By Leilani Rabemananjara
This article was written as an editorial for the International Women’s Day special edition of Slaney Street which you can read, in all its glory, here.
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery made some history of its own on 29th January 2014 as a cake, celebrating the launch of a Heritage Lottery Funded exhibition mapping the identities of Birmingham and West Midland transgender individuals, was cut by the Lord Mayor in the Community Gallery. The exhibition entitled Mapping My Journey organised by Wolverhampton based charity Gender Matters remains in the community Gallery until Sunday 16th March 2014.
The passionate speeches I heard that evening from the exhibition’s organisers, Gender Matters, sealed that moment as not only one that was historic but one that was also symbolic. Heads nodded along in agreement as their speakers told of the significance of having such an exhibition in so central a location in Birmingham and to be placed above all in the Community Gallery – an achievement they remarked that would not have been possible twenty years prior
Positioned in the heart of Birmingham the exhibition rang true to the spirit of LGBT History Month, the annually observed celebration of LGBT identities which has been marked every February since the 2005 abolition of Section 28. Despite Section 28 only explicitly attacking homosexuality the exhibition perhaps stands as an indicator of the progress that is being made in the public discussion of LGBT identities since the legislation’s introduction in 1988. Even if this is so the exhibition’s very existence is an acknowledgement of a transgender community who, not only in the West Midlands, have been left lagging behind in the political victories of its lesbian, gay and bisexual counterparts. Despite that discrepancy in progress the room was, by the final speech of that evening, full of proud and hopeful smiles.
The exhibition’s success stemmed from not only from the celebratory representations of transgender identities, refreshing against a backdrop of all too often negative or sensationalist representations in mainstream media, but also the multiple mediums the exhibition works with. Photographs explored gender expression, art work reminded us of gender dysphoria; video, audio interview and exhibit displays from binders to hormone replacement gave the everyday reality of what it means to transition or identify outside of the gender binary and it was that representation of multiple transgender identities which was most impressive.
Mapping My Journey is an exhibition entirely accessible to individuals who identify as LGBT, who are allies, or even individuals with little or no knowledge on the processes of transitioning or the vast array of identities under the transgender spectrum. I left the gallery that evening most happy with how many positive images and triumphs (despite the stories of struggle) I had seen and felt armed with an increased knowledge of those individuals’ lives. It was therefore not only in the exhibition’s symbolic significance of inhabiting that space but also the fine educational content that ensures that Gender Matters’ work in that community space will far outlast the stay of the exhibition.
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Mapping My Journey: http://gender-matters.org.uk/projects/mapping-my-journey-0