Transmasculine artists: Now it’s the boys’ turn!, by Digg Franco

The presence of transvestigender audiovisual artists in the Brazilian visual arts circuit is still minute. On this matter, also weighs the fact that transmasculine artists are less represented in cultural spaces than trans women. What kind of strategies and actions are needed to generate more visibility and professionalization for trans artists – especially transmasculine artists?

Digg Franco is a transmasculine curator and audiovisual artist, and founder/president of  Casa Chama (São Paulo) – an institution that, since 2018, has welcomed and provided dignity, and affection to the transvestigender population of Brazil. In a conversation with Renata Martins, Digg reflects on the social causes for this lack of transmasculine artists in the contemporary art market in the country, as well as on possible measures to change this situation, with dignity and in a professionalizing manner.

“We need more trans artists to be represented by galleries”, is the political-cultural organizer’s immediate response. Working precisely to promote the entry of such artists in the Brazilian art market establishment, Digg points out a very important action he organized in the context of SP–Arte 2021, International Art Festival of São Paulo, which gathered art and design galleries, publishing houses, museums, and institutions from Brazil and abroad: “We were present for the first time at SP–Arte, and we promoted an art auction to gather funds for Casa Chama. We were able to mobilize many allies, who supported us in organizing that auction. This was a milestone because we took many trans audiovisual artists to the online market.”

Another cause for celebration for Digg and to everyone at Casa Chama was its recent selection by a cultural grant: “We will soon make an exhibition (in São Paulo) entirely curated and produced by trans people, and showing artworks of trans artists.” However, having projects that are entirely organized, produced, and presented by trans people isn’t something new. It is, however, an essential boost of Casa Chama for the professionalization of trans people in the field of cultural management. In 2021 alone, four music festivals were realized, and the last of those four had more than 20 performing artists and the involvement of 95 staff members.

 

Although the “official” art circuit in the country still lacks representation of trans audiovisual artists, it’s still noticeable that there is a larger presence of trans women than of trans men. What causes this disparity?

Digg Franco: This is a question not only for the field of art. I notice that the erasure of the trans man happens because we are compared and associated, almost immediately, with toxic masculinity. It’s as if the reference for our transmasculine construction was the cisgender man. This kind of association silences and intimidates us and causes us to have few opportunities. We’ve dealt very well with this theme, for example, in the virtual gathering Encontrans (25th April, 2021), in the context of the festival Festival Chama em Ação (link at the end of this article).

Another point on this matter is the fact that we have only started to make ourselves visible in public spaces more recently. Travestis, on the other hand, due to their experiences in the streets and collective spaces, and precisely because they’ve shared their experiences, languages, and forms of communication, are more organized and have been present in public spaces much longer than us, trans men.

Myself, for example, I’m perhaps the first generation that has had a public reference of another trans man, João Nery (1950-2018). Nowadays, I notice that young trans men have more access to other references that my generation and previous generations did not have. In this socio-cultural context, we have only recently started to recognize ourselves, because, until now, we didn’t even know of each other’s existence.

That is why the transmasculine community has to strengthen itself, unite, and occupy its space with more security, because, in general, our experiences are very different. Until we’re able to get to that point, there is a long process, which becomes everyone’s responsibility, including trans women and travestis.

I always advise everyone, when they are in the presence of a trans man, to not compare him to a cisgender man. It’s necessary to give space for this trans man’s voice in order to understand what goes on with him and the kinds of violence he has endured throughout his life, even prior to his transition. The lack of dialogue and welcoming, as well as the comparisons and punishments by association to toxic masculinity (such as, for example, abuse, aggression, and male chauvinism), are causes for the way that the vast majority of trans men die: suicide.

It’s very difficult to construct a personality, an existence, when you are constantly being compared to the oppressor. For that reason, the place that trans men occupy in society and art is very difficult. The fight against this should be an exercise done by everyone: to invest in dialogue and exchange of creative processes and support of trans men’s subjectivities. We have to understand that transmasculine people have to overcome numerous layers of violence to achieve a place of visibility. And art is one of these spaces of exhibition and visibility. I, for example, to this day don’t know if I’m ready to show myself as an artist. Why does that happen amongst us? I leave that as an open question.

 

How can the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies contribute to broader visibility and publicization of artworks of transmasculine artists?

