Body as an Archive: tracking the transgender experience in Tasmania explores and articulates various historical and contemporary Tasmanian transgender experiences through storytelling and text, archival objects and artefacts, video, sound and photography.
This project responded to a lack of transgender representation in the media and historical archives, contemporary arts and general society. This had been amplified in Tasmania because of our (up until recently) lagging legislation, geographical location and small population. As a result, trans invisibility had been widespread and unchanging, and it bred feelings of isolation and despair among the local trans community.
Trans theorist, Lucas Cassidy Crawford argues, ‘transgender bodies are like walking archives because of their ability to change and shift, move and be constantly erased or supplemented’ (2010). Reflecting upon this I realised that we are also sites of consolidated queer temporality and experience, meaning we carry the collective intergenerational trauma of our community, past and present. Erasing trans identities results in the erasure of trans history and this perpetuates a vicious cycle of oppression through tampering with our sense of self-identity and belonging.
I visited various archives including the Gay and Lesbian Archives in Melbourne, ONE archives in Los Angeles and the Tasmanian archives and found only one record of someone who was possibly transgender and Tasmanian. This doesn’t mean we didn’t exist.
In recent years, Tasmania has been at the forefront of trans activism with the recent law reform around birth certificates. As trans activism gains momentum in mainstream society, it is important not to lose sight of the personal and political histories and stories of those who have fought for us to get to this place – sometimes by just simply existing.
I interviewed 8 diverse transgender Tasmanians and transcribed their stories into a self-published book and it was available for free for the duration of the exhibition. Not only did this book allow the trans community to share their stories with their immediate community but it will also be acquired by various archives and libraries. This will ensure that archives now contain our stories told by us.
Accompanying the book were several artworks born from the interviews and research in the archive. Some were in collaboration with interviewees, others responded to the trans experience more broadly. The other component of the exhibition was the resource centre. This area offered a space to spend time with the book that I put together well as other books, collections and videos about trans and diverse genders, queerness, visibility and representation.
This project and exhibition does not attempt to represent every trans persons experience, however it is the first step of many to make sure there is a stronger presence of gender diverse Tasmanian voices in the archive.
Moonah Arts Centre, 2019.
A special thanks to ANZ & Sydney Mardi Gras for funding this project.
Image 3 courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library, New Zealand.