Blog Post 02/28/18

“Brandon Teena should have been here”, Gay Pride Parade, NYC  by Mariette Pathy Allen

I believe there are good people in the world; individuals who have a sense of duty, which lies within their community, they call family. A sense of moral obligation to help one another succeed. I have met these people who strive to make the world a better place to put others in front of their own needs.

I’m opening with this thought because there are cruel individuals who act as untouchable tricksters. With the widening of the world through globalization and the internet there are communities still committed to toxic ideals of race, politics, gender, culture, etc. There are people who die for these ideologies. The very same can be true for killing for an ideological sense of community and place (read nationality). There are nine months to The Trans Day of Remembrance (November 20)2. As I’m writing this there are four transwomen killed in this year alone1:

Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, 42, Massachusetts

Viccky Gutierrez, 33, California

Tonya Harvey, 35, New York

Celine Walker, 36, Florida

I wrote a note last week in response to a question “why are you painting these people?” My response was short “I see them as a sibling temporary existing who will be taken away and erased from history.” This post will focus on my fears of trans erasure through a system of exclusionary discriminatory practices and policies and the few who stand in the way.

The board of alderman in my home town last week decide to revoke a proposal for a LGBT pride parade in the downtown area without comment. Discrimination is not what is written but practiced regardless of legality. The silent discrimination of politicians and removal of inclusive policies is providing ground work for local government to act with cis-normative rationality (the south basis these rationales through an evangelical lens). At best, this instance of denial was based in fear of “the majority.” For the blood, tears, and deaths in the civil rights movement this board chose ignorance and exclusion to make a decision to not celebrate its citizens.

There’s a photo by Mariette Pathy Allen entitled “Brandon Teena should have been here” from the series of “Gay Pride Parade” New York 1995. It’s a power image of a gender non conforming individual wearing a shirt depicting a shirtless male’s chest holds the titled sign while locking eyes with the shirtless gay man4. I’d like to think that 23 years from that image there has been a reduction in transgender murders. I’d like to believe that the binary has been destabilized and non normalized. I’d like to think that this year there will no longer be hate within the lgbt community.

In the recent year there’s been a push in the larger community to re-categorize the tags on porn sites and chat forums from “shemale, tranny, chicks with dicks, femboi” to the more appropriate term “transgender.” This became evident when the popular Pornhub site changed their labels to transgender after several community posts requesting they do so. Porn sites like Gal Pal Films and Crash Pad Series have already paved a way for queer individuals to produce queer representation in the porn industry; opening up alternative paths of queer representation of individuals on the edges of the traditional binary to be seen. I believe the alternative queer communities like these provide the best path for a reduced stigmatization (read destabilized binary) of the transgender community.

There are good people in this world. I didn’t want to wait to the transgender day of visibility or the day of remembrance to celebrate some of the many community leaders and activists who have fought for transgender rights, inclusion, and visibility:

Danica Roem, Virginia (State Lawmaker)

Andrea Jenkins Minnesota, Minneapolis (City Council Ward 8 5)

Kristin Beck Virginia (Navy Team SEAL 6 6)

Ashlee Marie Preston, California (Activist)

Chelsea Poe, California (Activist and Film Maker)

Blossom Brown, California (Activist)

Public displays and celebrations of a gender identity that is not “normalized” can act as a way of destabilizing notions of binaries, ideologies, and class representation. I’ll write about a capitalist perspective later to explain how our bodies are not our on. In my eyes there are not enough artworks representing transgender people as the subject rather than an object of flexibility or agents of a restrictive binary.

For me, painting this community is a way to explore these ideas of centralized binarisms in the current culture. What is at stake is the humanity of the persons inscribed with a “trans” identity marker, instead of a normalized personal signifier (same problem with a “black” person as signified by ethnicity). In a sense, the body is objectified with an institutional category of otherness. Their bodies (and mine) are the last frontier for identity resting (and resisting) in all sectors of class, ethnicity, politics, and sexuality. It is the transgender community that needs to be painted.



  2. There is one other day which happens to celebrate the individuals still living (as well those who passed on). International Transgender Day of Visibility will be held on March 31 and a week in November devoted to Transgender Awareness (Second week)3.

Blog Post 02/06/18

A few of the things that I’ve been thinking about are experiencing:

I’m trying to figure out how to create a portrait that doesn’t point at the models transgender “presence” directly but references their sense of self. What seems to be important is the necessity for a framing that gives the context of that individual. Even if a labeling were to denote these people as transgender the viewer would be looking for “tells.” Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” from 2014 incorporates the spectator involuntary into the artwork: by recording the observers reaction Walker showed that it wasn’t the artwork that objectified the subject but the viewer who did the objectification. I want to take this tactic and incorporate it into the piece. I think its necessary to call out the viewer who inscribes the models with a validation of their identity.

I’ve starting work on finding transgender models in the area to share their stories. Around 7 individuals have messaged me to set up times for sitting. The transgender models who have come in or will be coming in range from 19-28 years of age. I would love to find some older individuals in their 40’s-70’s who have had longer to settle into who they are as a transgender person. I think the issue for these older individuals is they are in the work place and are afraid to out themselves. Or there are fewer older transgender people in the community because there hasn’t been as my developments in medicine or tech except in the last twenty years. That is my opinion and may not be the case. But I do feel that may be an aspect I want to approach in the near future.

I’ve been overwhelmed with the community support from friends, faculty, and social media. I’m very grateful for everyone’s generosity and heartfelt messages. There is confirmation through the community that what I’m working on is important. However, what I’m doing is also dangerous. It’s dangerous for me to be out and making work and it’s dangerous for the individuals who choose to allow me to represent themselves. I received an email responding to one of my call for models on craigslist: “rot in hell!” and one from yesterday: gawddamned bunch of PETER PUFFIN SODOMITES.” I’m choosing not to engage with these individuals directly. Instead, I’ll be adding them to a weekly mailing list detailing the progress of the project.