celebrating transgender art

It seems like stories of transgender folks are appearing in the news more and more. Recently, students at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, California, crowned Cassidy Lynn Campbell as their first transgender homecoming queen, which was great news that was inevitably followed by bullying and criticism.

Before that, Army Pvt. Bradley Manning bravely became Chelsea Manning. Many journalists and media outlets respectfully followed AP style guidelines by using Manning’s new name and female pronouns, which made for a good lesson for the general public, but Fox News, to no one’s surprise, refused to make the change and even ridiculed Manning’s gender identity.

In the past few months, Jamaican trans teenager Dwayne Jones was beaten, stabbed, and shot to death by a mob in Montego Bay; 21-year-old Islan Nettles was out with other trans folks in Harlem, New York, when a group of men beat her to death; a trans woman was stripped naked and thrown off a bridge in Mexico City; and Diamond Williams, a transgender woman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was killed and dismembered, her body parts left in a field.

I understand that a lot of people have lived their entire lives thinking of gender as a fixed fact of life instead of a fluid social construct. That doesn’t excuse violence, but it explains some of the ignorance we keep seeing. The presence of out gays and lesbians in pop culture has helped to normalize homosexuality and strengthen equality efforts such as legalized gay marriage, so I’m crossing my fingers that as transgender folks become more visible–through everything from reality shows to Pulitzer Prize-winning novels–the rest of the world will continue to loosen their heternormative restraints.

Even for those who happily identify as their assigned sex, the performance of it can be exhausting. Haven’t you ever wanted, even for a moment, to break free from the confines of your manhood or womanhood?

I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s post to highlighting transgender artists and gender-bending art. If you want to understand why people struggle with their assigned sex and work to create their own gender identities, this list is an excellent start.

Artists

Musicians

Filmmakers and Theatre Artists

  • Iizuka Kashou: writer/director of Our Future, a Japanese coming-of-age film centered on an 18-year-old girl who explores her masculinity after her parents separate
  • Andrea James and Calpernia Addams of Deep Stealth Productions:  produced comedic shorts Transproofed and Casting Pearls as well as the first all-transgender Vagina Monologues, prepped Felicity Huffman for her role in Transamerica
  • D’Lo: analyzes South Asian and immigrant experiences of non-traditional gender identity and sexuality through comedy, leads community workshops, recent work: D’FunQT (one-person show)

Films

  • Ma Vie En Rose (Belgium, 1997): Seven-year-old Ludovic prefers dresses, which his family initially finds endearing until they discover there’s more to it than fashion and others don’t respond as kindly in this comedy drama.
  • Beautiful Boxer (Thailand, 2003): This drama tells the true story of Nong Thoom, a successful Muay Thai fighter and trans woman.
  • Tomboy (France, 2011): A little girl is mistakenly identified as a boy, and she goes along with it, feeling perhaps that it’s not a mistake after all.
  • Breakfast on Pluto (Ireland, 2005): Based on the novel by Patrick McCabe, this film follows a trans woman’s youth in 1940s Ireland, right next to the border of Northern Ireland and the busy and violent IRA.

Novels

  • Sacred Country: Rose Tremain’s prize-winning novel is set in rural England, where we find Mary Ward, the child of poor farmers, who discovers at six that she doesn’t want to be a girl.
  • Middlesex: Jeffrey Eugenides’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows the struggles of Cal, an intersex child raised as a girl in a fairly traditional Greek American family, who finally manages to define his own identity as an adult.
  • Cereus Blooms at Night: Shani Mootoo’s acclaimed debut explores gender identity in a fictional Carribean country through Tyler, a nurse who cares for Mala, an older woman suspected of killing her father.
  • Annabel: Kathleen Winter’s debut novel reminds us of the limitations of gender through an intersex child raised as Wayne, who loves hunting in the desolate Labrador countryside with his father but has a shadow self he calls “Annabel.”

for further exploration: virago’s 40th, being gay in uganda/female in india, wondagurl

A few items for you to check out:

  • Virago, the publisher that focuses on women from Maya Angelou to Naomi Wolf and revived interest in Antonia White and Dodie Smith, celebrates turning 40 with a free e-book that includes Margaret Atwood, Claire Messud, Sarah Waters, and Elaine Showalter, to name a few. Need I say more?
  • Call Me Kuchu reveals what it’s like to live with Uganda’s state-sanctioned homophobia. Human rights activist David Kato, the country’s first openly gay man, was brutally murdered one year into the making of this film, which is in limited release.
  • I’m looking forward (with a heavy heart) to Petals in the Dust, a film that explores gendercide in India. According to the producers, 1 out of every 6 girls doesn’t make it to her 15th birthday. In their book Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn say that “a little Indian girl dies from discrimination every four minutes.” I recommend Half the Sky and if you want to learn more about gendercide while you’re waiting for this film to come out.
  • Wondagurl is a 16-year-old music producer who has worked with, oh, just some guy named Jay Z. Watch this interview, get up off your butt, and do something.

for further exploration: a play on foreign aid, a graphic novel on palestinian non-violence, and a trans/genderqueer poetry collection

Just a short post today to direct you to a few cool things:

  • Award-winning Ugandan playwright Deborah Asiimwe‘s new show Cooking Oil centers around the murder of an East African girl who was illegally selling cooking oil to pay for school. From Cooking Oil’s website: “Layering traditional and contemporary music, dance, chant, and images and material of aid, this production playfully interrogates in/dependence and the gaze at a suffering Other.” The play just had its US premiere over the weekend.
  • Written in Arabic, Irene Nasser‘s new graphic novel tells the story of the nonviolent resistance of Palestinian residents in the West Bank village of Budrus. A fifteen-year-old girl named Iltizam began protesting alongside the village boys, participated in their fathers’ strategy talks, and encouraged the girls at school to join her in peaceful demonstrations to replant trees pulled up by bulldozers. If you can’t read Arabic, you might take a look at Julia Bacha’s award-winning documentary on Budrus and Iltizam’s mother, Ayed Morar, who organized the action while her daughter galvanized the community.
  • Nightboat Books has published the “first-ever collection of poetry by trans and genderqueer writers.” Edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics boasts 55 diverse poets along with their individual “poetic statements.”