Beyond the binary

'TransFabulous' gallery at downtown library

Community Engagement Librarian Ray Lockman (left) and artist grey doolin helped coordinate the "TransFabulous: Beyond the Binary" gallery at Minneapolis Central Library. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

The world is set up in a binary way, artist grey doolin said, so that trans people don’t often see themselves reflected.

An exhibit at Hennepin County Library — Minneapolis Central is aiming to help change that.

“TransFabulous: Beyond the Binary” opened Dec. 3 in the Cargill Hall gallery in the downtown library. It features 39 pieces of artwork created by artists who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming.

The exhibit shows the diversity of the trans community, said Ray Lockman, community engagement librarian at Minneapolis Central. It also provides affirmation to the trans community, which often isn’t represented in the world.

“What we heard is that it was powerful — and in some cases healing — to have a venue and a visible venue, and with institutional support, too,” Lockman said. “People were amazed that it was being shown here.”

“TransFabulous” is in its second year as an exhibit. Hennepin County Library has also hosted a series of “TransFabulous” art workshops for adults and teens, led by transgender and gender nonconforming artists.

The curators of the exhibit accepted varying styles of art, from paintings to greeting cards and fiber art. The only guideline was that the artists should be trans or gender nonconforming themselves, Lockman said.

The idea, they said, was that the artists should be able to tell their own stories and give their own perspectives.

People with privilege and normative people see themselves reflected in the world, doolin said. But trans people constantly often have to make space for themselves, from places like bathrooms to offices and art galleries, they said.

It sends a powerful message to have an exhibit like “TransFabulous” so visible and centrally located, Lockman and doolin said.

Nicole Vanderheiden, chief administrator of the organization Transforming Families, a nonprofit that supports transgender and gender nonconforming youth and their families, said the exhibit can help people understand that trans identities are diverse. Transforming Families is co-presenting the exhibit with Hennepin County Library.

There are a lot of tropes, or stereotypes, when it comes to the trans community, and most are discriminatory, Vanderheiden said. But the trans community in reality has great racial and ethnic diversity as well as diversity in gender, she said.

“Trans doesn’t mean one thing and encompass one set of feelings and identities,” Lockman said, “but it means infinite things depending on who you ask.”

Lockman noted how the curators were careful to have an artist’s statement accompany each piece. That statement gives part of the story behind the art, which they said is part of the lesson.

“Sometimes there’s a lot of exhibitionism or tokenism around trans people,” doolin said. “So what I like about this, too, is that you get to see the world as sort of told by or experienced by this artist.”

Lockman said their favorite part of the exhibit is how the works talk to each other. The curators were careful about how they placed the works, they said, to create a flow and conversation between pieces.

“The video speaks to the music, speaks to the fiber, speaks to the photography,” Lockman said, “so it’s like everything is bouncing off each other.”

“TransFabulous” is funded for another two years through Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Lockman said they feel lucky to work for the Hennepin County Library, adding that the library is turning more toward authentically engaging communities and allowing communities to reflect themselves.

“I think we’re doing that better and better, and that’s personally and professionally rewarding and meaningful to me,” they said. “We’re able to serve everyone better when things like this are welcomed and included in what we do.”

If you go:

“TransFabulous: Beyond the Binary”

What: An exhibit of works by local artists who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming

When: Now through Jan. 5

Where: Cargill Hall gallery (second floor) at Minneapolis Central Library (300 Nicollet Mall)

The gallery is free and open to the public