spaces to connect outside the language barrier. Queer autistics are in multitudes across social media: YouTube blogs, Tumblr posts, Instagram graphics. We upload ourselves.

Image of 'Education of Cupid' by Joshua Reynolds. Picture depicts two women, one fully clothed surrounded by two naked cherubs. The other has her left breast on display with a woman behind her with a bow and arrow.
Education of Cupid, Joshua Reynolds, Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend Museums

The digital world now has replaced the queer coding of the arts such as paintings and literature. The painting ‘Education of Love’ or now known as ‘Education of Cupid’ by Joshua Reynolds, could well be like the past allegorical derivatives of reality television programmes, informing public consensus of relationships, or more poignantly perhaps sometimes how graphic material often was the space which educated queers because of the banning of LGBTQ+ material in schools or health facilities. The online too is also the place where trans people share their stories online to support others with shared circumstances.

The allegory and Imaginarium of the arts therefore has no doubt been a place of refuge for us.

As many know the play written by J.M Barry 'The Boy Who Never Grew Up' later a book named 'Peter Pan' has become synonymous with the fame of Great Ormond Street Hospital itself more so once the author gave the royalties over to the hospital. However it’s queer links are more unknown.

Due to laws around children in theatre occupations the role of Peter Pan was often played by womxn. This gender role subversion led to Peter Pan becoming something cherished by many of those in the queer community in 1900's such as idols like 'Dare playing Pan'.

Image shows Peter Pan Statue on display in Kensington Gardens, London
Peter Pan Statue, Kensington Gardens

The aesthetics and concepts of the world of Peter Pan found it’s home in the coastal theme park of the same title in Southend, as well as earlier opposite a park titled ‘Never Never Land’ which contained a castle and train track.

Image shows a postcard displaying Peter Pan's Playground in Southend-on-Sea,
Peter Pan's Playground, Southend Museums

As a patient at GOSH I spent my life in and out of coincidentally the infamous Peter Pan ward. The story is immediate for me, Neverland where time is frozen, one never becomes an adult, is relatable to ones feelings around gender, the anxiety of a body changing. The fairies and mermaids are the in between realm of existing in a genderfluid state of being, adults are represented as Pirates who steal your life from you in the sense that because society has not grappled with wanting to listen and understand the concerns and feelings of the youth, or perhaps anyone who identifies away from the majority.

Image shows Two Children and Fairies on Toadstools by J.T.Cattle. Depicts two children in front of a large tree, surrounded by toadstools on the forest floor, which have a handful of fairies on top of them.
Illustration – Two Children and Fairies on Toadstools, J.T.Cattle, Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend Museums

Like the theme parks that dotted seaside leisure, for me the Imaginarium is not means of escape, but a place of mutual association and visibility, to facilitate messages, to communicate. It is also of imagining a future of care and mutual exchange yet to be, but the fact we shouldn't be imagining because we should already be there.

The cross overs of imagination and utopia is of personal interest, like the experimental utopian vision of New Towns. Precious Boys (2016) for example is a collection of gloss coated plaster sculptures which rest upon a mass of pigmented sugars and alum salts reminiscent of Victorian children’s pain relief medicines as well as historical HIV treatments. The installation tells the tale of young people, specifically queer people who are seeking affection in an environment that may not be socially supportive.

Precious Boys, George Morl, 2016

Social landscapes such as post-industrial towns and cities in North East like Tyne and Wear or in South East such as Basildon, under changing economies since 1980’s, gender roles, and stoicism, has resulted in the rise of the ornamental culture of masculinity.

Now the online world features numerous public displays of adapting bodies, edited further by digital technology, sometimes even under the secrecy of steroid usage, evidenced by search engine data which shows high frequencies in port and post-industrial towns.

These abdomen forms which are both decorative and industrial that exist in the scene of Precious Boys for me are this feeling of a polarised journey in between masculine and feminine expressions, of seeking affection, amongst a personal imagined retreat, and a reflection on how social perceptions and roles can result in a wasteland of youth.

Spectrum ultimately as an individual is like a personal account of experiencing the environment and oneself, known only to the person who feels it, often through navigating a social landscape at odds with the majority that has crafted it.

George Morl. February 2021.

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