Transgender Artists Fight Back Against Censorship In New Art Show 'Trigger Warning'

The phrase "trigger warning" is typically used to warn past victims of trauma that something they are about to read, see or hear may spur negative memories. But an upcoming art event featuring work by transgender artists uses the term to discuss the censorship that transgender individuals have frequently faced in their self-expression.

Leon Mostovoy, a transgender artist who is curating the show at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, started out making erotica in the 1980s for On Our Backs, a lesbian magazine. Much of his recent work focuses on transgender identity and sexuality. His work, he said, takes a positive approach to sexuality and all body types, and has also focused on giving a voice to the disenfranchised.

With Mostovoy's latest work, Transfigure, he explores the spectrum of gender. Transfigure is a book resembling a children's flip book cut into three sections—head, torso, legs. The photographs are of many different people of various ethnicities and gender identities, and flipping the pieces around mixes up the images into a multitude of combinations. So, you could have someone with breasts and a penis, or a beard and a vagina.

"With bodies, you don't really know what you're going to get," Mostovoy said. "We don't want people to stereotype what they assume gender is. It's about expressing the bodies of transgender people."

Mostovoy's sentiments echo that of many transgender individuals—the individual parts do not define gender. On a personal level, Mostovoy says it can sometimes be hard for transpeople, himself included, to say who they are and be proud of it. "We are all along the spectrum," he said, "meaning that [people can be] pre-op, post-op, no-op [or] identify as trans, but don't want surgery or meds." 'Transfigure' explores that fluidity of gender in tangible way.

In the past, Mostovoy said he encountered censorship on sites like Facebook for presenting pieces that contained nudity, and censorship in general around transgender issues, inspiring him to choose 'Trigger Warning' as the title of the show. He says he and the other artists are making strong statements about "transvisibility and equality and being seen."

"The idea behind it is we're going to blow the covers off and show and express ourselves," he said.

Also showing at 'Trigger Warning' are Heather Cassils (film, Fast Switch/Slow Switch), Zackary Drucker (film, At Least You Know You Exist), Rhys Ernst (film, Secret Men's Club), Pony Lee Estrange, Kris Grey (film, Suspicious Packages), Silas Howard (film, Sticks & Stones), Maya Jafer (Bollywood dance), Elliot Montague (film, Well Dressed), Statues of Cats (indie alt rock) and Shawna Virago (music).

Each artist has their own, personal story to convey through their art. Jafer, for instance, is a holistic doctor who was raised in India, but moved to the U.S. to transition. She will be performing classical dance from her home country. Cassils is a transgender bodybuilder who turns intense physical training and the body into art, and Shawna Virago is a San Francisco singer/songwriter who will probably play "Transsexual Dominatrix."

Here's a video preview of 'Transfigure':

Trigger Warning. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. August 2 at 8 p.m. $20. ($15 for members, students and seniors.)