Many documentary photographic projects that deal with trans issues exploit the genders of their subjects, pointing to an “otherness” or inappropriately exoticizing their bodies. A Series of Questions seeks instead to make visible the transphobia and gender-baiting that can become part of everyday interactions and lives, forming a fuller picture of the various lived experiences. In so doing, this work contrasts with the dehumanizing approaches that predominate the images made of transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and gender-variant people, which often focus solely on their gender or trans status, or use them to further a specific point about social construction and gender.
The subjects hold signs depicting questions that each has had posed to them personally— some by strangers, others by loved ones, friends, or colleagues. Presented on white wooden boards, the questions are turned on the viewer, shifting the dynamics under which they were originally asked, and prompting the viewer to cast a reflective, self-critical eye upon themself, revealing how invasive this frame of reference can be.
As a greater number of subjects and questions are accumulated, a relentless conversation of questioning emerges. Attention is directed not on the backgrounds of the transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, or gender-variant subjects, but on the dynamics at work in these conversations. I am interested in uncovering the typology of these questions, discovering what categories of questions emerge as the script of power dynamics and interrogation is flipped.
A Series of Questions is, well, a series of questions in which the subjects of the photos are not the focus – the viewer is. A picture is worth a thousand words – each image can be the subject of a critical analytic essay in and of themselves (see here for a discussion on the above photo).
Many are supremely invasive.
Akin to Kate Bornstein’s piece Gender Terror, Gender Rage¹, A Series of Questions speaks not from a personal trans perspective, but rather serves as a mirror to point out all the gender defending that is pervasive and invisible in our society.
Each photo deals with an individual issue that many trans scholars have written on before. David Valentine’s I Went to Bed With My Own Kind Once² is a piece that discusses the conflation of orientation and gender, and the clear lines society draws between everything with no room for black and white.
Of Catamites and Kings: Reflections on Butch, Gender, and Boundaries by Gayle Rubin³ is a good read that discusses the issues implied in the photo below:
The project has been on-going since 2008 and the artist is still searching for participants. See more details about it here.
¹ Bornstein, Kate. Gender Terror, Gender Rage. In S. Stryker & S. Whittle (Eds.) The Transgender Studies Reader, Taylor and Francis Group, New York, 2006, p. 236-243.
² Valentine, David. I Went to Bed With My Own Kind Once. In S. Stryker & S. Whittle (Eds.) The Transgender Studies Reader, Taylor and Francis Group, New York, 2006, p. 407-419.
³ Rubin, Gayle. Of Catamites and Kings: Reflections on Butch, Gender, and Boundaries. In S. Stryker & S. Whittle (Eds.) The Transgender Studies Reader, Taylor and Francis Group, New York, 2006, p. 471-481.