The transgender community comes out of the shadows in a new exhibition, curated by Andrea Jenkins. Called "VisibiliT," the show features photography by Anna Min and Shiraz Mukarram. There's also a project, Visible Bodies: Transgender Narratives Retold, which gives voice to the transgender experience in the words of individuals living it. The show, presented by the Tretter Collection and Intermedia Arts, marks one of the first times a work of this magnitude has been displayed in the Twin Cities.
The exhibition launched mid-September on the day of the Transgender Equity Summit, the second annual conference, presented in collaboration with the City of Minneapolis, taking on the issues within the criminal justice system. This week, as part of a series of events associated with the show, Intermedia Arts will screen Trans: The Movie. The film provides a look at seven different people’s stories as they navigate their transgender identities.
We stopped by "VisibiliT" to speak with Jenkins about the exhibit and her work as an artist and activist within the community.
Do you have any idea how large the trans community is in the Twin Cities or in Minnesota?
You know, that’s something that nobody is able to put a finger on, because the trans community has been so closeted for such a long time. There are no metrics that really seek to find out. There’s no question on the census data about trans identities. There are no real research projects that are trying to ascertain that information. It’s challenging, because there may be people who identify as transgender but haven’t “transitioned” yet.
What about people who identify as non-binary? Would they always be in the trans community?
I think for now they are. I think that’s because the ideas of being transgender is that you are transgressing gender. A person like myself — I was assigned male at birth and now I identify as a transgender woman — I’m pretty much still holding up that binary of males versus female. Even though that’s not necessarily my mindset totally, that’s the perception people have. Gender non-conforming people are really trying to explode that notion of the binary, and really seek to illustrate, if you will, that there are multiple ways of being gendered in our culture and society. They are not comfortable identifying as female or male but somewhere in between that.
I think for now, it’s definitely a part of the transgender experience. But who knows, in 50 years we all may be gender non-conforming and consequently the notion of transgender goes away and it’s just a society where people are able to express themselves in whatever way feels most comfortable.
Could you tell a little about the film that will be screened on Thursday night?
Trans: The Movie follows six different trans people and tells their stories, from a seven-year-old Danann to a 55-year-old male-to-female transgender person who actually has her gender confirmation surgery on film. This person is actually a local person, her name is Erica Fields. She allows the cameras and the film crews to be a part of her surgery, so people can actually witness that onscreen. It’s pretty amazing.
You've been in the political sphere, you’re a curator, you’re also an artist. How do those roles all work together?
For me, there’s not a lot of separation. I think art is political. I’m a poet as well, that’s probably my primary art form. As a curator, the idea is to bring together disparate things and create some semblance of the whole. I use those tenants in my life, pulling together people from politics, pulling together people from the arts, pulling together people from the advocacy and activism community is just another extension of my curation and my artistic mindset. I try to weave it all together. The first Trans Summit grew out of my political life, but people were aware of my activism around trans identities and transgender issues, and so that all came together in that soup, if you will.
Would you ever run for public office?
I've been involved with politics for a long time. I really do believe that change can happen through political activism, political life, and political office. I have no plans of seeking public office, but if the opportunity presented itself, I’d have to think long and hard about it. If it was the right opportunity, I would definitely seek it out.
IF YOU GO:
7:30 p.m. Thursday
Tickets are $5-$25.
"VisibiliT" runs through October 31