This open letter was written by trans artists in response to hearing that cis artist Virginia de Madieros will be given a funded residency in Manchester. As part of her residency, she will be undertaking hormone treatment with testosterone as part of an “artistic ethnography” of the Manchester transgender community. The organisers behind the open letter have asked for it to be hosted here. If you are a trans artist and wish to sign the letter, please email info[at]actionfortranshealth.org.uk
Dear Virginia de Madieros, Manchester School of Art and HOME Manchester,
We are a group of trans and gender variant artists based in the UK. It has come to our attention that the Manchester School of Art is granting a residency to Brazilian artist Virginia de Madieros which will be hosted at HOME Manchester as part the Manchester-Brazil 2016 Art Collaboration in the 20th July – 20th Oct 2016 period.
We are aware that Virginia has contacted various trans organisations in Manchester ahead of her residency here, saying:
“Virginia will be developing a new work, directed at the transgender universe – women who had assigned the female gender at birth but now are understood as men, also called FTM – female to male. The starting point of the project is her own body – a few months ago she started taking testosterone hormone as an artistic procedure… Acting as an ethnographic artist, she would be attending social spaces in Manchester which are frequented by transgenders to get into the daily lives of individuals or groups and gather personal and unobtrusive stories”
As trans artists, this raises some red flags for us.
Trans men are not “women who were assigned female at birth who go on to be understood as men”, they are men (who are also trans). We recognise that UK-based trans terms may be different from Brazilian terms, but we are also aware from looking at Virginia’s previous work around trans / transition that she is aware of the term “trans men” and how it is understood. We feel that any artistic research carried out on the trans community in Manchester should be undertaken by someone with the cultural competency to do so, including an understanding of how trans people in Manchester describe ourselves, and how the language of female-ness or male-ness as essential traits is often mobilised by transphobes to actively harm trans people.
As trans artists and activists we believe that anyone should have the right to change their body in any way they want, for any reason. However, we are concerned about the impact of a cis woman taking testosterone uncritically as an artistic endeavour in a world where trans people are literally dying through being unable to access this exact treatment. Through our engagement with some of Virginia’s previous work, we do not get as sense that her engagement with these acts are critical, however we would welcome being corrected on this front.
We are concerned about the use of ethnography within this project. Largely we see cis people studying trans bodies as an othering and objectifying process. In a recent video about her work, Virginia laughs and says:
“Oh muscles are beginning to show. I’ve been working out”
As much as muscle gain often happens when taking testosterone, we feel like the focus on certain aspects of the medical transition process is objectifying and feeds into wider tropes around trans people’s lives and bodies not being seen as a holistic whole but as disembodied parts: muscle and fat changes due to taking hormones, positioning of vocal folds, chest surgeries, and of course, genital surgeries, which are positioned by cis people as our ultimate act of transgression.
We also feel like the artist’s assumption that she, as a cis woman, could gain an “approximation” of what it is like to “become” a trans man, is somewhat misguided and plays into the pathologisation of trans-ness by positioning our “becoming” as a purely medical and biological process. This is misleading because it furthers the incorrect assumption that all trans people choose to / are able to choose to take hormones and situates our identity as part of a medical process. Her project also positions trans-ness as something that is reachable by cis people through engaging in those medical processes.
Whilst we believe that Virginia’s work genuinely has something interesting to say about gender and subjectivity, we believe that trans artists are better able to articulate work around these issues. There is a longstanding history of cis people getting funding to undertake trans art while trans artists are sidelined and their work goes unfunded and overlooked.
Virginia’s work is actively looking for trans people’s stories to tell through the ethnographic process. At the core of our concerns is the fact that as trans people, we never get to tell our own stories. Further, trans work produced by cis artists for cis audiences always ends up misrepresenting trans experiences by presenting us as dismembered body parts when in fact the reality of trans lives are so much more than our bodies. Trans art by trans artists explores this rich complexity by engaging with themes such as dysphoria, structural transphobia, gendered space, and embodiment in its most holistic sense.
We welcome a dialogue with Virginia and with the Manchester-Brazil 2016 Art Collaboration and would like to see these concerns addressed. We note that Virginia will be looking to collaborate with home grown talents and we would like to support Virginia in this endeavour and we expect that the Collaboration will ensure that trans people are appropriately remunerated for their labour.
Jess Bradley (Queer of the Unknown art collective and Transgender Rage collective, Manchester)
Loz Webb (Queer of the Unknown art collective and Transgender Rage collective, Manchester)
Rohan Beck (Queer of the Unknown art collective and Transgender Rage collective, Manchester)
Becky Conning (musician, Manchester)
Marilyn Misandry (drag artist, Manchester)
Dennis Queen (musician, Manchester)
Daira Hopwood (poet, Manchester)
Josie Cartwright (musician, Manchester)
Ashley Reed (York)
Jake Herrett (trans activist, BUFF, Manchester)
BUFF (trans-masculine festival, Manchester)
Dean Wilson (visual artist, Newcastle)
Pazuzu Gaylord (visual artist, Sheffield)
Alexandra Greenwood (games artist, Manchester)
Jennifer Hackett (musician, Nottingham)
Mihael Jaime McAllister (writer, Chorley)
Jasper Williams (artist, Bangor)
Andy Law (musician, visual artist, film maker, York)
Sam Hope (poet and blogger, Nottingham)
Felix Henson (graphic designer and poet, Manchester)
Robbie “Weasel” Daw (artist, Manchester)
Sabah Choudrey (activist and writer)
Em Travis (writer and zine artist, Cambridge)
Rowan Davies (zine artist, Cambridge)
Fee Wood (photographer, Stoke-on-Trent)
Naomi Wilkins (musician, Manchester)
AJ McKenna (spoken word artist)
Chris Hubley (visual and performing artist, Bristol)
Adam ‘Beyonce’ Lowe (NB/femme/genderfluid writer, publisher, performer; Manchester)
Simone Conneff (musician, Manchester)
Ruth Pierce (punk musician and social researcher, Warwick)
Keira James (artist and author, Sheffield)
Shannan Gates (artist, author, actor)
Sam Turner (artist, Manchester)
Aimee Challenor (photographer, Chair of LGBTQ Young Greens)
Jesse Sandilands (Brighton)
Laura Allmann (writer, Manchester)
Nathan Gale (non-binary poet and musician, Edinburgh)
Lorelei Price (musician, Manchester)
Aidan C. (actor and musician)
Payton Quinn (Comedian and Writer, Cardiff)
Cheryl Morgan (writer, Trowbridge)
Kamalanandi Lyus (B.A (hons) Fine Art, Furniture Maker, Sheffield)
Stephanie McAlea (Cartographer, Chester)
Olivia Sparrow (artist, Manchester)
Lucy Attackbot Licious (musician, comedian, artist and writer, Glasgow)
ティン・ルーフ / Tin Roof
MJ Eckhouse (writer and musician)
Jessi Lloyd (photographer, Gateshead)
Liz Cooper (actress and performing artist, New Jersey)
Benjamin Marriott (musician and artist, Cardiff)
Jasper Murphy (cartoonist, other: East London)
Christopher Jane Muetz (Genderfluid Dancer and Performance Artist, Kansas USA)
Nila Kamol Krishnan Gupta (artist, independent scholar,advocate, community worker; London)