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10th November, 2021

Dr Rachel Hann: Why Trans Performance Matters


Event Details

10th November, 2021
18:30 - 20:00

This paper offers an introduction to my initial survey of performance works by trans artists to investigate political self-determinism in the early 21st century.

‘Trans performance’ is used here as a loose umbrella term for performance work developed by and for trans people. Built upon a survey from 2010 onwards, I argue that self affirmed trans performance has began to undertake an aesthetic and political turn away from autobiographic narratives – aimed at educating cis (non-trans) audiences – to offering tools for trans liberation. Artists such as Emma Frankland, Travis Alabanza, and Tabby Lamb have all stated a need to transgress the troupe of the traumatic trans story and instead offer social models of trans joy. I propose that our current social model is one of ‘cisgenderism’; or the social and legal preference of cis experience over trans experience.

I argue that a new wave of trans performance works is seeking to offer a platform for identifying and negotiating the tactics of cisgenderism. Indeed, I propose that this shift is marked by a turn towards trans audiences. No longer focused on educating cis audiences on the impact of infantilising trans folk (where cis people act as gatekeepers to medical, social and political reform), this shift, I suggest, is focused on modelling trans self determinism beyond cis social imaginaries. I ask: what role can trans performance play in investigating models of trans liberation? What does it mean to make performance for trans audiences? I conclude with a brief manifesto for studying trans performance within the social, political, and legal contexts of cisgenderism.

Dr Rachel Hann is Senior Lecturer in Performance and Design at Northumbria University, Newcastle. Her research is focused on the material cultures of scenography, costume and architecture. She is author of Beyond Scenography (Routledge 2019), which was shortlisted for the Prague Quadrennial 2019 Publication Prize. In 2013, Rachel co-founded the research network Critical Costume and in 2014 co-edited a special issue of Scene (Intellect) on costume.

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