Mark Aguhar, Making Looks, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.
There are not two Genders,
there is only One gender:
— Effy Beth
Alfred Kinsey, the American biologist who became famous for his research in sexology, passed away before he could publish any studies specifically relating to gender identity. Dr. Marcus Tye, who last month gave a lecture entitled “Resurrecting Kinsey: Gender and Sexual Fluidity in the Age of Tinder” at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York City, points out “the slight irony of Kinsey emphasizing variations in sexual interests, but remaining quite binary on sex (gender identity to use current terminology).” In that respect, despite the revolutionary nature of his ideas back then, Kinsey’s body of work only goes so far in undoing restrictive labels in the present day. Tye attempts to re-contextualize Kinsey’s legacy for the modern era: “Kinsey didn’t study gender identity at all but likely would have embraced the concept of diversity.”
The limits of a taxonomic language’s ability to express a range of identities are tested in the current Cooper Union exhibit, Bring Your Own Body: Transgender Between Archives and Aesthetics, organized by Jeanne Vaccaro, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, with Stamatina Gregory, associate dean of The Cooper Union School of Art. The show spotlights works by contemporary transgender artists (many of whom were relatively young and only recently deceased) alongside materials from the Kinsey Archives.
The fascinating (and at times, troubling) “visual evidence” and ephemera catalogued by the Kinsey Institute provides the historical framework for “Bring Your Own Body.” Among some of rarely seen memorabilia are vintage serials and zines featuring fiction, poetry, and comics by transgender artists during Kinsey’s time. While selecting materials, the curators were conscious of “the archive’s often violent capture of identity […] such as ‘transvestite’ photography and police records of transgender women of color arrested for sex work and female impersonation.” It’s impossible to know how some of the photographs were obtained, or if the subjects consented. Vaccaro also acknowledges that the collection is primarily white and of the feminine spectrum, which she attributes to “the way sexologists categorized what we now call trans through historical categories like ‘inversion.’”
In consideration of today’s “digital communities mobilized by young artists,” as well as performance and “lived experience,” Vaccaro and Gregory opted to move beyond the lens of traditional photography when choosing contemporary pieces to showcase. In addition to two-dimensional representations, the exhibit features installations, sculptures, and copies of printed works that visitors can take home. The exhibit offers not only visibility to those individuals whose history has often been erased, but also a space for these artists to express their self-determination. Below is a sampling of image and text that speaks to the tension between our narrow understanding of the past and the opportunity for a broadened perspective in the present.
Slide from “Resurrecting Kinsey: Gender and Sexual Fluidity in the Age of Tinder” lecture by Dr. Marcus Tye Ph.D. at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, New York, October 15, 2015.
William Dellenback photographer, Christine Jorgensen visiting the Institute for Sex Research, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, 1953. Courtesy of Kinsey Institute, Indiana University.
“It is amazing to observe how many psychologists and psychiatrists have . . . come to believe that homosexual males and females are discretely different from persons who merely have homosexual experience, or who react sometimes to homosexual stimuli. Sometimes such an interpretation allows for only two kinds of males and two kinds of females, namely those who are heterosexual and those who are homosexual. But as subsequent data . . . will show, there is only about half of the male population whose sexual behavior is exclusively heterosexual, and there are a few percent who are exclusively homosexual. Any restriction of the term homosexuality to individuals who are exclusively so demands, logically, that the term heterosexual be applied only to those individuals who are exclusively heterosexual; and this makes no allowance for the nearly half of the population which has had sexual contacts with, or reacted psychically to, individuals of their own as well as of the opposite sex. Actually, of course, one must learn to recognize every combination of heterosexuality and homosexuality in the histories of various individuals.”
Alfred Kinsey, 1948.
Anonymous photographer, Louise Lawrence with cigarette. Courtesy of Kinsey Institute, Indiana University.
“The world is not divided into sheeps and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning sexual behavior the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.”
Alfred Kinsey, 1948.
Anonymous photographer, police department. Three standing figures, 1966. Courtesy of Kinsey Institute, Indiana University.
“So when at last I get to bed, to rest our weary body
I have to tell him stories, just like Queen Scheherazade
Since if I don’t, we’ll NEVER sleep, I try to weave a spell —
At least he can’t take off my head if they don’t turn out well.”
Sheila 30-B-2 FPE, “The Troubles of an FP Girl,” Transvestia, Vol. XI, No. 66.
Chloe Dzubilo, There Is a Transolution, 2010. Courtesy of The Estate of Chloe Dzubilo.
“A charge that the Kinsey Report has weakened moral standards prompted the National Council of Women of the United States yesterday to adopt an emergency resolution urging coordinated community effort to insure the security of the American home.”
MORAL LAPSE LAID TO KINSEY REPORT: National Council of Women Backs Community Efforts to Safeguard Home, New York Times; October 21, 1950.
Effy Beth, Una nueva artista necesita usar el baño (A new artist needs to use the bathroom), 2011. Courtesy of the artist’s estate. Photo by María Laura Voskian.
YOU WILL NEVER BE A WOMAN
“Someone once told me, that even if you feel like a woman, and your tits grow, and you take hormones, and you operate on your genitals, you will never be a woman because you don’t menstruate so you don’t know what being a woman means.”
Effy Beth, “My Female Reproductive System Is My Mind”
Mark Aguhar, Making Looks, 2011. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Mimi Wong.
“I just had this thought about how I want to work androgynous looks but that I want to be a girl androgyn who gets mistaken for a boy, not a boy androgyn who gets mistaken for a girl, which seems like a sort of silly but very critical difference”
Mark Aguhar, calloutqueen, “BLOGGING FOR BROWN GURLS,” March 4, 2012.
Chris Vargas, Transvestism in the News, 2015. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Mimi Wong.
Select headlines from the scrapbooks of transexual activist Louise Lawrence, collected from the 1940s to 1960s for Alfred Kinsey and his research team:
“GUYS will be GALS!”
“Swish Set Demands Equal Rights”
“Haircut Turns ‘Girl’ Into Boy”
“‘I Passed As a Woman 33 Years Successfully’”
“Ex-Girl Fails At Love as Man, Tries Suicide”
“Jap Girl Duped By Impersonator”
“COPS THAT DRESS AS GIRLS”
“A Man in Skirts Is Suspect”
“Transvestite Deserves Sympathy of Society”
“‘Freak of Nature’ Is Awaiting Outcome of New Operation”
“Trans-Vestism Economic Necessity”
Zackary Drucker, film still from Southern for Pussy, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.
“Ever since they gave me the girl’s part in a high school play
I’ve studied ‘Method’ Acting — you know, where you try to
‘be’ the character. All I can say is that the longer you practice
it, the more it grows on you.”
Cartoon caption from Transvestia, Vol. XI, No. 66
Bring Your Own Body: Transgender Between Archives and Aesthetics runs until November 14, 2015, at 41 Cooper Gallery in New York City.