"There was nothing, and now we have something": Representation of Trans Narratives in British Museums, 2015-2018

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Lois Stone


This thesis traces how and when the lives and stories of Trans people became a topic of interest to exhibition curators in British museums. Between 2015 and 2017, a host of new exhibits around the country began to pay serious attention to the Trans community, often drawing on existing narratives found in medical contexts and popular culture. The addition of Trans material in exhibitions coincided with the national remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales. Few museum professionals, however, exercised self-reflexivity in creating accounts of Trans people, unaware of the influence of popular culture. To better understand the vital connections between Trans representations in popular culture and museums, I examine six films about Trans people to establish the boundaries of what I term the ‘Trans genre’. The representative films are Glen or Glenda (1953), The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Transamerica (2005), and The Danish Girl (2015). The films cover the period from the first explicit film about a Trans person (Glen or Glenda) until the time of the opening of my case study exhibits. This thesis then turns to several case studies of museum exhibits that included Trans history. I interviewed the project coordinator for each exhibit to learn more about the decision-making processes in creating and developing the exhibits. I further analyse the objects selected for each exhibit to discern patterns in Trans museum representation. This study is the first to scrutinize Trans representation during the LGBTQ exhibit ‘boom’ of 2017. I read emerging patterns in Trans representation in the context of the popular media, suggesting that the narratives of Trans lives from popular media were replicated in museums. This thesis calls on future curators to think carefully about their investment in a medical model of Trans identity, and consider alternative frameworks to better capture the complexities of the experiences of Trans people.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2020