Precarity is not experienced by all. Rather, as Judith Butler (2009) notes, it is the extreme state of precariousness—a heightened exposure to institutional and social violence imposed on marginalized populations such as people of color, non-white immigrants, people of non-Christian faiths, and LGBTQ+ people. Nor does precarity impact the people in these groups evenly.
The three digital artworks in this series highlight some of the ways in which trans people navigate precarity and are performed by it. The lifetime suicide attempt rate for trans and gender non-conforming people averages at 41% with the highest rate at 46% reported by trans men (Haas, Rodgers, & Herman, 2014). I am one of the 46%. However, my suicidal ideation and attempts were not caused by being transgender in and of itself but rather due to systemic cissexism that heightens precarity in legal, medical, economic, and social structures aimed at reducing the conditions for trans people to lead what Butler (2009) calls a livable life. It is systemic cissexism that also places trans people at risk of physical violence from others.
Two of the artworks are photographic self-portraits with text. Humor and History speaks back to accusations of oversensitivity to social media posts, often viral, that serve to mock and demean trans people and their lived experiences. Inconvenient Truth comments as well on the dismissiveness by some and aggression by others who refuse trans-affirming protocols such as respecting new names and pronoun usage. Such refusals also expose trans people to ill treatment by others who witness these acts.
Unlikely Hero is a digital image with a short autobiographical tale depicting the empathy and kindness given the artist by a member of the most vulnerable of trans communities, trans women of color working in the sex trade, both holding a tension between trust and hypervigilance during the encounter.
Each work marks the conscious recognition of precarity that trans people must perform through and how that precarity permits some actions and denies others as we empathize and reach out, speak back as well as speak up, hide ourselves in isolation or present ourselves through the vulnerability of visibility in solidarity with one another.
Butler, J. (2009). Frames of war: When is life grievable? New York, NY: Verso.
Haas, A. P., Rodgers, P. L., & Herman, J. L. (2014). Suicide attempts among transgender and gender non-conforming adults: Findings of the national transgender discrimination survey. Los Angeles, CA: Williams Institute, UCLA. Retrieved from https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/AFSP-Williams-Suicide-Report-Final.pdf