It’s not fantastic art, but it moves you just as much. “T-Town Transgender Neighbors: A Portrait Exhibition,” which just went up at the University of Puget Sound Collins Library, is a portrait show in the deepest sense of the work: 13 works of photography and text that delve into the most fundamental aspect of people’s lives, their gender.
The show impresses, not with visual tricks, but with stories. Each of the 13 folks shown in 11×13 photograph and text has coped in some way with transgender issues, with outcomes ranging from crossdressing acceptance to surgery and a complete estrangement from their old life. The photography by Irielle Dean is polished but conventional, subjects posed in front of Tacoma landmarks like the Narrows Bridge or Wright Park. There are a couple that have more depth of eye, like “Lukas G.”, slouched defiantly in front of a slash of graffiti downtown, the light bisecting him on a diagonal. But in a way, the conventionality does more than place these people squarely in our own neighborhood; it frames them as would a prom or wedding photo: mainstream, accepted.
And that’s mostly the point.
But it’s the stories that are most compelling. Told clearly, with easy-to-read breakdowns of life from childhood through adolescence to career, they are honest, blunt, thoughtful and thought-provoking. In the first-person, they tell back-stories, everything from hiding childhood cross-dressing to attempted suicide, coming out, marriage, divorce, surgery, family acceptance or non-acceptance. They also speak, mutely, of all the stories out there that don’t have the happy ending of being confident enough to smile out from a library gallery.
But all tell, finally, of self-acceptance, with wisdom that applies to anybody. Says Lukas G., “Finally knowing who I am instead of trying to live my life as someone I’m not has changed me for the better…Labels are rather meaningless. We’re all just people.”
An artist reception, including members of the Gender Alliance of the South Sound, will be held 4–5 p.m. this Wednesday followed by a 5–6 p.m. panel discussion featuring Methodist minister David Weekley and members of the Gender Alliance of the South Sound. The participants will reflect on the intersections of transgender and spiritual identities.
“T-Town Transgender Neighbors: A Portrait Exhibition” is open 7:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday through Dec. 15; then 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday only through Jan. 20. Closed today. Artist reception 4-5 p.m. Nov. 30; panel discussion 5-6 p.m. Nov. 30. Free. Collins Memorial Library, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma. 253-879-3669, www.pugetsound.edu