On 31st March 2021, we were thrilled to host a conversation between project researchers Elliot Falkus and Rowan Frewin for Trans Day of Visibility. Elliot and Rowan discussed the importance of trans visibility in museum spaces and heritage sites and addressed some of the challenges we face when trying to engage with these histories and make them more accessible. They also proposed ways in which the ongoing erasure of trans and non-binary lives in the past can be addressed through new methodological means. After their rich conversation, we opened the event up for questions from the audience.
We also put together a list of resources for people keen to learn more about trans history, culture and politics! This is an incomplete and growing list, so please email us if you want to add texts or resources.
Elliot Falkus is a recent graduate of the University of Exeter. He has career goals in creative writing and reconciliatory heritage. His work with the Out and About project consists of research and writing on the objects within the RAMM’s collection, highlighting the history of trans people in popular media, the legal history of LGBT+ people and communities in the UK, and historical and literary interpretations of queer figures.
Rowan Frewin is an English graduate and freelance illustrator. They are particularly interested in examining ways that we can re-frame trans history as well as looking at ways that information about LGBTQ history in general can be made more accessible. They have recently published the A Potted Trans History zine.
On 9th April 2021, we organised an online workshop led by project co-directors Nat McGrath, Ellie Coleman and Jana Funke together with Holly Morgenroth, one of the curators from RAMM. As part of the workshop, participants shared their queer objects from home. We also explored the museum catalogue to think about the challenges and joys of trying to queer objects in the RAMM’s collections.
Scar care cream made by my boyfriend for me to use after my surgery in order to soften and loosen the scar tissue. On the sides he put an anchor and two inter linking chains and on the lid there is a protective rune. The image shows the front of a large circular jar with shiny silver holographic vinyl on the front. The vinyl is cut into the shape of a joyful dancing figure and the words scar care cream with two little stars adorning them. In the jar is a creamy off-white cream made from a mixture of butters, oils and perfumes.
Leather harness made by trans owned company, Aslan Leather. Never used only worn as bought in between the second and the third uk lockdown. A black harness is hanging from a wooden bed post. It has silver buckles and rivets and there is an emblem of a lion wearing a leather cap on the front.
Cracked and dyed raw quartz crystal. The quartz is shaped like an irregular and many faceted cylinder with blue mottled cracks and crystalised protrusions jutting out. This crystal was used as a phallic prosthetic to place between my legs as I sat in the shower. It was the only way I could bathe my body for a series of months as I waited for hormones.
The remaining scab from my nipple graft that I found like a pulled tooth in my bed one morning after two months of recovery. The scab is a small, perfect, dark brown disk retaining the irregular texture of skin on its surface. It is laying on cotton wool in a blue archival box. The night before I found it, I had a dream where it had fallen off. I held the scab to the light and it shone around the room with the multi colours of a stained glass window. When I got up and looked in the mirror to discover it had fallen off in reality too, it was the first time I had seen my chest unobstructed and laid completely bare since surgery.
The morning woke abruptly. The house shifted in its sleepy state, unable to lie still against the dust and the sun. Floorboards started to creak; laces started to be tied. It was time to move. I felt for the warm body next to me and it stirred softly, giving small noises of discontent. ‘Time to leave’ I whispered in her ear. She turned over, looking at me with sad, half-closed eyes. Giving a small nod, she pulled the bedding tighter against her, creating a barrier between us. She held my wrist tight, forcing it down, nails gripping into my skin. There was little we could or should say. Noises were coming closer and closer, signalling the end of our time together. The door shuddered, anxious of the duty it had to perform. Glancing towards it and knowing that it would soon have to open, I put my hand lightly under her chin and brought her close to me. ‘I’ll be back’, I said in the smallest voice I could find. Again, she nodded, first with a slight and almost imperceptible motion, then again with more force, so that hair unloosed further from its ribbons. I picked up the stream of linen lying on the floor and started to wind it round and round and round myself. Once bound in it I dressed, until finally cloaked and concealed I could leave.
Out on the street dawn was already receiving visitors. Carts rushed up and down, vendors set up their stalls and the stench was rising. I hurried home taking, as always, a new route. It wasn’t a long way back, but sometimes I would double over on myself, nervous always that a local would spot this cloaked stranger who had such a liking for the street. There wouldn’t be trouble back home so long as my brother hadn’t disturbed the house coming back late at night. In that case, my absence would surely be noticed. But as I returned, slipping in at the back, all seemed still. The day could begin again.
I can’t say that I was much liked by my family. The whole family was swallowed up by the interminable grip of business. There seemed to be little need or room for me. Not being a son, I could contribute little, although I did my fair share in the workshop when required. For the most part I was left alone. They seemed in no rush to marry me off. Cheaper to keep me than to pay another to keep me. I knew, though, that my time was running out. Soon I would have to be given over. It was a horrible thought. On those nights that I was not with her, I would lie thinking about what was going to be forced on me. Sometimes I imagined wildly that my chosen unwanted would not want me either and that we could live two distant, separate lives within the household. Other times I felt with graphic intensity the terrible duty that would be required. On those nights the sheets turned damp from sweat, of cold, dripping fear.
