The Revealing Queer exhibit at MOHAI seeks to showcase queer — i.e. GSRM (gender, sexual, & romantic minorities) and LGBTQIA+ — history in the greater Seattle area. However, like many queer movements, have they focused too much on the L, G, and B and forgotten the T, I, and A?
The LGB letters in the popular acronym LGBTQIA+ (often erroneously shortened to “LGBT,” an acronym criticized for leaving out multiple gender, sexual, and romantic minorities) stands for lesbian, gay, and bisexual. And the exhibit showcased many issues relating to lesbians, gay people, and bisexual people, with parts of the exhibit including several panels on AIDS and the struggle of lesbian mothers in the Seattle area to historically adopt or even get rights to their biological children.
However, there were only a few sections detailing the plight of transgender people. They barely got a nod in the panel on the Stonewall Riots although the infamous riots were, in fact, started primarily by transgender people (an inciting incident was transgender women refusing to be escorted to the bathroom for physical examinations to determine their biological sex), drag queens, and people of color.
The most infamous LGBTQIA+ riots in history were started by the "T" of the acronym. However, today, the Wikipedia entry refers to them as “a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay community” (emphasis added), and the riots are commonly related today to Gay Pride events.
Also missing from the exhibit was any mention at all of the I and A — intersex and asexual/aromantic people. Though there was a display near the beginning of the exhibit giving definitions of most of the terms under the acronym as well as terms like “sex” and “gender,” it left out definitions of “intersex” (being born with genitals/chromosomes not fitting the traditional parameters for “male” or “female”), “asexual” (lack of sexual attraction/desire), and “aromantic” (lack of romantic attraction/desire).
While transgender people certainly didn't get as many mentions as they should have, they beat the letters not even mentioned.
Additionally, the very title of the exhibit, Revealing Queer, may spark controversy; “queer” has historically been used as a slur, akin to “f*g” and “d*ke.” Like the latter two, “queer” is being reclaimed by the GSRM community as a positive identifying label. However, there is debate as to whether or not cisgender and heterosexual people (or “cishets”) should be allowed to use it freely with its history of being used as a tool of oppression. Its usage in the title of the exhibit will inevitably lead to its use by cishet people if only in passing to refer to the exhibit.
Despite its flaws, the exhibit was well-put together in many ways, including one board where viewers were encouraged to write their description of themselves on sticky notes, another board on which viewers were encouraged to write current problems faced by GSRM people, and a collection of newspaper clippings from the Seattle Gay News dating from 1978-2012.
If you plan on visiting MOHAI for its other exhibits, it's most definitely worth a stop into Revealing Queer. If you're a cishet person (or even a GSRM person) looking to learn about the history, it's definitely a good place to start. However, if you already have a rough idea about Seattle queer history, you may find yourself disappointed when you leave not knowing much more than when you entered.
February 14 - July 6