Policing Gender is an installation of photographs and audio that explores trans and queer identities in the context of mass incarceration. The photographs in Policing Gender invite viewers to consider metaphorical representations of absence and surveillance, while the audio clearly situates the project in the context of queer imprisonment.
The 30x40 inch photographs of fabrics in the series evoke renaissance and baroque portraiture (as well as early photographs mimicking painting), but with no figures present, these images are meditations on absence—people missing from our communities, missing from history, absent from view. The 16X24 inch black and white, aerial photographs were created from a hot air balloon and refer to flight, freedom, surveillance, and restraint. The aerial point of view allows me to question my privilege in relation to the prison industrial complex and invite viewers to consider their positions.
The audio was created from conversations with pen pals with whom I have been writing on a long-term basis. I made a conscious decision to connect the audience to the experiences of these prisoners through interactions with their voices, rather than through my lens.
The title, “Policing Gender,” refers to the surveillance, policing, and punishment of LGBTQ bodies in the United States—a phenomenon most commonly visualized by the violent police raids of gay and lesbian bars in the 1950s, 60’s, but that started at least a century earlier and continues today. Consider the unwarranted arrests of transgender women (especially women of color), the disproportionate regulation of “public indecency” laws that target gay men (particularly of color), and the longer prison sentences given to queer youth as compared to their gender/sexual normative peers (Grant et al., 2011; Mogul et al., 2011).
The title also refers to the tacit social contract that sexually and gender non-conforming individuals will be ostracized, shamed, physically harmed, and, in short, discriminated against in all aspects of public life (remembering that this is especially true for people of color, youth, immigrants, differently abled, and poor people).
In this age of mass incarceration in the United States, I believe it is crucial to address the overt and subtle ways we are policed and punished. As part of this ongoing project, I am sharing information about the simple, radical, and transformative act of becoming a pen pal. To learn more write me email@example.com.
I am grateful for the generous project grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council of Portland that made this project a reality. I also remain in awe of and indebted to the education, passion, and radical politics of the people at Beyond These Walls, Black and Pink, and Critical Resistance Portland.
Grant, Jaime M., Lisa A. Mottet, Justin Tanis, Jack Harrison, Jody L. Herman, and Mara Keisling. Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2011.
Mogul, Joey L., Ritchie, Andrea J., Whitlock, Kay, Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 2011.