Note: I am leading Lamar University’s study abroad group to my home town, Brighton, to study travel writing and photojournalism. As well as writing features about Brighton and beyond, I’m keeping a diary, of sorts, about the class experience. Here is part 12.
BRIGHTON, England — Brighton has always had a strong LGBTQ+ community. It is something that many of its residents, and the city itself, prides itself on (pun intended). The city hosts England’s most prominent Pride Celebration, as well as a separate Trans Pride Parade.
The Brighton Museum and Art Gallery is dedicated to the history of the town and its gay identity is proudly featured in its permanent collection.
For the past year, the museum has also hosted “The Museum of Transology,” a temporary installation that begins the “Be Bold” series of exhibitions and events programmed in collaboration with Brighton’s LGBTQ+ organizations.
The exhibition is organized by E-J. Scott. When Scott, a trans curator and fashion historian, went to hospital for surgery he kept everything from his hospital room. These objects were the genesis for the exhibition. Hospital gowns and needles, medicine and pillowcase contribute to Scott’s story.
In the 15 years since, more than 100 transgender people have contributed objects to the exhibition, each with a label that tells the meaning behind even the most seemingly mundane object. One lipstick says that it was given to the recipient by her sister. Another, a pair of breast implants, is labeled “What Mother Nature didn’t give me.” There are T-shirts and garments such as underwear and binders draped loosely over frames as if one is happening upon someone’s room.
What gives these ordinary objects their power is that they are donations. Part of the mission of the exhibition is to give a voice to a group that have been largely invisible, even in the LGBT community.
Fox Fisher’s films “My Genderation” are simply ordinary people telling their stories, talking about who they are and how they express their sense of identity. I was moved to tears several times, both for the people who had to fight to be themselves and for those who have discovered unbelievable support systems.
One particularly powerful object is a framed letter from the office of the Queen on Buckingham Palace stationary. It is a response to a letter from Katherine Devern about her experience regarding her application for a name change. Part of it reads, “The Queen was most encouraged to know that you had such a positive experience with the staff at the Passport Office and they were so considerate in the supporting you through this process.”
It should not need to be said that the passport process for this person was handled well. It should not need to be even acknowledged as being an issue. But there is still a long way to go. One day that letter will not need to be written because the Miss Devern’s of the world will not need to acknowledge it as a distinct experience.
If the point of art is to enlighten, to illuminate, to inspire and to uplift, then “The Museum of Transology,” in its simplicity, is art of the highest order.