In Visible Skin: Portraits of Transgender Philadelphia May 10 – June 28, 2013
“Invisibility is indivisible from visibility; for the transgender this is not simply a philosophical conundrum — it can be the difference between life and death.” –Lana Wachowski
In Visible Skin began in the summer of 2011 when I became unsettled by my lack of exposure with the transgender community. As a young queer woman living in Philadelphia, I was proud of our city’s vibrant LGBT community, but troubled and curious about my ignorance surrounding the topic of gender identity. I began to educate myself by initiating gender-variant discussions with trans folks here in the city, and empathized with many struggles they felt with their bodies and gender presentation. Reflecting on my own naiveté, I recognized the unbelievable hardship of discrimination and misunderstanding not only by mainstream society, but throughout the gay community as well. In the essay, “Crossing Gender Borders,” Virginia Ramey Mollenkott writes, “it is vital for gay men, lesbians and bisexuals to recognize our movement as basically a transgender movement. The fact that the most effeminate gay men and the butchest lesbians are the most endangered among us should alert us to the fact that society cares less about what we do in private than it cares about a challenge to its longstanding gender assumptions.”
A staggering 41% of transgender individuals attempt suicide at some point in their lives. There is no medical coverage and limited access for safe gender-affirming therapy, or any national laws protecting against gender-identity and sexual orientation discrimination. Transpeople are often regarded with confusion, embarrassment, and violent (sometimes fatal) hostility, simply because society lacks awareness and education about their community.
In Visible Skin is guided by the individuals portrayed in these paintings. Over the past two years, they have patiently offered me insight, honesty, vulnerability, laughter, friendship, and unshakable self-value. I hope this exhibition gives voice to those who feel they do not have one, and I hope these portraits will make viewers comfortable to continue the conversation.
Special thanks to the Leeway Foundation Art & Change Grant, Brendan Awerbuch, Courtney Brown, and YIKES, Inc.