Crossing Boundaries: Portraits of a Transgender West
On view through December 10, 2021
“I had to do it [transition to male] …. For years I had been unhappy. With all the inclinations and desires of the boy I had to restrain myself to the more conventional ways of the other sex. I have been happier since I made the change than I ever have in my life, and I will continue this way as long as I live…” – Alan Hart, 1918
Curated in collaboration with historian Peter Boag (Vancouver, Washington), the Washington State Historical Society is proud to present the original exhibition Crossing Boundaries: Portraits of a Transgender West.
This exhibition shares seldom-spotlighted historical narratives of transgender people in the West. It spans the time period of 1860 to 1940 and explores four central themes, connecting those histories to contemporary aspects of today’s LGBTQ+ community. Stories from the lives of specific individuals who did not conform to gender norms will illuminate the themes of visibility, identity, acceptance, and history.
Among the many people whose stories will be shared are Harry Allen, a heartbreaker who was wanted by the police; Dr. Alan Hart, a medical doctor and Northwest novelist; and the mysterious Mrs. Nash, a laundress to the famed Seventh Cavalry (and an officer’s wife).
While today we might think of the people represented in the exhibition as “transgender,” that term did not exist during their lifetimes. These individuals were the public face of the LGBTQ+ community at the turn of the twentieth century. They were the ones who appeared in the press (for reasons elaborated in the exhibition) and thus were the most widely recognized, identified, and accessible examples of LGBTQ+ identities during the late 1800s and early 1900s. This is one reason that the exhibition’s focus places transgender people as front and center in LGBTQ+ history.
Crossing Boundaries: Portraits of a Transgender West also considers how westward migration provided opportunities for self-expression and fulfillment. As they traversed unfamiliar territory, these individuals crossed both physical boundaries and the perceptual boundaries of their earlier lives.
As with other pioneering stories, this is a history of obstacles and fear, bravery and triumphs. Join us in learning more about the history of gender, identity, and changing cultural perceptions in the West.
Listen to a fascinating curator talk with Peter Boag and Gwen Whiting. Their Facebook Live presentation was recorded on June 10, 2021. You do not need to have a Facebook account to see this presentation.Click here for Curator Talk
This WSHS exhibition is generously supported by Humanities Washington, KNKX Public Radio, and The Norcliffe Foundation. The Crossing Boundaries free curator talk was generously supported by Columbia Bank.