When the Museum of Transology launched, it was announced as the largest and boldest collection of trans artefacts and photographic portraiture ever displayed in the UK. A highly intimate exhibition which challenges the idea that gender is fixed, binary and biologically determined, it explores how these artefacts have helped to fashion self-shaped gender identities.
Curator E-J Scott reached out to the trans community last year to crowd-source objects, from anyone who self-identified as trans and wanted to share, for this fascinating and extremely important exhibition. Each object is accompanied by a hand written label – a cardboard luggage tag – where its previous owner tells of its importance in their own gender journey. These include items that cis folk might expect like books, clothing, make-up, prosthetics and packaging for hormones, but the tales the labels tell are often unexpected and frequently moving. After all, everyone’s gender journey is unique and so these stories are tiny windows into the lived experiences of trans folk. Every single one of the 120 objects donated to the Museum of Transology has been included in the exhibition.
The gallery space has been designed with a nod to the home, using familar items such as wardrobes, coat stands, side tables and bathroom cabinets to show how relatable and everyday these objects and experiences are. However, this furniture is often emerging from the floor and walls at unusual angles, showing how unsettling it can be to be trans in a cisgender world. Alongside the donated objects and personal stories, the display also features: photography by Bharat Sikka and Sharon Kilgannon; My Genderation films by Fox Fisher and Lewis Hancox; Sexing the Transman and Mr Angel documentaries by adult film star Buck Angel; and behind the scenes footage from Born Risky by Grayson Perry.
As the objects which form the Museum of Transology represent many different aspects of the gender journey of a wide variety of trans and non-binary people in the UK, the exhibition does not tell a single type of trans narrative. Proudly public protest signs and t-shirts sit next to discreet and intimate underwear with padding or pockets. It’s worth noting that, although breast forms, packers and items from hospital surgical procedures do form part of the exhibition, visitors will quickly see that this is not the only path that trans folk can take. Cicely Proctor, who was part of the team who worked on the exhibition, raised this issue in a recent guest blog post:
Whilst altering the body through prosthetics, clothing, or hormones and surgery is undeniably a significant aspect in helping many trans people feel more connected and confident about their gender, for many others this is a contentious socio-political point about ‘passing’.
For anyone confused about the many different words used to describe varying trans experience, the windows of the gallery space feature some useful definitions. These are also included in the free booklet that visitors can take home with them, to read more detail about the exhibition afterwards. I was personally very glad of this, because it takes a lot of time to read the many object stories and watch the fascinating film clips so having something to take away means you don’t have to cram in loads of information in one visit. Instead, you can take time to read poetry in a trans ‘zine, or listen to a mother tell her young trans son how she’s so glad that he’s now happy.
I was there on the opening night and saw how many people were excited about this exhibition appearing in a central London gallery, either because it was telling their story, the stories of people close to them, or someone like them in one way or another. It felt like a coming together… a call to action! Near the door of the gallery space there is a coat stand where visitors are invited to write on a label and add their own gender journey to the exhibition. There were a handful of luggage tags hanging off it following the launch event but, eleven weeks later, it is completely crammed full of stories. I’m sure there will be many more to come in its final weeks.
The Museum of Transology is on at the Fashion Space Gallery (20 John Prince’s Street, London W1G 0BJ) until 22nd April 2017. Then it will move to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, opening there on 20th July 2017 and running until summer 2018. If you would like to donate an object that represents your own gender journey, visit the Museum of Transology Facebook Group or Instagram page for more information.