Digg Franco: It all starts by recognizing one’s own place – this is true for cisgender people and allies, as well as for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans people; and identifying which are the tools available for this broader visibility: financial support, the offer of specific knowledge, a contact that is established, some form of welcoming, even? All of these are ways of investing in those people who’ve had and still have fewer opportunities.

Here, investing doesn’t take only the financial sense of the term. However, that is the most important and urgent aspect for our survival; it’s our big nightmare for living in a neoliberal context.

However, there are other forms of caring and support, such as sharing content produced by trans artists, and viewing their art; getting close to and sharing experiences with them to create bonds of affection; demystifying this socio-cultural distance that usually exists between trans and cisgender people; place trans people in all spaces, in positions not just of representation but of belonging. Belonging means to belong to the whole socio-economic process and structure. Belonging is to really be a part of things, without being made subaltern or turned into charity cases.

Even if trans peoples aren’t totally ready for a specific task or still can’t take on certain responsibilities, it’s necessary for there to be understanding and patience in a generous environment, open to mistakes, without the typical demands of the cisgender normative.

Each and every person has countless imperfections, but these imperfections are made much more evident in the trans body. It’s for that reason that trans people demand so highly from themselves, and self-sabotage so much. So, there needs to be more politeness and sensitivity in dealing with trans people. We bring other values, other times, other solutions, other experiences, and ways of being in the world. This is also something to be assimilated and learned  by our cisgender allies.

 

How does Casa Chama act in this endeavor of bringing visibility to the artworks of transmasculine artists?

Digg Franco: In April 2021, we had the Festival Chama em Ação, a digital space occupied first and foremost by transmasculine, agender, and non-binary bodies. With national and international artists, it was an event about us. There, we had a space to meet, exchange, and dialogue about our potential and our empowerment.

This kind of project is very important, because everyone who participated in it, from its graphic design to its production,  had a professionalizing experience in cultural management – and, for many of them, it was the first work experience in that field. It’s very gratifying to see people who worked in that festival and later found their own organizations, collectives, businesses and are becoming cultural and social entrepreneurs!

Nonetheless, there is still a lot of work ahead, and many situations to be created. To make, for example, the festival Chama Festival TRANSversalidades (link at the end of this article) more egalitarian with transmasculine artists. This is a constant exercise and demand that we have at Casa Chama. Let’s bring more boys!

 

Is there an expectation (or demand) from curators, galleries, museums, and cultural spaces about the themes portrayed in the audiovisual creations of transmasculine artists?

Digg Franco: Nothing is demanded of what is not seen. There is no expectation from the art market because there simply isn’t enough research or investment in transmasculine artistic production.

But I’d like to mention here some collectives and artists that have been producing excellent content and that we have been following closely at Casa Chama:

There is a group of Black transmasculinity organized by Bruno Santana, Leonardo Peçanha, Seu Vérciah; Chicos Invisibless, coordinated by Joseph Rodriguez; Mascucetas, coordinated by Lui Rodrigues; Academia Transliterária, which has a significant representation of transmasculine people; CATS, organized by Leo Moreira Sá and Daniel Veiga; AT.ilê, a collective that works with sewing, culinary, and art. There are also a few artists: All Ice, Aqualien, Gil Porto, Jupi77er, Bernoch, Caio Transpoesia, BorBlue.

And, as we saw in the festival Chama em Ação, transmasculine people are very close to non-binary and agender people. In this meeting of people with less visibility, we noticed that the minorities are coming together more and more, which is very special and powerful to see!

      RODRIGO FRANCO

works as a political-cultural organizer and entrepreneur in São Paulo. He has a degree in Graphic Design from IED and a postgraduate degree in Art History, Critique, and Curatorship from PUC-SP. In the field of Visual Arts, he has worked in residencies and national and international biennials, as well as in content production for websites and publications.

Digg is a trans man and has identified himself as a transmasculine person since he was a child, although he believes that identifying oneself isn’t enough and that there also needs to be information and lived experiences shared with other trans people. With that in mind, he was part of the foundation, in 2018, of the NGO Casa Chama, of which he is founder and president. With that work, he dedicates himself to the construction of spaces and guarantee of rights for transvestigender people, through actions that aim at financial emancipation and the prolongation of their lives.

Casa Chama´s website: www.casachama.org

Encontrans (25/04/2021) in the context of Festival Chama em Ação: link

Festival Chama em Ação