On September 29 and 30, local music and art festival Gender Unbound, brought together the transgender and intersex communities in and around Austin.
Story by Miles Eackles
Photos by Ashley Nava
Held at Blue Genie Art Bazaar art gallery in East Austin and run by locals, the festival showcased an array of work from trans and intersex artists, musicians, performers and filmmakers. At a time in which gender nonconforming people are ostracized for not identifying as cisgender (a gender identity that reflects one’s assigned sex at birth), an event that highlights their talents is a vital step forward. It not only provides needed space for artists to connect and uplift each other, but also further normalizes trans and intersex representation. Gender Unbound showcased the humanity and talents of people who do not subscribe to the rules that biological determinism presents.
According to The National Center of Transgender Equality, 46% of participants experienced verbal assault because of their identity and 9% had been physically assaulted. In a time where these statistics are a reality, it is imperative to ensure a safe environment. Media representation in shows such as “Pose” on FX and celebrities like Laverne Cox are shedding genderqueerness in a positive light.
The festival was hosted by Gender Portraits, a nonprofit project sponsored by Austin Creative Alliance and supported partly by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department. Gender Portraits was created by and for the local transgender and intersex community. According to their website, the purpose of their initiative is “to center and amplify our voices as the agents of our own stories.”
Over the weekend, the festival displayed a variety of artistic mediums to entertain all who attended. The event featured performances by local musicians like GirlFriendATX, international performers including Cuban hip-hop duo Krudas Cubensi and a film screening by local director Lisa Donato.
The screening entitled “There You Are”, told a compelling story about a transgender woman who was only allowed to wear masculine-presenting clothing in order to see his dying grandmother. The reaction of the crowd was somber. However, Donato’s choice to highlight such a relatable but devastating experience was certainly appreciated by the audience.
Walking around the gallery, I could feel a sense of camaraderie amongst the crowd and a feeling of jubilation that was unmatched by any other festival I have attended. Unlike busy and highly populated festivals, Gender Unbound Art Fest was enjoyably laidback, and provided opportunity for attendees to interact with each other. From paintings to clothing, it was apparent that a lot of time went into everyone’s work.
Other activities included community yoga with Kelly Marshall of Spectrum Yoga Therapy and a visual arts and vendor showcase that presented the works of various transgender and intersex people of all ages. Festival coordinators also provided on-site access for free HIV testings, voter registration and trans/intersex support groups.
According to the Austin Chronicle, executive director Drew Riley’s frustrations was the initial seed that became Gender Unbound. “All the questions I had and all of the frustrations I had trying to explain who I was to other people were born from not having community, not having language, not having role models or examples of what being transgender could look like,” Riley says.
To eliminate economic barriers and further express creativity, the festival does not charge artists to showcase their work. Community support is crucial to the life of the event. Now in its third year, the amount of artist submissions have tripled. Being able to transform what began as an evening event into a weekend-long festival proves the positive effect Gender Unbound has had on Austin’s transgender and intersex community.
Festival attendee Frankie Jenkins was thankful for the unifying atmosphere the weekend provided. “A majority of the people here are either trans or intersex which is so rare,” Jenkins says. “I don’t feel like the only trans person in the room. I got to directly support and interact with other trans/intersex artists and hear their stories which was very freeing and inspirational.”
The festival ended in burlesque, drag and dance parties ignited by various DJs and drag queens.
Missing those festival vibes? Check out this ORANGE Magazine Spotify playlist to hear our favorite bops by trans and nonbinary artists.