As I dressed for the second time, this time in the inconspicuous clothes of a young woman, I ran the scenes of last night through my mind. She was still on me: her weight, her smell, her feeling. The thought made me half mad with such a confused rush that I had to sit down. The stool rocked uncertainly underneath me. I felt myself to be turned inside out, half wild with despair and pleasure. The situation was so impossible that I laughed with a choke, spluttering quickly into quietness. The room straightened itself up properly again. Time to work.
Work was duty after duty. Task to perform, small, menial, endless. But I had free roam of the streets and I was my own person out of the house. Not being of class enough to limit my movement, as long as I kept my wits about me the streets were mine to perform. I liked best of all to shadow behind beautiful men, noting the swagger of their hips, the placement of the hand, the kick of the boot. I would mime the kick under my skirts, storing it all for later when I could become alive before my love. As my girdle clinked against my legs I would imagine it to be heavier, the weight of a cool sword on my thigh. Always, I was watching. If I could, I went down to the waterside, though this was easier said than done. I so obviously did not belong there that my presence attracted enough attention to cause trouble. But I wanted to learn, I wanted to look. So I trailed through the grime, head tipped down enough to see but catch no-one’s eyes. Calls and whistles soon followed me. I had just enough street sign to gesture a few select obscenities; enough to stun them to allow for me to dive away. I chose my clothes carefully on occasions I wanted to make it waterside.
Within the city, which still seemed vast and uncontainable, I had one lover and one friend. My love was trapped in the day, bound by her wealth to remain indoors. I didn’t know how she could bear to be so observed. My life was invisible. It had only gained shape through her regard, filling in with every kiss, every touch. Without her I could feel that shape flickering. It was ready to lose form without it. I would take only her look, I vowed. I would not be seen by any other. My one friend, a girl from a friendly neighbouring workshop, had an invisible enough life too. She was not like me, but we had known each other for so long things like that didn’t matter anymore. I could trust her, and her me. On more than one occasion I had played the part for her sake, delivering secret messages t to her sweetheart, a sickly-seeming boy with little hopes other than for her.
Today I decided to go and visit my friend. And on my way, the incredible happened. A cart went barrelling down the street, too fast. Someone called out for the driver to be careful at the corner, but it was too late. Two carriages collided, the fall of the horses pulling the second carriage over at a sickening speed, so that all was noise and confusion. The world seemed to explode with things. Wares were suddenly suspended in the air before crashing down in a hopeless wave. Everywhere people seemed to rush about, and the smell of shit and blood newly mingled together in the air. Things spread across the street, turning the road into a living, crawling carpet. Towards me, a single sovereign rolled to me with solemn intent. I picked it up and looked at it. I had never taken anything from the street that wasn’t mine before. But following some impulse of the coin I placed it within my skirts. Turning slowly on my heel, I walked straight out of the scene and through a clutch of streets. My head didn’t turn to the side for an instant. I knew, though, that my cheeks must be flushed as I could feel the heat rising and constricting my sides. My head span. Coins were not normally mine to keep. But this – my fingers itched irresistibly for it – was for me, and my love.
I knew without fully knowing what I should use it for. It was too paltry a sum to buy my independence outright, but it could allow me to realise myself. I headed for the market. I wanted a dead man’s clothes. Before reaching the market, I passed through the streets of the goldsmiths and lingered longingly there. My pound would not stretch far in this district. But at the tattier end, where used items were sold, there I could find what I wanted. It was there, waiting for me. Its shine was the lick of my love’s lips, its soft curves all-feeling. The sovereign longed to be reunited with its brood. I argued for it, pleading for it to be allowed to come home with me. Eventually, wrested from its owner, it was mine. I caressed it all over.
The trip to the market brought its goods too. With pennies left, I was back in my solitary room, pacing until nightfall. In the dark I awoke to return. This time it was for the last time. With a half regretful glance back my old home, I left. Slipping through soft veils of shadow I arrived for her. I found my way through the usual means and soon I was pressed close by the candlelight, feeling for her against coarse linen. She wondered at myself, as I stood proud in my market self. I was anew and for her. My hands found the ring and pressed it over her unsuspecting finger. My betrothed, I told her.
As it had each day before, the morning woke again. This time I left intact. Bound, attired, I promised her I would return. How, I did not know yet, but I would return. I would not let her be taken by another. We chose this together.
