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Stonewall focus: ‘Transsexual Empire’ captures the nuances of the Black trans experience

Editor’s note: I took both sections of my MCJ 2 (Media Writing) class to the Fresno State exhibition “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall,” which traveled here after opening at the Brooklyn Museum in 2019, and asked my students to write about it. For some, it was the first time they’d ever been to an art exhibition. The responses were varied, thoughtful and inspiring. I’ve selected two of those articles, by Arianna Dominico and Tyler D’Errico, to publish as a sort of valedictory wave goodbye to this remarkable and moving exhibition. It’s my way of tipping my hat to the efforts of those who brought it to campus.


By Arianna Dominico

Vibrant colors, boundary-pushing visuals, and powerful messages: Three things you should expect to encounter at “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall,” an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the six-day rebellion sparked by a routine police raid at the Stonewall Inn.

Pictured above: Detail of Juliana Huxtable’s ‘Transsexual Empire.’ Photograph courtesy of artist and Reena Spaulings Fine Art, NY/LA

This limited-time showcase aims to raise awareness regarding gender, sexual orientation, and race-based oppression through the artwork of 28 young LGBTQ+ artists. Each piece has its own story, whether it is giving us an inside look at living conditions during the Stonewall era, or visualizing the struggles of being a part of the queer community during the past and present. One print in particular, “Transsexual Empire,” represents the exhibition as a whole.

“It’s the danger of being trans — especially, being Black and trans,” said Meghan Cartier, the programming coordinator at Fresno State’s Center for Creativity and the Arts.

Juliana Huxtable, the artist behind “Transsexual Empire,” is an LGBTQ+ artist, writer, performer, and DJ who illustrates themes of oppression through many forms of artwork, her obscure and animated prints catching the eyes of many. “Huxtable’s work is incredibly unique,” Cartier says. “Her use of unique yet significant illustrations paired with shades of neon and phrases never heard before really draws you in.”

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As soon as your gaze lands on one of Huxtable’s pieces, you are captivated by the uniqueness, feeling the need to unveil the deeper meaning behind what you’re seeing. Those factors apply to “Transsexual Empire.”

The eccentric graphic displays the outline of a human figure, who has both male and female physical characteristics, spreading their legs to reveal yet another figure. This one appears to present as more feminine, laying in a sensual position while glaring at the onlooker. Sea green bold letters write “Transsexual Empire!!!” above the two, followed by sporadic phrases and quotes in the same font. They include: “Number of Swedish children wanting to change gender doubles each year,” and “Metrosexual, homosexual, bisexual, now pansexual!”

One sentence stands out from the rest. It is placed below the figures and printed slightly larger than the others, reading: “Effeminization is the only process. The last desperate attempt that survival-oriented Afrikan males can strike back against the enemy without attacking the real source of their fears about their own manhood.”


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This quote ties in with the main point of this piece, and really, the entire exhibition, speaking about the hardships Black transgender people face and how the concept of such is not accepted easily. Effeminization means having feminine qualities untypical of a man. Or, rather, not manly in appearance or manner. The complications these individuals have with the desire to be themselves is devastating; in many cases, Black trans people are being disowned by their own families and discriminated against in the streets, having to fend for themselves in a world littered with oppression against such ideals.

Although many find these topics uncomfortable to talk about and tend to stay away from such conversations, it is important to realize that this is an active problem in our society. This exhibition, and the original one at the Brooklyn Museum, are both actively raising awareness of these social obstacles. Both hold significant symbols of the drawbacks of being both Black and a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Huxtable and other artists showcased in “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow” aim to bring those issues to which we often turn a blind eye to light, presenting the reality of what the Black and queer community faces. Not just during Stonewall, but in the present as well.


Arianna Dominico is a freshman MCJ major at Fresno State. She wrote this story for Donald Munro’s MCJ 2 (Media Writing) class in the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism.


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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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