The Museum of Transology is the largest and boldest display of trans artefacts and photographic portraiture ever displayed in the UK.
Introduction from E-J Scott, Curator
The UK’s trans communities are increasingly vibrant, visible and confident about sharing our stories. Trans people are coming out, finding each other and organising Pride events, but no matter how bold and brave we are, we cannot reverse the erasure of ‘transcestry’ in museums.
Historically, trans lives have been hidden for reasons of survival, by either ‘passing’ and therefore remaining closeted, or by only expressing our gender identities in private.
Trans identities have also been overlooked as sole expressions of alternative sexualities, or considered as merely career strategies employed to outsmart gender-specific work regulations. It is therefore extremely difficult to confidently locate ‘theirstory’ retrospectively, because, in reality, our transcestry has been hidden, unidentified, ignored, forgotten and, in many cases, lost.
The erasure of transcestry ends here with the Museum of Transology. Comprising more than 120 objects and handwritten labels, the collection is as diverse as the trans experience itself, yet shares narratives of hope, despair, ambition, confidence and desire. These narratives have been printed in this catalogue unedited, so as to retain the authentic voices of the authors. In order for these objects to be preserved for future
generations, the collection needs a permanent home in a UK museum, where it can be cared for properly. To write out transcestry is one thing: to write it back in will make theirstory.
A great deal of public fascination surrounds gender confirmation surgery. The hyperspectacle of the ‘before and after’ is a common way for the popular media to measure trans ‘success’ stories. But one’s trans-ness is not measured by the type or amount of surgical procedures embarked upon.
It is increasingly understood that trans people can play a more autonomous role in creating new, wondrous and different bodies that can embrace and celebrate creative adaptability. This can require a bigger leap of faith than buying into a female or male genital binary, which is often sold on a surgeon’s promise that the trans body will be made into an effective cisgender copy, a sewn-together mannequin, designed to pass well visually.
Serge Nicholson advocates for a fuller engagement with trans embodiment. ‘As a trans man punk elder, I can recall my (pre-Internet era) hunger for the sight of gender nonconforming representation. I found us – trans, genderqueer and post-gender – in performance, photography and film. Some of us went on to reveal our clothed and semi-naked, hormonally altered bodies under bright studio spotlights, appearing in exhibitions, queer art books and on stages. Over the decades, we have had spaces to parade and play, on dancefloors and in black-painted sex clubs. We have had opportunities for negotiating consensual trans amorous sex, if we wished. Dancing and displaying, either for our own pleasure and/or for others, we could invite in the gaze. We could take a moment to glory in our trans-ness.’
‘I recall life via the objects I save that I associate with specific events – thus my interest in museology. Having my chest surgery changed how I lived as a person, and allowed me to de-traumatize part of the daily physical oppression I associate with being trans.
This collection is everything I saved from that event. My name tag, the gown and anti-blood clot socks I wore in the operating theatre, the syringe I was administered morphine from, the little paper cups that I was given medicine in, the ‘It’s a Boy” balloon my friends brought to the hospital, the binder that I wore that still has blood on it, the documentation ... And, of course, the bits that caused my lactose intolerance.
This collection started what I now call the Museum of Transology.’
Hospital anti-blood clot socks
Medicine paper cups x 3
Used needles x 4
Hospital and mastectomy documentation
Due to transphobia, when trans people come out they often lose contact with communities from their earlier lives, including family, school and work friends, past partners, and children.
This ostracism can be fought not only by the strength of supportive trans communities, but also through the presentation of transcestry in historical institutions. This is precisely what museums should do – offer engagement with the past as a way of making sense of the now, in order to inform a positive and responsible future. In the words of LGBT historian Susan Fernetinos, ‘To offer roots to those who have at one time or another found themselves without any is a very powerful gift indeed.’
This selection of objects represents milestones of their owners’ gender journeys.
Letter – ‘My letter from the Queen after I changed my passport.’
Train ticket 1 – ‘The collection receipt for my train tickets to attend Trans Pride Brighton – It is an event that celebrates and helps to makes us more equal + acceptable in society! X’
Train ticket 2 – ‘This was the ticket I used to meet my
Canadian girlfriend, the first time seeing her in person as her boyfriend instead of her girlfriend. An amazing moment!’
Train ticket 3 – ‘This is a prop from the last movie made by a comedic film group I started at university. Our group was almost entirely trans, and the few who weren’t (bar one) were at least one other letter of the acronym. Our works included, amongst others, A Cismas Carol, Mama Queer! and re-imagining of the nativity story (featuring a pregnant Marcus and his wife Josephine, along with an inn keeper who is disgusted to discover that her husband has a penis). Most
comedy featuring trans characters seems to use us as cheap punchlines, so the films were a way of being funny on our terms, lifting low spirits, and highlighting the ridiculousness of transphobia. We never made the films public, but we had private premieres where we’d dress up, get drunk, and celebrate our creations.’
