When David and I reached the fourth floor voices rose from down the hall to the left. We turned and saw a few people gathered by an open door. Once we stepped through the door into Wrong Brain Headquarters the buzz of dozens of excited people shot us full of energy. The room was packed with people of all sizes and ages, with long hair and short, facial hair and tattoos and bright clothes and black leggings, jeans and skirts and dresses and blazers, people standing and sitting and talking in groups, exclaiming at the art and greeting friends.
David went off to look at the exhibition — This Is What TRANS Feels Like, hosted by Wrong Brain, a nonprofit arts organization in Dover that “aims to provide an outlet and venue for unconventional, under-represented and emerging art of all kinds.”
I got caught by a rack of brightly colored zines — hot pink, orange and purple covers with black text and fantastical drawings. A sign announced the zines were free and I began stacking one of each in my hands. What great colors and images for collages, what a resource for burrowing in to the world of Wrong Brain.
A old friend greeted me and I noticed her tag (David and I had been swept into the room right past the welcome table) had her name, as well as her preferred pronouns — she, her. I looked around and saw everyone’s name tag included their choice of pronouns, both gender binary and neutral. I felt like I’d found a refuge.
I read a lot of news — daily doses of the NYTimes, the Concord Monitor, the Washington Post, and then clicks off Twitter into The Guardian, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, BBC, Politico, The Hill. Despair can be hard to push back because it feels like tolerance, respect and kindness are all being pushed back. Suddenly black and brown people more than ever are fair game for overt hatred and discrimination, Muslims are terrorists, gay people are deviants and transgender people are just plain weird.
Well not in Dover, NH last Friday night. The exhibition was put together to give artists a place to express “what it means to be transgender and the unique experiences transgender Granite Staters face.” What a relief, to still be able to walk into a room of people ready to celebrate diversity, to look at art that comes out of struggle and pain, to witness courage in expression.
In “The Gender Series,” a stunning display of nine photographs, Jeff Kramer poses in self-portraits that move from feminine to neutral to masculine. Kramer, a trans man, told Kelly Sennott at The Hippo in an excellent article reviewing the show when it was in Manchester last summer, that “I was going through my transition, and I was having a very hard time. . . . Photography saved my life. By doing this series, I was getting my feelings from the inside to the outside.”
The rest of the wall with Kramer’s series was hung with pieces from trans artists as well as allies. But honestly, I didn’t get to see the rest of the art because David and I were meeting friends for dinner and I’d spent most of the time talking to Beth Wittenberg, a resident artist. She had made many of the zines I picked up and exuded good cheer and enthusiasm and had a lot to say about making art and creating space to welcome others into the process. “Come visit and we’ll make a zine,” she said when I told her I write and make collages.
It was David who led me to the photos. On the adjacent wall was a large, grafitti-like painting by Michelle Rose Pizzo with dark, stylized figures dancing through colors as bright and rich as the zines that had first pulled me when I walked in.
David and I had to leave; there was still so much to see. I want to go back. If you need some reinforcement of your own courage and resistance, go see this show. This is art that says I’m here, art matters, I matter — this is what TRANS feels like.
The show will be up until February 14, at Wrong Brain, Washington Street Mills, 1 Washington Street, Suite #459, Dover, open Monday — Saturday 11 – 5 and Tuesday until 8 p.m. The exhibit, coordinated by Freedom New Hampshire (FNH) in partnership with the ACLU-NH, and Rights and Democracy NH (RAD-NH), is free.
I’ve read all the zines. Amazing, intriguing, wholly inventive. The archived zines on the Wrong Brain website are well worth a visit also.