Trans-Formative Creations

By Laura Latzko, March 26, 2015.

For transgender individuals of all ages, coming out of the closet is met with complicated questions from therapists, healthcare providers, insurance companies, peers, teachers and school administrators.

For youth, answering these questions can be a daunting task. But, because art offers a label- and pronoun-free world of creative expression, Trans* Spectrum of Arizona and one n ten have joined forces to present the first-ever Trans Youth Art Show at the Phoenix Pride LGBT Center.

The art show, which will include sketches, a board game, a documentary, collages and other forms of trans-specific art, will kick off April 3 and be on display through the end of the month.

According to Mel Rodis, Trans* Spectrum support group facilitator and leadership team member, art allows youth to share their feelings on their own journeys and their transitioning process in ways they might not be able to with words.

“Sometimes kids don’t have the emotional maturity to express themselves in words,” Rodis said. “Art is a way they can easily express themselves and work out what they are going through during their transitions.”

Rodis, who facilities Trans* Spectrum’s support groups for younger kids and teens on the second and fourth Saturday of each month, said bullying, mis-gendering and not getting to play sports because of gender identity are common topics.

“Sometimes I’m surprised at the depth of conversation they have at meetings,” Rodis, said. “They are really processing complex thoughts and emotions during those discussions, so I’ll be interested to see how they express those concepts through art.”

Rodis added that trans youth are typically more resilient when faced with transition-related adversity than their adult counterparts. As someone who transitioned at age 36, he feels inspired by the youth.

“Things were very different when I was growing up. I knew my gender was different when I was a kid. I knew that I wasn’t an average kid,” he said. “I didn’t have the words for it then, [now] I can identify that I was transgender then. It just wasn’t an option back then to transition as a kid.”

Rodis said his hope is that the art show provides community members who are not trans with a better understanding of trans issues and identities.

“A lot of times, the ‘T’ is silent and invisible,” Rodis said. “This is an opportunity for the trans community to be visible, but it is also an opportunity for the kids to say, ‘This is who we are, we’re here and we’re going to tell you about ourselves.’”

The art show opening will take place from 6-9 p.m. April 3 and will include pizza, ice cream sundaes, a beanbag toss, a 50-50 raffle and other art-related activities.

Additionally, youth will be selling artwork to fund their own transition process or to raise donations for Trans* Spectrum.

Meet the Artists:

Evan | 16 | Ahwatukee

For the art show, Evan has been working on a graphic art project in which he changes the gender of noteworthy figures from as far back as the 1400s to the present day.

Evan said he plans to rework such famous paintings as “The Mona Lisa” and “The Kiss” for the art show.

“Trans people have been there throughout history but have not been depicted,” Evan said of his motivation for the project.

Evan, who wants to go into film, shares an interest in art with his mom, Paula, a painter.

Baylie | 17 | Mesa

Artwork by Baylie, 17

Baylie hopes to spark conversations about transgender issues with an interactive board game. The game, based on the board game “Life,” was a collaborative effort between Baylie, Evan and two other trans youth.

“[Life] was my favorite game because you could choose whatever gender you wanted,” Baylie said.

The four youth artists plan to white out the colors on the blue and pink “Life” characters to make them more gender neutral and will also create a completely new board.

The premise of the game is that characters start at one gender and encounter such trans issues as insurance, marriage, kids, name changes, transitioning on the job and gender reassignment surgery before ending at the “finish” which is the other gender.

“This was to teach as well as entertain,” Baylie said. “A lot of people don’t know what transgender people have to go through to live their lives.”

Rori | 18 | Peoria

Rori, who has worked on a number of different projects for the art show, will be showcasing a comic strip with a female trans superhero.

According to Rori, it was his love of comic books, such as Naruto, that inspired him to create a comic dealing with issues pertinent to his life.

In the comic, the superhero saves a trans boy who is being bullied while using the boy’s bathroom – an issue Rori said many trans individuals have experienced, himself included.

Rori added that art, and comics, have been an important part of his life since an early age.

“Art just caught on really intensely,” he said. “I’ve always been connected with art.”

For the art show, Rori has also developed a charcoal sketch of a confident trans girl with online bullying messages surrounding her and a drawing depicting the evolution of a figure from a female to male.

Rori, who previously had his art displayed at a school district art show in Peoria, said he doesn’t intentionally set out to make a statement through his work, but sometimes “the statement comes later.”

Sam |16 | Mesa

Sam, a jewelry-maker, oil painter and sculptor, said his love of art started at a young age, when he would draw fairy creatures.

Sam, whose work was previously featured at a Mesa school district art show, said he was inspired to make a statement about gender identity through his drawings for this show.

According to Sam, his drawings depict people of different races and genders with their heads replaced by colorful plants. And one of the characters in his plant series was inspired by his favorite musician and spoken word artist.

Sam’s interest in art has been nurtured by his mom, Tami, who attends monthly art education workshops with him and often wears jewelry he’s created.

“I think it’s a two-way street. I think he keeps me involved in art,” Tami said. “I always tried to foster that in him. I tell him, ‘Do what you love, follow your passion.’”

Artwork by Sam, 16

Aubrey | 13 | Phoenix

For the art show, Aubrey shot a documentary on her father’s old video camera.

“You don’t need a super HD camera to make something good,” Aubrey said, adding that her biggest challenge was working with older equipment, including VHS tapes. “I like the raw feel. I don’t want it to be perfectly edited. If you take away the high-quality camera and the content is good, then you know it’s good.”

For the film, Aubrey interviewed a teen from her school, youth and adults from the Trans* Spectrum support groups and trans activist and speaker Julian Melson. Aubrey also shared her own personal story in the film.

In the documentary, trans youth and adults share their own personal stories of transitioning and touches on the important issues of family support or lack therefore for trans youth and adults.

“What really gets me the most is parents not accepting you,” said Aubrey, whose parents and oldest sisters have come to be her greatest allies. “Family is really supposed to always be there. With this, they can disappear.”

Aubrey’s father, a local documentary filmmaker, is helping her with the documentary project.

Aubrey’s mom, Meredith, who works as a nurse, said she and her husband “freaked out” when Aubrey told them she was trans. Over the last year, their attitudes have changed as they have become more educated on trans issues.

“This whole experience with Aubrey in the last year has made me rethink gender. It’s given me a new perspective,” Meredith said. “I was completely ignorant of practically everything, and I consider myself a pretty educated and open-minded person.”

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