The pulp fiction novel Odd Girl Out by Ann Bannon was published in 1957. This was the first novel Bannon wrote in the Beebo Brinker Chronicles, and it was the first lesbian pulp fiction book I ever bought. I was inspired to buy it after listening to a talk by historian Dr Amy Tooth Murphy on the golden age of lesbian pulp fiction. Dr Murphy’s talk was the first time I had properly understood the LGBTQ+ history could be possible as an academic field. It helped me to develop a love of historical lesbian fiction and a pride in my own identity.
During the first lockdown last year, Jana found a small oil painting painting by Mary Stella Edwards online. It is signed using her pseudonym “ALLETS” – Stella spelled backwards!
Mary Stella Edwards and Judith Ackland were two painters and artists who lived together and collaborated, spending much time in their cabin in Bucks Mills in North Devon. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum own some of Edwards’s and Ackland’s paintings, and we are keen to explore their life and work as part of this project.
Queering the Museum: Creating, Uncovering and Celebrating LGBTQ+ Heritage at RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery)
We are looking to commission 2 QTIPOC (Queer/Transgender/Intersex People of Colour) performance makers or writers to each create a short digital piece in response to the RAMM collections (https://rammcollections.org.uk).
The performance piece should also respond to one of the Out and About: Queering the Museum project themes:
Home, Belonging and Exile
Freelance Fee: £1,000 (excl. VAT)
Start: 22nd March 2021
Location: Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter
This commission is part of a 12-month project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Curators and engagement specialists at RAMM will work together with Prof Jana Funke from the University of Exeter and socially engaged artist and writer Natalie McGrath to empower lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities in the South West to uncover, create and share existing and new LGBTQ+ heritage at the RAMM. LGBTQ+ heritage embedded in the rich collections at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) will be revealed and celebrated as part of this major new collaboration.
As part of this commission, artists will work with Natalie McGrath who is this project’s Writer in Residence and its Creative Heritage Producer, Prof Jana Funke (University of Exeter) and Eleanor Coleman (RAMM).
Creative and dramaturgical support for writing/performance processes will be given by Natalie McGrath.
What are we looking for:
Short digital performance/creative writing pieces between 5 and 10 minutes in duration, to be written and performed by the commissioned artists. The content created will be shared digitally, and commissioned artists will also be asked to speak about the work produced at an online event.
Pieces will be in response to RAMM collections to make visible LGBTQ+ Heritage.
Please submit an expression of interest including:
Name, contact details and current address.
A 300-word pitch (written or recorded audio/video) of what your initial idea in responding to RAMM collections might be.
(Please note it is okay for this to change throughout the process. We recognise that ideas evolve.)
A 200-word summary (written or recorded audio/video) of your experience as a performance maker to date, including a list of any web links and publications (print and digital).
An example of your work (e.g. link to a short film, website, piece of writing). No more than 5 pages maximum for written pieces.
What you would hope to achieve by being part of this project and in undertaking this commission? OR: Why is it important to you to be part of a project such as this? No more than 200 words (written or recorded audio/video).
The deadline for expressions of interest is 5th March 2021.
Selected performers shall be informed by 19th March 2021.
Project will take place between 22nd March – 31st May 2021.
Online event date is TBC (May 2021)
Submissions will be reviewed by members of the Queering the Museum Core team.
Decisions will be made based on programming a variety of responses that are dynamic in presenting a range of queer perspectives to a live audience.
Please submit your expression of interest and supporting material to Prof Jana Funke (email@example.com). We welcome inquiries via email and are happy to discuss the project informally. Please contact Jana if you have any questions whatsoever (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In light of the nature of this position, we consider the candidate’s racial/ethnic origins and sexual and/or gender identity to be a Genuine Occupational Requirement in accordance with Para 1, Schedule 9, of the Equality Act 2010. Therefore we are only requesting applications from people of colour who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, non-binary, gender diverse or gender-questioning.
How do queer, trans and gender diverse people relate to religion and faith? And how might we relate to the religious collections at RAMM?
Religion and faith are one of the core themes of Out and About: Queering the Museum at RAMM. At this event, Writer In Residence Natalie McGrath shared an early-stage creative response to two translated love letters between lesbian medieval nuns. Natalie’s writing has also been inspired by medieval objects from RAMM’s collections and she has been exploring representations of queer people of faith from the medieval period and beyond. In addition, Natalie will consider the process of writing during a pandemic and ideas around where writing and devotion meet.
To frame the reading, Prof Jana Funke (University of Exeter) drew on her research on lesbian and trans history, to explore how people in the past engaged with different religious beliefs and faiths to understand their gender and sexual identities. Jana’s research focuses on LGBTQ+ writers who engaged with Christianity and found meaning within religious ritual, community and iconography.
We were delighted that Belinda Dillon from Exeter City of Literature, one of our project partners, joined us to open the event.
The event was hosted by Ellie Coleman, one of our project co-directors, and Engagement Officer at RAMM.
Learn more about Caleb Parkin’s work on the project more widely in the following video.
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