Some thoughts about the topic of trans, non-binary, and gender diverse people in the arts

We went for a walk together, because we were so frustrated. This walk developed into this text, which we independently published in August 2019. Feminist Culture House asked to republish it in 2020, and for this it has been slightly edited.

We speak in this text as two forms of a “we” – we = Emilia and Orlan, two art workers from gender minority groups, and as we = trans, non-binary and other gender diverse peoples.

We (Emilia and Orlan) are frustrated with all these events that have been popping up lately, where cisgendered people talk about our stuff. They hold lectures about us–people in gender minority groups–without us. We are not consulted. Our expertise & agency are not taken into account. Cisgendered people are drawing rainbows on the highest buildings, building their careers on making exhibitions about things that do not concern them. Cisgendered people are taking up space in discussions about gender diversity from things that are really important to us but continue to remain unsaid. We need space. We are tired.

Things can’t go on like this.

Gender diversity cannot be a fashion phenomenon that produces interesting content, but does not change oppressive structures. Organisations and institutions have to take responsibility for getting rid of cis-sexism. No more diversity on the account of the oppressed peoples. The oppressive structures do not change without the voices of the oppressed people. Trans people and other gender minorities must be listened to; we have things to say.

This is how things should continue:
– We need role models, peer expertise, space.
– Space is also needed for discussions about gender diversity from different viewpoints, starting points, positions.
– We need knowledges, art and events that do not centre oppression. Our life is great, our communities are great. Our genders and non-genders are great. We want to also talk about all this. We want space for the wonderful things, for ordinary things.

Here, for example, are some points to take into account:
– It’s good to be quiet and listen. 
– When hosting an event about gender diversity, invite people as experts who have, among them, diverse genders. People’s experiences and viewpoints are varied; one person can not be diverse on their own.
– If you as a cis artist are invited to talk or make work about gender diversity, consider stepping aside and giving the opportunity to a non-cis person.
– Use gender neutral language. If a person has told you which words to use about them, only use these words.
– Pay attention to safety and wellbeing of artists / experts before and during of hosting an event.
– Make space for our art.
– Make space for our voices.
– Find information yourself, self-educate. If you need assistance with this, pay trans/ non-binary/gender non-conforming/other gender minority representatives for it.
– Remember that many people exist in intersections of different oppressive structures. Listen to, support and hire many different trans, non-binary and gender diverse artists and art workers. 

These are just a few points that we, Emilia and Orlan, thought of on this walk in 2019. There’s much more to say, follow, do.

In 2020 Feminist Culture House is publishing a Finnish translation of ‘Clear Expectations—guidelines to institutions, galleries and curators working with trans, non-binary and gender diverse artists’, written by Spence Messih and Archie Barry.

Emilia Kokko, performance artist and non-binary queer feminist
Orlan Ohtonen, curator and non-binary trans feminist