'Transformations: A Gender Exploration' exhibit opens at Florida photography museum
In 1978 New Orleans, Mariette Pathy Allen stumbled across a group of people who referred to themselves as "crossdressers." She explored their world through a series of photos that eventually become a book.
WUSF's Daylna Miller recently talked with the photographer about her new exhibit at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, what inspired her, and changing language in the transgender community.
Miller: The new exhibition at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts is called "Transformations: A Gender Exploration" with selections from your book "Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them." Can you tell us more about your inspiration for your book and exhibit?
Allen: In 1978, I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. And just by fluke, stayed in the same hotel, where there was a group of crossdressers. On the last day, I came down for breakfast, carrying my camera equipment, and I was invited by somebody at this table full of very, very glamorous, lavishly dressed women. So they asked me to join them for breakfast, which of course I did.
And then after breakfast, they got up and paraded around a swimming pool, which was right outside of the practice area. And then they stood in a line. And as I held the camera to my eyes, ready to take the picture, I noticed that everybody in the group was looking in different directions, except the person in the middle was looking straight back at me. And when I took the picture, I thought, "I'm not looking at a man or a woman, I'm looking at the essence of a human being."
And I said to myself, "I have to have this person in my life." Well, she turned out to live 20 blocks from me in New York City. And it is through that one person that I got to know a whole world.
Miller: So I want to talk a little bit about language. Your book uses the term crossdressers, which is generally not a term that transgender people use today. Can you talk a little bit about how language changes?
Allen: In the 80s when I took most of these pictures, the transgender community was very careful to divide itself. The crossdressers did not want to be taken for gay; they were very concerned about that. They also didn't want to be taken for transsexuals, and it was very much a focus on gender rather than sexuality. So that was almost the rule. Then gradually, in the 90s, things loosened up. And a lot of the crossdressers just went further and started identifying themselves full time as what they chose to be.
The other thing is, I started spending time with female to male transgender people. And because up until then, they didn't mix. And so it was also a coming together of a range of people. And gradually, there was much more unity. And there was also political activists in the streets in different places.
But it was the precursor of, I would say, life now. And in the 90s, the arguments about self definition were the same as now. And the same questions are being rehashed. So what you're going to see in this exhibition is the beginning of my exploration, but also, I think it's a relatively accurate depiction of how at least some people were at that period.
Mariette Pathy Allen's exhibit also features art from her "Fantasy & Flowers series."
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