Giving communities a voice

The Museum of Transology allows people to choose how they reflect their own experiences
Caroline Parry
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The Museum of Transology was commissioned by the Fashion Space Gallery at the London College of Fashion in 2017 and ran at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery from July 2019 to January 2020.

Both the collection and the interpretation were gathered from the trans community, and the labels were handwritten, using the contributor’s terminology to reflect their experiences.

The museum’s curator, E-J Scott, says that the trans community often feels overlooked or misinterpreted by traditional museum labels and captions.

“Frequently, the trans community has looked for trans people in history, but their stories are not there,” Scott says. “Our labels are about the community for the community. I wanted people to use terminology they choose to reflect their own experience.”

Initially, Scott collected objects and labels through workshops. Once the museum was big enough to do mini pop-up exhibitions, there was a social media call-out for objects.

Each object is assigned one label, brown parcel tags, and everyone is limited to 50 words.

“This gave me a structure and visual format to make sense of in the gallery,” Scott says. “It also means no story has prominence over another.”

Crucially, every label is handwritten: some beautifully, others not, some complete with spelling mistakes.

The labels are never typed and never corrected. “There is power in the label being crafted by the individual and not tampered with by a museum authority,” Scott says.

“Having people write the labels themselves is an intrinsic part of empowering people to fight the invisibility of their lives both now and in the history of museums.”

In retrospect, Scott would have liked to have had the classic provenance details of the objects in the collection: “We could have talked more about where items were from, how much they cost and looked at what that says about their broader identity. It would offer a second layer of interpretation.”

How that information can be collected from the beginning of a project is something Scott is working on as the model develops, in conjunction with Brighton Art Gallery.

“It is integrating departments that don’t usually work together, and making them think conceptually about their roles,” says Scott. “It is a different way of working, all driven by labels.”

Scott, who also works with Tate, admits the task facing the wider museum sector is a big one but that “every little bit is helping and changing good practice”.

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