Transvengers at The Institute of Sexology

Jay Stewart

Who knew that explaining the paradigm of heteronormativity would be so straightforward, but when a group of ten 13-19 year old trans people gathered to create ‘Transvengers’ – a webcomic featuring transgender superheroes – they came up with the enemy figure and arch rival; ‘the paradigm of heteronormativity’.

When we’re born we are assigned a sex and that sex is either male or female. From this point on, a lot of expectations are set in terms of what we will go on to look like, how we will behave, what interests and hobbies we’ll have, and to some extent even what jobs we’ll have. We live in a culture of heteronormativity, which makes assumptions that everyone is heterosexual, that girls will express femininity, and boys that will express masculinity.

As part of the exhibition The Institute of Sexology, The Wellcome Collection approached Gendered Intelligence to create a piece of art that would form part of the exhibition. This group of young trans people were tasked to respond to some of the themes and personalities in the exhibition by drawing on their own experiences as young people who don’t conform to those societal expectations. The aim with Transvengers was to create a light hearted response to some really complicated ideas, in a way that everyone can understand and enjoy. The group worked with artist Jason Barker to create the artwork and interviewed Dr Jana Funke as part of their research. Each person designed their own Transvengers character and together they travel back in time to challenge key sexologists and their ideas – many of which continue to shape society’s thinking about sex and gender today.

The comic is on display in the Institute of Sexology exhibition, and several hundred thousand people have seen it. It’s important for us at Gendered Intelligence to raise awareness about transgender lives, and to generate debate around gender identity. It is only through discussion and sharing ideas that we can shift societal thinking around gender norms. Being trans is just one part of life’s rich tapestry of gender diversity. Our vision is of a world where people are not constrained by the narrow perceptions of gender identity. This doesn’t just limit trans people. It limits everyone.

Jay Stewart is the Director of Gendered Intelligence - a not for profit organisation that works predominantly with young trans people.

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Transvengers webcomic © Gendered Intelligence