Over the years, my art has really mirrored my personal life, at least once I started to make work about my gender, which didn’t start until the 3rd year of my undergraduate program at Maine College of Art. During that time I used my art as a kind of therapy as I experimented and played with my gender. I used it as a tool to forge my path, to unravel my socialization and remake myself.
Soon after processing and coming out through my art, I started to look outside my life and personal reality for inspiration. I wanted to know what it meant to be transgender in this world. How and where people like me fit into communities, laws, history, the medical industry, and all facets of life.
I learned about the two spirited Native Americans were fed to dogs when the Spaniards came. That in the 1950’s here in the states it was illegal to wear less than 3 articles of clothing that matched your sex. That at that time, in 2007, in most states transgender people could be denied housing, employment, proper medical care, the use of a bathroom, marriage and children on top of the daily discrimination in all other activities.
I became passionate about my trans history, and angry about the capacity for cruelty and apathy. That’s when I started a series called Know Your Rights Know Your Nation to bring awareness to the frightening and enduring pattern of violence and discrimination against transgender people.
I started to create visual displays of my research. I made a map of the US (Trans Terror Alert) that indicates the general safety of transgender people in each state. I determined each states safety based on their hate crime and non-discrimination laws. At that time more than 30 states were red / unsafe. I also made a memorial (Trans Walkway) for my transgender ancestors that were reported murdered from the mid 70’s to 2008. To say the least, doing the research and creating those works was really difficult work. After finishing my BFA I took a break from my work to rest, start my transition and apply to grad school.
When I arrived at Indiana University to start my MFA, I picked up where I had left off in my undergrad by researching negative and highly charged information.
Needless to say, the beginning of my grad school experience was filled with work that was angry, reactive and aggressive. It seemed to point fingers and place blame at those I believed to be at the root of discriminatory practices, as well as any and all who did now wholly support my cause, almost condemning them, the very thing I was against others doing.
It took a long time to realize, but I was not in a very good place. All that anger and negative energy in my work was mirrored in my daily life in the form of anxiety, poor self-care, and substance use.
But over time I began to change. It started when I quit smoking cigarettes and it became clear to me how drastically that decision had changed my future. I realized that I had the opportunity and strength to heal, and to make decisions and choices that instead of creating bad cycles and feelings, could create positive ones.
That realization started a chain reaction of empowering changes and goals in my life – mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Most importantly – I started to tune into my internal states and feelings, and to listen to my self-talk, which at first sounded like a constant negative loop of thoughts like “I’m not good enough, I can’t do this, this is too hard” which of course was the cause of my anxiety, and lack of self-care. But over time, with practice, I adopted a positive self-talk through affirmations and by constantly questioning my limiting beliefs. I believe that this practice, among others, has brought me more feelings of happiness and fulfillment in my daily life.
As my work has always been a reflection of myself, it also started to change. I couldn’t continue to make angry, negative work when I was working so hard to be positive. So I had to reconsider my motives, ideas and research. I started to learn about social psychology, neuroscience and social influence. I wanted to know how our brains make connections and how negative connections, associations, or patterns can be broken.
I learned about the links between a person’s beliefs, thoughts and actions. That thinking is a never-ending process, and while we cannot stop thinking, we do possess the ability to determine the quality of our thoughts.
Henry Ford said; “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right” And that’s what I believe it all really comes down to. Our beliefs about ….well everything really – ourselves, other people, the whole world, and the way we think, or talk about everything has a direct impact on the actions and outcomes of our lives, the lives of others, and yea, the whole world.
I know that I always had some anxiety in my life, but once I started questioning my gender, and started to unintentionally absorb and claim negative cultural beliefs about transgender people, beliefs like – there is something wrong with me, that I am susceptible to doing bad things, or that others will want to cause me harm, once I started to accept those beliefs as my own, my anxiety and panic took over. I struggled with self-shaming and self-hatred for far to long because I believed that was what I deserved. But using my artwork and some mental training, I took control and responsibility of my thoughts and words, challenged myself to think and believe better of myself, and I am better for it.
Overall, I think we have to be aware of what kind of energy we are putting out into the world, because it reproduces itself and very often comes back around, so I encourage you to be more aware of your choice of words, whether or not you verbalize them, and to always look for the good and try to create more of it.