Estradiol packets x 2 – ‘These saved my life in more than one way’
Sustanon box – ‘FINALLY!!! In the 1st term of my 2nd year at uni, the consultants gave me the go-ahead to start having testosterone injections. I was SO happy!! I felt like it had taken forever to reach that point. I will continue to have these injections for the
rest of my life.’
Evorel 100 empty packet – ‘Back in 2010 my ex saw me putting on a pair of socks whilst I was sitting on the base of our bed, facing the mirrored wardrobe she exclaimed “my god you’ve got tits! It was a result of self medding A couple of years later PTO I was eventually prescribed hormones and although I used Oestrogen in pill form until GRS, afterwards I went onto transdermal patches:- EVEROL 100. Unfortunately, I had a skin reaction and have since moved onto Oestrogel.’
Testogel empty packet – ‘Hormones made me feel better than I expected straight away + after a few months I started to recognise myself.’
Testorel sachet cabinet shot – ‘This little sachet made me SO ILL for the first six months, yet I battled through. It represents DETERMINATION and HOPE that things would get better – and they did!’
Testogel sachet – ‘I started taking Testogel on Transgender day of Rememberance (20th of November) 2014. I was looking forward to taking it for so long. I’m very happy with my deeper voice and some facial hair. Today is 23rd of July 2016.’
Evorel 100 hormone packet – ‘These are my estrogen patches … without these I was a singularly miserable person. I have always been confused as to why some people are SO adamant that I should not be allowed
Progynova – ‘I got these after I had already been self-medding with birth control pills for almost two years. After finally getting a prescription for Progynova I was surprised to find that they actually made me very emotionally unstable and really depressed for the first time in my life. This has almost completely disappeared now but it was a reminder that not all steps in transition are simple.’
Testosterone box in packaging – ‘14.11.16 Hey guys! This is my first ever vial of Sustanon. (kind of). My nurse refused to use it she didn’t trust my source! The 48 hour delay for my T-shot, felt like 48 years! However; 8 months later, I’ve never been happier!’
The Lounge Room
A collection of intimate and extraordinary objects in the tradition of the cabinet of curiosity.
My Little Pony – ‘Immersing myself in My Little Pony is how I manage Dysphoria.’
Goggles – ‘THESE ARE THE FIRST PAIR OF GOGGLES THAT I HAD OWNED IN YEARS, SINCE UNDERGOING TOP SURGERY IN EARLY 2015. It’s great to fully savour the sensations of the water on my bare chest as I swim underwater in the swimming pool and the sea.’
Trans Pride merchandise – ‘I designed and printed the Trans Pride logo and merch. The original logo changed after feedback, in the first year, that it wasn’t that readable for some people. We also scrapped the asterisk in Trans* Pride, as the * wasn’t inclusive.’
Throughout dress history, one of the central tenets of beauty has been the fashionable silhouette. From crinolines to corsets, people of all genders have gone to great lengths to shape their bodies to adhere to the beauty tropes of the day. From bras and boxers to binders for boobs, all kinds of inventive solutions are found to shape the trans silhouette.
Referring to Judith Butler’s earlier work, trans historian Susan Stryker explains that, ‘Gender is constituted by all the innumerable acts of performing it: how we dress, move, speak, touch, look.’
Many examples of body modifiers in this collection have been handcrafted or adapted. This reflects a DIY problem-solving ethic of remaking, swapping and sharing that is now intrinsically part of the trans community’s ethos. Online community groups operate to facilitate this mend-and-make-do culture. This ethos is partly due to the financial difficulties many trans people endure, being three times more likely to be on low incomes (Count Me In Too survey, 2007).
According to the Trans Needs Assessment 2015, gaining and retaining employment was one of the most important challenges that trans people face. Half of respondents reported workplace harassment, and 42% were prevented by work from living in their preferred gender role.
Fancy dress – ‘Dress & top for fancy dress party,
1st time out in public as a woman.’
Navy blue floral dress – ‘This dress was bought
online before I got a name change and the store
asked me if it was a gift for someone and I said
yes. When I got it, it said: “Dear Owl, Because
you’re worth it. Yours always, Valur.”’
Jay’s weave – ‘In June my mother told me I was born with undescended testicles and had to go to 3 different hospitals before determining my gender. It was only at the age of 12 that I had fully developed genitals. I came out to my mum and I was not accepted. My family disowned me. I lost everything but no matter what I had to move on with my transition. I felt that i would not pass with short hair so i went for a full head weave extensions. these extensions marked the beginning of my journey of self acceptance and love <3’
Bikini top – ‘Bikini Top 44B cup. No more beach rage! No glaring at men + their lack of triangle tan lines. Now I hit the beach in shorts, scars + a smile.’
Black and white striped strapless bra – ‘Given the bra by someone who is a trans ally and simply outgrew it. It made me feel slightly embarrassed but thankful that they were thinking of me and the fact that it did do something to remind me that I had something
up front although at the time there wasn’t too much.’
