I love that there are so many trans artists out there. The act of creation lends itself naturally to the trans experience. Not because we “invent” new identities out of thin air, but because the act of transforming one’s thinking about oneself necessitates some amount of creativity. Anyone that has made art for any amount of time can understand that art simply cannot exist in a vacuum. Every part of the process is influenced by innumerable factors, from the artist’s personal perspective, to the logistical limitations of the medium that one chooses for the piece.
Transition feels much the same. You can do your best to put your transness into a vacuum in your mind. You can try to isolate the feelings in an attempt to study and understand them, but this only works for so long. Eventually, many trans people (not all, but many), feel the need to bring these feelings into the world, and into the consciousnesses of the people around them. Art and the act of creation can facilitate this quite readily.
“To be an artist in the largest sense is to be fully awake to the totality of life as we encounter it, porous to it and absorbent of it, moved by it and moved to translate those inner quickenings into what we make.”Maria popova
The Act of Creation Can Open the Door to Self-Exploration
Self-exploration through the act of creation was the impetus for creating this site as it exists now. Originally, this blog was going to be a “trans focused” business and financial blog. I know, even I’m laughing. I started writing generic business focused content with a “trans spin”, but that well of creativity soon ran dry. The content I was creating ended up being just another business blog, which I think we can all agree, the world really doesn’t need. And then it took a particularly bad day, but I had something of an epiphany.
On this bad day, I was so down, and dysphoric that I literally just typed the phrase “trans joy” into Google. This was around the time that Elliot Page posted that picture of his first time swimming in nothing but board shorts out by a pool. It seemed like every single media publication seized this photo and just plastered it around the internet as “the epitome of trans joy”. No shade to Elliot at all, he was just feeling himself and wanted to share that. What I had a problem with was that I needed something to which I could relate. A photo of an impossibly smooth-skinned, straight sized, white guy who was well into his transition and post top surgery was not something that inspired any particular joy in me, a trans man who will never be able to take his shirt off even after top surgery. I looked further afield than Google, but ultimately I was left bereft of a single substantive, relatable instance of trans joy that I could point to. I decided I would write myself into some trans joy, the fruits of which then became one of the cornerstones of this site.
Once I started writing about my relationship to transness, I was hooked. I realized this simple act of creation could be a key to understanding what I was going through. Just getting started with writing again reinvigorated my love of other forms of art, especially art made by other trans people.
Creation Can Inspire Connection with a Community
I am autistic. I do not generally enjoy much company, and I struggle with making friends. But, once I dove headfirst into creating I found that there were plenty of other people who felt similarly. There are so many neurodivergent trans people online, and online communication can be a bit easier for many people, myself included.
Beyond the practical aspects of connection, there is a spiritual aspect to the act of creation. Creative work can bring with it a sense of control when every other aspect of life feels turbulent. When I started writing again, it took a good long while but eventually, I felt like I had a handle on some part of my life, because I knew what I was writing and when. I was writing things that inspired me spiritually, and piqued my intellectual curiosity. It was this foundation of renewal and strength that allowed me to finally feel like I had the energy and space to reach out to other people. I have made a couple new connections with people that I am very glad to have met. These relationships are in their early days, but even if I never hear from any of these people again, I am very glad that my writing was able to facilitate these introductions.
Your World Expands When You Engage in Creativity
I credit my art with some of the biggest instances of personal growth I’ve been through. My first memory of intentionally creating artwork that was more than a crayon drawing was the first short story I ever wrote. One evening, eight year old me was bored and alone in my room, as usual. So, I sat down, pulled out a pen and paper, and wrote a short, slightly rambling story about an anthropomorphized cat who was himself an author. (I distinctly remember that this humanoid cat used he/him pronouns.)
This first call to the act of creation was the spark of passion which I still hold for art in most of its mediums. The next school year my teacher started giving free art lessons after school, during which she gave us a solid foundation on the history of Western art, and also gave me the chance to try drawing with pastels, and painting with acrylics for the first time. My teacher asked if she could submit some of my drawings to a contest at the county fair, in which I managed to get my first ever award. I was not an athletic child, and until that point had not won or even placed in any sort of competition. But with art, I was able to get my first ever “Second Place” ribbon.
The summer vacation following that school year was the first one my sibling and me didn’t spend with our father, so my mother had to arrange for a babysitter. This sitter was already slated to volunteer at some art classes at the community center, so my mother just told her to bring me along. This class also provided me the opportunity for many firsts. I worked with clay for the first time, and I think I still have the two little mouse figurines I made. I learned even more about art history, this time including art from cultures outside of Western Europe. While this was definitely not the first time I encountered art outside of the Western corner of the art world, this was the first time I studied anything other than Western art in a semi-academic context.
