Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Transgender Oral History Exhibit


I started The Transgender Oral History Project as a means to uncover the rich, though often invisible history of transgender political activism. Stories including trans people often become a tiny portion of a subgroup that is largely dominated by normative elements who marginalize them in order to create an image that is more palatable to the mainstream. Furthermore, the narratives Americans are exposed to are so limiting—they are the stories of an individual who struggles with their own body or else the story of victimization by illogical violence. I want to tell different stories… ones that highlight how trans people have been pushed out of self-proclaimed safe spaces and have been abused by the psychiatric and medical establishments under the guise of treating them. I want to talk about the violence that happens when our entire society operates on logics that systematically force trans people to exist on the margins of society—refused healthcare, left out of government programming, and refused gainful employment. But I it would be missing the point to tell a history of oppression without the correlating history of resistance. I want to tell the stories of riots against police brutality, volunteering services in trans-specific health centers, reclaiming public spaces for people who have nowhere else to go, and civil rights marches for legal protections—a legacy of empowerment through community organizing.

Overview: The Basic Idea

I would like to create a multimedia historical exhibit that leads the audience in exploring the
issues that have fostered the evolution of the trans community over the past fifty years. I hope to engage viewers in the passage of time by creating a spatial representation of a timeline that they move through as they move through space. The timeline will portray the events and conditions trans people were operating within, but also the collective responses that enabled trans people to deal with these circumstances. I hope to make viewer think about how this community necessitated by a hostile environment that is not of its making but more importantly, to see the means by which this community has constituted itself.

I plan to accomplish this through using a combination of text, photography, ephemera, audio, and film. The central three AV elements will be video clips of vignettes from the Transgender Oral History Project situated within the context of the time period as created through the timeline. I am concerned with showing how the historical moment frames what is possible for people’s lives by showcasing stories that exemplify how this intersection is experienced.

Audience: Marlboro and Beyond

I see two distinct audiences for my piece—one of normative people with liberal political sympathies and one made up of people who understand themselves as gender-variant.
Of primary concern to me are people who understand themselves as gender-variant. I believe collective action and movement building begins with seeing ourselves as having common experiences and drawing from a shared sense of history as well as having shared ambitions for the future. This project is, at least in part, my own search for community, but I want it to extend further than that. I hope that I can engage other people who identify as transgender as seeing themselves as part of something larger. I want to reach people for whom exploring how the trans community has been shaped and where it is going, is a profoundly personal matter.
My goal is that I can communicate the continuing need for community while encouraging collective action.

My secondary audience is the Marlboro community. I anticipate this exhibit being different in two major ways. First of all, I intend to have more contextualizing information, more explanation and analysis. The purpose of the Marlboro version will be to introduce this community to the transgender community’s struggle and to make connections between the trans community and other communities we study or may even be a part of. In the process of exploring how transgender activism has intersected with, been co-opted by, and collided with the womyn’s and Gay and Lesbian rights movements, I want the community to think about inclusion within their own social circles and subcultures. Secondly, I will be hoping to address to concern stated above about how limited the portrayals of trans people are in mass media by presenting competing narratives. I want viewers to see a more multidimensional version of how trans people understand themselves within the context of broader society.

Logistics: Venues and Timing

Because it will be more of an overview, I feel like I already have access to the material I need in order to create this exhibit on campus. For this reason I would like to explore creating the exhibit next semester. I also understand the drawbacks since it would be more competitive to get gallery space and it would mean my outside examiner could not experience it. I am not even sure that the gallery is the best space for the project because of acoustics (I am concerned about how loud it will be if there are multiple, differing AV components), monitoring (I will be using electronic equipment that is expensive and am unsure of how to ensure it does not get stolen), and space (movement is central to my idea and I am unsure of how to create the kind of movement I want to in that open of a space).

Because my target audience is necessarily a scattered population, I do not know what kind of venues would be most appropriate for this exhibit. There is a yearly conference put on at UVM that I have attended for three years now: the Translating Identities Conference. It seeks to build community and provide a forum for the exchange information among trans communities throughout the northeast. I see my project as being very in line with this goal, so I think it would be a good fit.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Financial Aid... maybe improving

Financial Aid has been driving me crazy. I'm stressed about meeting tuition. I've vented some of my frustrations with the school about various policies in well-crafted letters. about our compulsory health care plan that forces students to be on it even if we are already covered by parent(s) health plan(s). Today, one of my professors whom I had confided some of my frustrations in told me I should go to Fin Aid again, that the president had been on a soap box at the most recent faculty meeting talking about wanting to make sure that students can still afford to go here even during this time of economic crisis. She urged me with fingers outstretched and eyebrow elevated as if she knew something.

I trudged up to the attic of the admissions building, where the people that I like to think of as the Powers That Be reside. I approached the office sheepishly, gathering up the wear-with-all to bear my financial soul in a plea for institutional humanity. I breathed in deeply before crossing into line of site of the head officer's door in an attempt to fortify myself so as to avoid showing the disappointment I assumed would ensue. As soon as I entered, she leaned over and said "I think I know why you're here." I'm a trace of "thank god" meshed with the usual skeptical gestures that take hold of my facial muscles.

She gave me a form. She said I can ask the school for more money if my situation has changed. She said I had to be detailed enough but not too much. She said be honest and ask for what I need. The anger, the frustration and resentment I have been carryign arounf with me for the lst week dissipated as we went on to talk about work I've been doing with my Transgender Oral History Project. I felt like things might be okay for the first time in days.

Towards the end though, our conversation returned to what I needed to put on the form. My living expense and income. Not money I don't report to the IRS. Not my mother's information. She was specific about that last one. She said I needed to include a letter explaining how my situation had changed. She phrased in such a way that I knew she was thinking it had something to do with gender/sexuality (after all aren't they one in her mind?). At the very least, it had something to do with some new development. I took the form and am filling it today tonight and turning it in. I hope that the sympathy can get me somewhere. I'm a little conflicted that she is going to resume something that isn't directly connected, but I am not going to state it. I am after all a good student struggling to come here just as I've always been; maybe economic meltdowns are good for something...