Transgender Art: Metanoia
Transgender art comes around rarely, I've found, or perhaps I just haven't felt touched by it before. One of the most famous trans artists, Del LaGrace Volcano, is the kind I don't feel drawn to, images of the artist all gurning and grotesque, seeming to depend on shock and incongruity. Their work for me prompts these questions: does trans have to be repulsive? A statement of jarring, snarling gender subversion? Their photographic images make me want to look away, even if they're celebrated elsewhere by trans academics like Jay Prosser. If we're talking critically-acclaimed trans art, I much prefer the work of Juliana Huxtable, trans as extra-terrestrial subliminal dreamscapes, marrying African-American with otherworldly futurism.
It's the otherworldliness, I realize, I'm keen to explore in trans art, taking me to locations I imagined in childhood: lush gardens of innocence, Greek mythologies and adventures into those realms beyond-horizons and beyond-the-ordinary. I also love the inclusion of narrative, of trans people having adventures, rather than trans itself being the adventure. It's arguably because of this desire that I recently engaged with the work of an up-and-coming film writer, Joshua Alexander Matteo. Matteo's work is not motivated by trans per se: instead, young transgender actresses are used to explore gnostic themes and to experience cosmically-aligned adventures.
Matteo's fifteen-minute short, Metanoia, creates this adventure in the form of a single protagonist but is also supported by other striking performances. Drawing on gnostic narratives, Matteo's wordless story features the character Persefone (played by Maria Jose) as she discovers gnostic artifacts fallen to Earth in three small caskets. Her arc appears to be the summoning of courage to make sense of the artifacts and discover her personal path, which will ultimately connect her with the force of her creation, Sophia, depicted in this production by a disembodied white hand. In the background, other characters, Aura and Gretel (played respectively by Massima Desire and Mars Hobrecker), suffer either from the intervention of the archon (a demonic, faceless figure), or from life-ending exposure to the off-limits of another's personal journey.The settings are what I initially connected with: the opening Garden-of-Eden setting reminds me of fantasies of my own childhood of being trans in a verdant safe space, where I was free to walk alone in my feminine form. Metanoia places its protagonist in this safe space before plunging Persefone in the empty, night-time, Greco-Roman facades of New York's Grand Central Station. It is here that we see the Hand of Sophia vie with the demonic archon to connect with the various transgender characters. Seen on first viewing, there appear to be three separate arcs, and I admit to being taken by the physical expression of actress Massima Desire, who does a lot with her limited screen time and role. Maria Jose's performance in the lead, meanwhile, is full of sincerity. Her wild, twisting body language summons a terrifying sense of panic as she runs through the empty halls of Central Station, unable to comprehend whether her spiritual destination is enlightenment or threat. Ultimately, indeed, I felt like I was watching a quest narrative, one which simultaneously captured the vulnerabilities and beauty of being trans. To this effect, the trans actresses should be applauded, but so too Matteo for capturing their vulnerability within a cosmic-spiritual adventure that mixes curiosity and fear with an attractive otherworld aesthetic, elements I haven't seen before in transgender representations.