Since its debut nine years ago, cross-genre arts night Transpose has been shining a spotlight on the talents of trans artists and their allies.
Organised and curated by singer-songwriter and activist CN Lester, the idea came from their frustration at facing transphobia when trying to get gigs.
‘It wasn’t overt, but people would say things like “we think you’re great but we’re not sure the audience will get it”.’
The first Transpose in 2011 – run primarily as a one-off fundraiser – was such a success that people started asking when the next one would take place. So it wasn’t long before the events were spreading across London; in bookshops, the Cinema Museum, and Tate Modern. In 2015 Lester approached us to see if the Barbican would host it, and since then Transpose showcases in 2016-18 have been in The Pit.
‘Transpose is a community space but also a platform for trans artists, and to celebrate just how damn good they are,’ says Lester. ‘We have a rule: don’t make assumptions – about the performers, your fellow audience members, or even yourself. It’s an exploratory space and a place where you can feel connected to a wide range of experiences.’
Visibility without power is less than nothing – it’s exploitation
Transpose has become a showcase for talent, across multiple disciplines. And while it’s certainly increased the profile of trans artists, Lester points out: ‘Visibility without power is less than nothing – it’s exploitation. What Transpose has in common with other trans events worldwide - and something I'm proud of - is not just that all the people performing are trans; it's that the event is trans-produced and trans-led. The whole thing is crafted from a place of art and agency, rather than being put through outsiders' views.’
Coronavirus restrictions meant many of June's Pride Month events were cancelled. However, Lester reflects, ‘I hope this time gives everyone pause to think how we move forward more equally, and in a more just way. We can’t go back to “normal” because normal was not that great for many people. We have a chance to do things differently.’
We’re currently working with Lester on the next edition of Transpose, but 2018’s was filmed (last year the event was on hiatus while Lester competed a PhD), and you can watch it above from Friday 26 June at 7pm.