White sports bra – ‘My First Bra – Not the prettiest of items of clothing but very practical. At the time, 3 years ago, not a necessity for support BUT helped me to feel the person I knew I was. Having fought against those “Just a Phase” comments for so long became such a relief when I could dress and behave as the person I knew inside was prepared to be to the outside world. I am ME and could not be happier xxx’
White lace bra – ‘My 1st Bra bought for me by my then partner.’
Black velvet bra – Post-outerlife transition (in 2007 at age 48) to androgyne/genderqueer/ transintersexual...’
White padded bra – ‘When I first transitioned I felt I needed a bra to pass but now it don’t matter at all. There are flat chested women and gender should not be defined by our external appearance. <3’
White cotton vest – ‘I was excited to comfortably begin to wear a vest, but strangely I haven’t felt the need to wear one yet! I just threw on a shirt, t-shirt or jumper, and enjoy the easy comfortable feeling of being unconfined.’
White t-shirt – ‘I was given this Tshirt by one of the young trans people whom I support. It’s a direct quote of my response to their lamenting the possibility of their hypothetical memorial likeness being mispronounced. Maeve’
‘Nice Gender’ t-shirt – ‘Each year there’s an alternative “queer pride picnic” that is held for people who feel like the mainstream Gay Pride is a corporate sell-out and unrepresentative of their identities. It’s very crafty, alternative and mostly QTIPOC run. Some young genderqueer creative activists were selling these hand-printed t-shirts. I love it so much that I hate it when it
has to be washed.’
‘Transformers’ t-shirt – ‘Transformers youth group was
founded in 2011. It’s a safe space for young trans and gender questioning people. We stopped using these Tshirts after we saw the #Blacklivesmatter hashtag. Signed by young trans service users.’
‘Stand By Your Trans’ t-shirt – ‘Fashion meets trans, meets a call to action #Stand/byYourTrans’
Black boxers with zip – ‘These shorts I bought on line they have a zip on the front for a secret pouch. My packer fits inside.. “AND CAN’T FALL OUT!! I love these!’
Shark boxers – ‘SHARK PANTS! My “LUCKY” pants, given as a gift by an ex-girlfriend. These
have followed me through coming out as genderqueer, social and then physical transition.’
Control pants – ‘Lycra pants are rather useful to conceal that which I always preferred not to be there money having always been difficult to (PTO) … you may see there is lots of evidence of rudimentary repair attempts. Oh and BTW they were rather warm in the
Pre and Post Collection Cabinet
The cabinets in the exhibition share stories from the trans community.
Pants – ‘These are from my first set of
underwear (unworn!) I was so happy to be
able to wear normal undies :)’
Hormones – ‘After 2 years waiting for any
hormones I eventually got prescribed
Oestrogen - Sandrena 2mg. “Happy Days.”’
Lipstick – ‘This was my first lipstick. It took
me ages to find the right colour. I now
have boxes of makeup and still addicted.’
Out of shot here are pre and post transition photos:
'These are my pre and post
transition pics. I am so pleased when I see
how far I have come. I can now fondly look back on old pics.’
7” packer – ‘When I wore this it just made my disphoria come out more. I hated it.’
Max Factor lipstick – ‘This lipstick although not the first, but was the first colour I ever got. I was looking for a melt in the background look and this colour did it for me.’
No. 7 lipstick ‘Silent Movie’ red lipstick – ‘This lipstick was from my wonderful sister who was the first family member to accept and support my transition <3’
Female strapping – ‘for the right curves’ – ‘Body tape to create the right curves.’
Lynx deodorant – ‘This was the first “boy” product I bought. It was for a drag king night, and it was such a life-changing event, it felt so good “dressing as a boy” and broke down some invisible barrier I had against “boy stuff” opening doors smelling great.’
Plain prosthetic boobs – ‘What mother nature didn’t give me.’
Pack and pee – ‘Homemade pack & pee! Soft packer with “shewee” great idea in theory but impractical due to stiff plastic.’
Boobs and tucking undies – ‘BIG pair of tucking pants and a pair of boobs (rarely worn!) :-)’
Teddy strapping – ‘I found that my binder didn’t make me flat at all and instead just gave me “boob shelf” so I started using Duct tape to separate out my breasts and kind of hid them under my arms. I was trying to be stealth at the time which did not work at all pre-hormones. My breasts gave me so much dysphoria I was doing anything to flatten them. Eventually when I took my tape off one time I also took a layer of skin. Then I moved to using the sports tape here as it is made for humans.’
Wax strips – ‘“Ready to use hair removal wax strips.” Veet.’
The Museum of Transology is the largest and boldest display of trans artefacts and photographic portraiture ever displayed in the UK. This highly intimate exhibition challenges the idea that gender is fixed, binary and biologically determined by exploring how the artefacts helped fashion self-shaped gender identities.
The display features photography by Bharat Sikka and Sharon Kilgannon, My Genderation films by Fox Fisher and Lewis Hancox, Sexing the Transman and Mr Angel documentaries by adult film star Buck Angel, behind the scenes footage from Born Risky by Grayson Perry.
Collected and curated by E-J Scott, and made possible by those who donated their stories and personal objects.