For over 40 years, Mariette Pathy Allen has been documenting the spectrum of gender expression. Pathy Allen’s archive consists of thousands of photographs, countless interview transcripts, personal correspondence, and materials related to a career dedicated to supporting and documenting trans and gender-variant communities. Work dating from the late 1970s through the early 2000s is the main focus of this exhibition. The selection largely highlights a time before the internet, when often hard-to-find newsletters and magazines were essential lifelines, and protests and in-person conferences were one of the few safe spaces to be ‘out.’ On display, you’ll find a record of Pathy Allen’s process before digital photography: darkroom work prints, photographs from color slides, hand-written notes, DIY programs for events—all records of a time far more limited, yet extremely passionate in the hope for a more equal future.
It is clear that Pathy Allen has been there for her subjects on a deeply emotional level, as they have been there for her. A great many of the individuals she photographed became as close as family. Her first of five books, Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them (1989), was a landmark for gender variant awareness. She sought to show these individuals as beautiful, loving, and human, during a time of severe lack of acceptance and understanding from the broader public. Transformations at first received over 50 rejection letters. Because Pathy Allen persevered, the book did get released and in turn the rejection letters were replaced by letters of thanks from the many individuals who had precious few public signs that they were ok and deserved to be loved. In Pathy Allen’s words, “To depict them where they belong, in the daylight of daily life, rich in relationships with spouses, children, parents and friends is my tribute to their courage…Anatomy, sexual preference, and gender identity and expression are not bound together like some immutable pretzel but are separate issues. Most of us are born male or female, but masculinity and femininity are personal expressions. With the breaking apart of this pretzel, an exhilarating expansion of freedom is possible…a rite of passage out of the tyranny of sexual stereotypes altogether.”
Mariette Pathy Allen has been photographing the transgender community for over 40 years. Through her artistic practice, she has been a pioneering force in gender consciousness, contributing to numerous cultural and academic publications about gender variance and lecturing throughout the globe. Her first book Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them was groundbreaking in its investigation of a misunderstood community. Her second book The Gender Frontier is a collection of photographs, interviews, and essays covering political activism, youth, and the range of people that identify as transgender in mainland USA. It won the 2004 Lambda Literary Award in the Transgender/Genderqueer category. Daylight Books has published Pathy Allen’s books, TransCuba in 2014, and Transcendents: Spirit Mediums in Burma and Thailand in 2017. Pathy Allen’s life’s work is being archived by Duke University’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Library, and the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s Studies.
Inês Teles Carvalhal