Transgender artists showcased in monthlong South Florida series

LGBT artists, activists and allies are claiming a piece of South Florida’s cultural scene this month with an events series showcasing the works of local and national transgender painters, writers and filmmakers.

Founder and organizer Aryah Lester, a poet and Miami Beach trans woman, says the 10 participating artists represent “a wide array of art such as painting, spoken word, poetry, couture, and design and writing.”

Lester conceived TransArt about six months ago, long before 1976 Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner revealed herself on the July cover of Vanity Fair and sparked an intense international discussion about transgender men and women.

“The greater exposure of the trans community through the public platform of individuals like Caitlyn Jenner and [South Florida trans teen] Jazz Jennings have definitely made trans individuals a hot topic, affording activists and advocates more media exposure to highlight local projects and programming,” Lester says.

Lester, 35, says TransArt “showcases the trans community in a positive light and gives the uneducated public another dimension to our individuality and creativity.”

“I am an artist. I’m a writer and a poet, and I’ve also just completed my first novel,” she says. “The title is Heart of Twilight. It’s a fantasy novel. It explores an individual’s transitional journey and societal constructs.”

Lester is director and founder of Trans-Miami, a Brickell-based transgender organization that holds regular employment and health workshops for trans people.

TransArt is being co-presented by Unity Coalition/|Coalición Unida, South Florida’s first LGBT group focusing on the Hispanic community. Other sponsors include the LGBT Visitor Center on Washington Avenue and primary sponsor The Betsy-South Beach hotel on Ocean Drive, which also hosts Reading Queer, a series of workshops primarily for LGBT writers in South Florida.

“It’s important for allies to be part of this because every single one of us needs to know we’re not alone, every group, every minority should have the same rights, fairness and opportunities of any other group,” says Herb Sosa, founder and director of Unity Coalition.

Lester first conceived TransArt as a single event at a theater, but after she publicized it on social media, artists applied from across the nation, she says.

“We got a lot of applications, to the amount we had to turn down some individuals this year,” Lester says.

About 10 artists were chosen to participate, including filmmakers whose work will be screened Tuesday at The Betsy. Trans model and TV personality Lauren Foster of South Beach will also read from journalist/activist Janet Mock’s book, Redefining Realness, at the event.

Author Alex Myers (Revolutionary) helped open TransArt with a luncheon appearance Thursday.

Myers, 36, was raised as a girl in the small town of Paris, Maine, and eventually “came out as a guy.”

“I was very much, as a little kid, a classic tomboy, really interested in climbing trees and playing with my brother, not hanging out with girls, hated wearing dresses,” he says.

Now married to a bisexual woman, Myers said he thinks it is easier for a woman to transition to a man than the other way around.

“For a woman to want to be a man is a step up: You’re stepping into power, you’re stepping into privilege,” he says. “But for a man to want to be a woman, you’re losing privileges. There’s a logic to what I did because we’re such a patriarchal society.”

Artist Kate Weakley, 23, of New York City began her transition about a year and a half ago. “That’s when I started hormone replacement therapy,” she says.

Before therapy, Weakley suffered from depression, insomnia and anxiety issues. “A month into it, I didn’t have any of these issues anymore.”

“Finally, I felt I could live my life in a compelling way, not dragged down by these mental issues floating around,” she says. “I still presented as a male for quite a while after starting hormone treatment.”

Two of Weakley’s paintings, which will be displayed at the Betsy and the LGBT Visitor Center, reflect different stages of her transition.

“Dissociation was when I had noticeable breast growth, when I was on hormones for a certain length of time,” she says. The painting of a woman clearly shows her breasts, but her face above the lips is stretched and blurred.

Self-Portrait is actually of two people, a man whose bearded face is broken into pieces and a clearly defined young woman.

“For that piece, I’m the subject matter. The figure on the left is me, as is the figure on the right,” she says. “A couple of years ago, I had a beard. I was trying to fit in with my peers. That’s just where I was at at that time. As I was transitioning, I was not necessarily completely lost — my male ego still exists in some sense. I was raised as male for 22 years, essentially. As I was transitioning and as that male ego was dissipating, it has fragmented. I wanted to capture that with that glitch esthetic. It speaks to a lot of the psychological issues I was experiencing at the time.”

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