In October 2008, the Scottish Transgender Alliance started running a transgender creative expression group called TRANSforming Arts. It was the first ever transgender-specific creative expression group run in Scotland.
The group was developed to be a safe and supportive way to empower transgender people in Scotland to create their own representations of their lives and experiences and increase their confidence sufficiently for them to be comfortable performing their work live in front of small audiences.
The group’s principal facilitator is Jo Clifford – a playwright who is experienced in using creative performance to explore transgender experiences. She explains why the group is so important:
One of the real difficulties transgendered people face is that our self-expression is silenced. In our fear and our shame, we often leave behind the painful limitations of the gender into which we were born and then submerge ourselves in the gender which we know to be our true home. But our experience of transformation is immensely valuable: and our voices deserve to be heard. The group consists of transgender people who all express their gender identity in different ways. What unites us is our determination to express and celebrate that difference through words; through publication and performance. Participation in this group has had a profoundly positive effect on all our lives.
Although the TRANSforming Arts group was primarily set up simply as a way to increase accurate and positive public representations of transgender experiences in Scotland, it has become very clear that the provision of the TRANSforming Arts group also significantly improves the general mental wellbeing and coping skills of the participants:
One of the group participants explains:
I joined the TRANSforming Arts Group shortly after my transition commenced last year. At that time I was very isolated. In my day to day life, I never met any trans people, I had no one who I could share my worries and concerns with, at least no one who actually understood what I meant without having to explain everything from the basics. The group, despite representing a very diverse range of transgender people, has for the first time in my life given me a sense of community.Through the group I have not only become more confident in my writing skills, but I have also found ways of articulating and coming to terms with various issues from my past, such as my alcoholism and attempted suicide. A concrete example of the direct benefit of the group is that, only a couple of months ago I was driven to consider self-harm when I became overwhelmed by circumstances at that time, but instead of self-harming, I chose to capture the feelings in writing, by which time the urge had passed.
Achievements so far:
During the 2010/2011 financial year, the Scottish Transgender Alliance ran a TRANSforming Arts residential writing retreat exploring Relationships for transgender people at the end of January 2011.
During the 2009/2010 financial year, the Scottish Transgender Alliance worked in partnership with the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) and artist Dave Sherry to run weekly TRANSforming Arts Community Outreach Visual Art Workshops from 26th March 2009 to 18th June 2009 followed by an Exhibition, ‘Rendering Gender’, of the resulting Artwork from 25th June 2009 to 23rd August 2009. This formed part of GoMA’s fourth biennial ‘Contemporary Art and Human Rights’ Social Justice Programme (sh:[OUT]!). The weekly 2 hour evening workshops consisted of a mixture of group discussions exploring participants’ views of gender diversity and refining their ideas for how to represent their experiences artistically and training in a range of artistic techniques uncluding sculpture, digital art and video work, drawing and painting. There were over 100,000 visitors to the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art’s free sh:[OUT]! exhibition space during the period when the Scottish Transgender Alliance’s ‘Rendering Gender’ transgender community art exhibition was a key part of the sh[OUT]! exhibition artwork on public display.
During the 2008/2009 financial year, fourteen intensive TRANSforming Arts creative writing workshops were run, mostly held in the Glasgow LGBT Centre. The TRANSforming Arts participants performed selections of their creative writing to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20th November 2008 and to mark LGBT History Month in Glasgow on 5th February 2009 and in Edinburgh on 21st February 2009.