This class broadened my view of the art world, certainly, but it also gave me one of my first opportunities at independence. Because my sitter was a volunteer, she was busy at the community center both before and after the class, so I had a good amount of time to myself. My sibling decided they were old enough to stay home alone, so I was truly independent. Sometimes, I even had a little bit of pocket money because my mother would occasionally give me whole dollar for a snack. These are some of the few good memories I have of this time in my life, and it is not lost on me that art was always at the center of them.
Let’s fast forward to this past year. I started writing again, but I also started looking for other creatives to connect with. Once I started drawing through lines between the content I was consuming and the experiences of the people with whom I was connecting, I realized that my understanding of the world was more limited than I thought.
What Radicalized Me? The Act of Creation
This title is a bit of an oversimplification, but the heart of it holds true. The act of creation is not the sole reason I am a radical leftist, but art has opened my eyes to the breadth and variety of “the trans experience”. Meaning, there is no singular “trans experience”. There simply couldn’t be. Trans people are present in every culture, tradition, family type, and race on this earth. Anyone, anywhere, at any point in time could be transgender or otherwise gender nonconforming.
If we accept the truth of this fact, we understand that trans art is one of the few actions that has the capacity to be a truly universal part of being trans. Every human has the potential to make art, and channel their personal experiences through an artistic medium. I also like to believe that every person has the capacity to appreciate beauty in some form. When we allow the creative works of others into our consciousness, we can open opportunities for connecting to experiences that are vastly different from our own. A white person, like myself, can never understand what it is to move through this world being coded as Black, but engaging with the creative works of Black artists is one of the many avenues people have to gain insight into what that artist has to say about their experiences.
The same can be said for one’s gender. Someone who has questions about themselves may do well to engage with the perspectives of people at all stages of their transition. This is one of the only viable remedies to the sometimes violent transphobia that many of us have been force fed. When I first went public with my transness (meaning I told my girlfriend), I was stuck on trying to figure out why I struggled so much with my gender as a kid. Among other things, a big reason I didn’t bother to address my feelings is because for a long time, I didn’t think I “qualified” as a trans man because back then, I wasn’t comfortable asserting myself to others as a man.
Of course, I now know I was terribly off base with this line of thinking. This is a textbook example of internalized transphobia. Art and engaging with the creative works of a variety of people, especially nonbinary people, was the main factor in changing my thinking. I now know that I am not obligated to insist that I’m a man, even though I do currently describe myself and wish to be described this way. I know that I am allowed to just exist as myself, in whatever way makes me the most comfortable and safe, because I have now seen many people who exist this way.
Once I accepted this ability to exist as a possibility for myself, it suddenly became very important to me that I help ensure all trans people have this possibility. This means that in order to make the world a safe, and healthy place for any trans person, we need to take into account the experiences of all trans people without expecting the most oppressed among us to teach the least oppressed among us how to do this. It is on white trans people who identify with the white cultural conceptualizations of gender (who some people call “binary trans people”) to do the leg work of expanding our own perspectives. In my opinion, engaging with art and in mutual aid actions are two of the most important and impactful means of making this world a better place for everyone.
Trying the Act of Creation Yourself
So, I cannot say that art, itself, radicalized me. However, I can say that it has been the biggest facilitator of personal, political, and intellectual growth in my life to date. Given this reality, I strongly encourage you to engage further with the creative works of others. Here are some examples of actions you can take to start this process:
- Follow the social media accounts of artists from all different backgrounds, races, and economic statuses. There’s a big, wide world out there. We can’t all afford to physically explore it, so the next best thing is to actually read and engage with art and creations from people who lead different lives from ourselves.
- Create something yourself. Find a medium that you’re curious about and are able to access. Social media works well for exploring the ins and outs of different mediums. Heck, even making pretty slime can be an artistic act.
- Engage in mutual aid. There are a ton of ways you can do this. If you are white and financially capable of doing so, I highly encourage you to educate yourself further on the matter of reparations, and give a portion of your income (1-2% per month) directly to BIPOC, or to a local mutual aid organization that supports these populations. But don’t get it twisted, monetary donations are not the only way to engage in mutual aid. Start a local carpool, offer to buy food for a neighbor, offer to text someone who is visiting with family that is difficult for them, or look into the myriad other ways to provide (and accept) mutual aid. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
“As my friend Julian puts it, only half winkingly: “God blessed me by making me transsexual for the same reason God made wheat but not bread and fruit but not wine, so that humanity might share in the act of creation.”Daniel Mallory Ortberg, Something That May Shock and Discredit You