Wednesday, 27 February 2013

On Display

For this year’s LGBT History Month I was asked by Unison, the trade union, to produce another display for Nottinghamshire County Hall just by Trent Bridge. It ran all last week. Most of the display was an update and recap on last year’s lgbt Olympic research (my list of lgbt Olympians/Paralympians has now reached 143). A draft of one of the panels is pictured just below. As the theme for 2013 is science I decided to create some new panels.

One of the first ideas I had was based on my Star-Gayzing series. I decided to restrict myself to the solar system as I knew I would be restricted by space anyway. Ironic – a display about outer space crammed into very little space! I knew I would have 2 display boards at my disposal, so my original idea was to have models of the planets hanging from a pole fastened between them. But I couldn’t find any that were suitable, so I printed out pictures of the planets onto card instead. I wrote up the labels and information onto A4 card and suspended them from the pole with silver string beneath the appropriate planet. Even with a little more research I didn’t have enough material to include all the planets and ended up with just the ones known to the ancients (no Uranus, Neptune or Pluto and the outer objects), with the inclusion of the Sun and asteroids.

There’s not so much room in my flat as in the display area so I didn’t actually see it all together until I put it up. It looked just how I thought it might.

Another idea which I didn’t have time to complete was something to explain how gender and sexuality emerge in the embryo. It took a while before I came up with an imaginative solution which I don’t think has been done before. It’s a bit complicated to explain but I hope to follow it.

Using the principle of old-fashioned fairground slot machines and Pascal’s Triangle I would have constructed a large triangular peg board with the point at the top where a button/token could be slotted. This represents the embryo and the board would show how it could develop. It would fall down, bouncing randomly off the pegs until it fell to the bottom. I’m sure you know what I mean. The board would be divided vertically into 2 colours – pink (representing female) and blue (representing male) – with a partition dividing them.

In my post on gender testing at the Olympics exactly a year ago tomorrow, in I mentioned the Y chromosome’s “male switch” that sets the embryo off on its development into a male. This is the moment I wanted to represent with the button/token, with the first peg it hit representing the moment when the “male switch” comes on – the first moment when the hormones determine whether the baby would be a boy or girl. If the token didn’t fall into the male half of the board it would mean the button/token represents an embryo with no “male switch” or Y chromosome and would end up producing a female baby. From then on the button would only descend on it’s “chosen” gender to the bottom.

Halfway down the central partition (on the blue half) was another partition and possible route. Sometimes the embryo with the “male switch” works but the embryo’s receptors don’t receive the full message and it reverts to a female development path. This route down the board was one-button-wide and went to the bottom row. This was to symbolise the many variations of androgen insensitivity syndrome – the development of what have been called intersexuals or hermaphrodites - or women who are born with the male Y chromosome which doesn’t switch on properly. Its too complicated to go into the many possible gender types and conditions – it’s why gender testing in sport has been so controversial over the decades.

There was also 2 final spots in the corners on the bottom row labelled “lgbt” – one in the pink half and one in the blue. This was to represent the sexuality rather than the gender of the baby. Of course, sexuality, being gay or being straight, isn’t determined in the embryo in the same way as physical gender, but I needed something to show how a percentage of the population can identity as lgbt.

I hope I’ve explained that okay. I think it would have worked well. It probably needs a lot more development before it is constructed, hopefully in time for my next display – if I’m invited again. And I’m sure it would have been a popular exhibit, especially with the name I was planning to give it – “The Sex Selector”!

Nottinghamshire County Hall

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