Austin’s Gender Unbound Spotlights Trans and Intersex Creators

The multi-disciplinary arts fest seeks community support to expand

It’s no secret that Austin fosters trans and intersex creatives – just look to Xavier Schipani, Doodle Me Alive, and Ethan Draws Stuff for a start – which partially explains why Gender Unbound’s third annual festival is expanding from one day to a weekend-long event this September.

Advance badges are available now, at their cheapest, via the Indidegogo campaign until July 24.

Scenes from 2017's Gender Unbound (Photo provided by Drew Riley)

Gender Unbound's executive director Drew Riley always envisioned a community-run, multi-day festival spotlighting trans and intersex creatives when she started Gender Portraits – an art project advocating for gender noncomforming people – in 2013. But Gender Unbound’s creation, once considered nothing more than a daydream, was accelerated into existence by Riley’s coming out, which she describes as isolating.

“All of the questions I had and all of the frustrations I had trying to explain who I was to other people were born from not having community, not having language, not having role-models or examples of what being transgender could look like,” Riley told “Gay Place.” For her, finding a community of queer and trans artists “completely saved and changed [her] life.”

In 2016, Gender Portraits received funding from Austin Creative Alliance, and Riley went to work with a small crew to organize the first Gender Unbound Festival and create a hub for stories that reflect their own lived experiences. Because art, Riley believes, is a vehicle that can change the way folks think of themselves and also normalize their experiences.

Fest attendees discussing the art at Gender Unbound 2017 (Photo provided by Drew Riley)

But the fest also seeks to bring in folks who might be a little more gender conforming to hear stories from the community’s perspective while supporting the creators that come from within it. Riley notes that art is also a “powerful tool” for educating and engaging folks that can help further expand the general public’s knowledge of a community they do not identify with.

Now preparing for its third year, Gender Unbound has already received triple the number of artist submissions. Thanks to the organizing team – which is intentionally comprised of an all-trans and intersex crew – and a larger grant from the city, this year’s fest is well-positioned to become the multi-day festival Riley envisions. But because Gender Unbound doesn’t charge artists to showcase their work or take commissions from art sales (Riley says this is intentional to remove economic barriers and continue empowering creativity in the community), the fest still needs community support. Donations help cover artist travel stipends, so out-of-town creatives can attend the fest alongside their work, as well as venues and supplies.

“I want this to be something that gets big,” explains Riley. “Maybe Austin can be known as a hub for people to share their creativity as trans and intersex folks. I think that would be a very beautiful thing.”


Gender Unbound takes place Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 29-30, at Blue Genie’s Big Top Space (6100 Airport Blvd).

Here is how you can support: The fest’s Indiegogo campaign is selling advance tickets at their lowest cost until July 24. Want to support, but can’t make it to the event? Consider sponsoring a ticket (or several). Feeling broke, but want to join? Visit the website for volunteer inquiries.

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