A Transman Speaks Out on LGBTQ Allyship, DOMA, and Eating a Cookie

Tyler Bennet's self-portraits track his transgender transformation

Tyler Bennet’s self-portraits track his transgender transformation

Tyler is a student at Art Center in the Fine Art Program. Last week OutNetwork, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Student Club along with the Center for the Student Experience and Tyler led an Awareness and Ally Day at both campuses; encouraging staff, students and faculty to wear red and outwardly honor their commitment to a diverse and inclusive Art Center. Tyler’s work centers on large-scale photographs of his gender transition and daily life as a transgender man (transman.). Tyler is the current President of the Art Center Student Union, Vice President of the Art Center Service Club and the Director of Student Concerns on Student Government.

When I came to Art Center a few years ago I never could have imagined that I would be making 12’ photos of vulnerable parts of my life/body, sitting in countless committee meetings or walking down the hallway pinky promising students to take a nap. In my first few terms I observed the extreme work mentality, negation of personal narrative and absence of critical theory dialogue happening in and out the classroom; and ultimately how detrimental this vacuum can be to a creative. I started standing up for a supportive educational model — one where doing things outside of school and a commitment to self-care is viewed as integral to success in the studio. When I started taking testosterone as part of my gender transition I became even more aware of the need to bring these things into the present educational dialogue, also remarking on the exploitation and exoticism of minority populations in design work; including that of gender non-conforming people.

Self-portrait by Tyler Bennett

Self-portrait by Tyler Bennett

I set out to do work that was different than what I saw, ethical post-colonial work about myself. Working on a participatory documentary model, which asserts that only by giving control to the subject can transparency be achieved, I started taking photographs of the humanity of my daily life and the unkempt parts of squeezing myself into a breast binder each morning (it feels like being in a sausage casing.) The work has become a documentation of the performance of transition, going through a second puberty, re-learning social gender norms; highlighting the vulnerability in us all.. It is my hope to inspire students in all disciplines to bring their convictions, dirty laundry and winningness, to the week 14 process.

The inaugural Ally Day last week was another step in this journey of culture shift. The outpouring of support from all populations was tremendous, and shows that Art Center is capable of joining together for collective action to influence change. Even meeting opposition to a gender non-specific bathroom placed in the school for a week, an important step towards supportive structures for trans people, I uncovered how much enthusiastic ally-ship exists, and how far we have yet to go as an institution and society at large toward acceptance, competence and consistency. The repeal of DOMA and Prop 8 yesterday was another victory for queer people, opening up new potential for equality and stability in our daily lives. I haven’t lived a life where I am not discriminated against because of something I didn’t choose and cannot change. This momentum offers great hope and to me  those I love and those who don’t have a voice.

Here’s my plea. Don’t be anybody but you, and show it off because you’re fabulous. Make the work that needs to be done, the kind of work you want to see in the world. Be kind to yourself, and remember to eat a cookie now and again.

– Tyler Bennett

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