Gender Unbound Returns for Year Five With Virtual Showcase
Monthlong 3D exhibit, livestreams spotlight trans, intersex artists
By Lilli Hime,
12:30PM, Tue. Sep. 1, 2020
Amid the pandemic’s ongoing financial strain on artists and performers, Austin’s Gender Unbound is stepping up to financially support trans, nonbinary, and intersex artists with this year’s virtual festival kicking off today.
Unlike Gender Unbound fêtes in the Before Time, Austin’s one and only fest celebrating trans, nonbinary, and intersex artists has commissioned 37 artists for original works to be featured in a virtual showcase that runs through the end of the month. Audiences will be the first to see – and have a chance to purchase – these brand new pieces in an interactive 3D exhibition, in addition to enjoying weekly livestreams spotlighting qmmunity poets, musicians, and storytellers, plus artist interviews. All programming is free to the public, but showcase-goers can show extra love through tipping artists’ Venmos or Cash Apps which are linked in the exhibit and the artists’ profiles.
Gender Unbound executive director Drew Riley tells us the org’s success earlier this spring pivoting its Trans Day of Visibility celebration online, as well as the sitting funds from the city’s Department of Cultural Arts, proved the virtual showcase both possible and essential. “We wanted a way to disperse these funds to our community to help keep people afloat since this is a really hard time,” says Riley. “This is a way to ensure all the artists are being paid because we know that's a big priority for people right now.” (The full lineup of exhibiting visual artists is available here.)
This year’s festival theme is home. Not only because most of us are stuck at home riding out the pandemic but also because of the complicated relationships many trans, nonbinary, and intersex people have with the concept of home. “Sometimes our homes aren’t kind or supportive to us,” Riley explains. “Sometimes we have to leave home to find home. Sometimes we're struggling to find home in our bodies or in our community. The concept of home can be something you're spending a lifetime to find.”
Local poet, educator, and organizer KB says their identities as Black, queer, and nonbinary complicates the subject of home. “Home wasn't necessarily a thing I really understood until maybe two years ago,” shares KB, who will be performing their poetry at the Sept. 26 “Creating Home” livestream. “Home is how your community pours into you and how you pour into yourself, and I hadn’t really lived in a place I felt I was being poured into. I don’t know that I would be the organizer or educator or artist [that I am] without Austin becoming my home.”
Performing at the “Home in Our Community” livestream this Saturday, Sept. 5, nonbinary musician and storyteller Lazarus Letcher finds the theme of home similarly complex, especially because their music acts as a way to translate complex ideas of their academic work – which focuses on folklore, Black liberation, and queer and trans studies – into something accessible.
“My music tells the story of my trans ancestors and my Black ancestors and those lucky enough to be both,” says the Albuquerque, N.M.-based artist. “Part of being a descendant of the middle passage and slave trade is I'll never know exactly where my people are from. The term homeland is vast and complicated for us.
“For me, home is where my people are. My people are my trans folk, BIPOC community, intersex siblings, all of it. Gender Unbound is a home for me.”
While Gender Unbound’s artists, along with all of us, will have to wait a little longer to be together in person, Letcher not only appreciates the fest’s safety precautions with moving online but also believes a virtual event will actually allow more people to take part. “A trans, intersex art festival – that’s such a rare, beautiful thing,” says Letcher. “Gender Unbound is going to become bigger than it could have been before.”
Gender Unbound’s virtual exhibition runs Sept. 1-30 and is available at www.genderunbound.org/project/virtualshowcase2020. All programming is free to the public, and weekly livestreams will be hosted on Facebook Live, YouTube, and at www.genderunbound.org/live.