Trigger: Tuesday Smillie
Street Transvestites 1973 honors New York City’s vanguard trans-justice organizers: Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries, abbreviated as STAR. Founded in 1970 by trans-activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, STAR was the first trans-justice organization in the United States. The textile work you see here is a recreation of the banner carried by STAR in the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, an annual event which would eventually transform into what is now know as Gay Pride, with considerably less radical politics.
Street Transvestites 1973 portrays STAR’s banner as it was captured in a photograph by Richard Wandel. The banner sags slightly and is rippled with shadows. The shadows consist of scraps of lace enriched with embellishments. Street Transvestites 1973 honors the trans-justice movement’s forbearers, celebrating and holding them up, even in history’s shadow.
The work’s reticulation of the original banner based on an archival document points to the historical erasure of trans-hirstory. Rivera and Johnson are no longer with us. The original banner is long gone. Street Transvestites 1973 attempts to recuperate their vibrant legacy, which until recently has been brushed aside by dominate heternonormative cultural narrative and the assimilationist gay rights movement alike. At the same time Street Transvestites 1973 highlights the loss caused by this hirstorical erasure. For contemporary artists and activist invested in trans-justice, the only record we have of our movement’s forbearers are archival fragments.
A note about terminology: This work documents a hirstory as it was found in the archive. In the 1970s Rivera, Johnson and their peers claimed the term “transvestite,” but as time progresses terminologies evolve. Dear viewer, please do not use the term “transvestite” when discussing transgender or gender non-conforming individuals. This term currently holds significant negative social connotation.Richard Wandel’s photograph of STAR marching in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade can be found in the exhibition catalog.