Transcript: Queer(y)ing Museums episode 5: Angelic Goldsky & The Transgender Expressions Haven
In this week’s episode of Queer(y)ing Museums, we chat with Angelic Goldsky. Angelic (they/t[he]m) is a Russian-Jewish queer trans community arts builder and poet. They are the co-founder and creative director of the Transgender Expressions Haven, a virtual center for arts expression and transgender creative genius celebration.
Angelic chats with us about queer and trans futures within museum and gallery spaces, the possibilities when queer and trans artists are supported, spiritual justice, long-term inclusion frameworks, and more.
You can visit the Transgender Expressions Haven here: https://thehaven.lgbt/
In this week's episode of Queer(y)ing Museums, we chat with Angelic Goldsky. Angelic (they/t[he]m) is a Russian-Jewish queer trans community arts builder and poet. They are the co-founder and creative director of the Transgender Expressions Haven, a virtual center for arts expression and transgender creative genius celebration.
Tanya Pachalok: Welcome to Queer(y)ing Museums, my name is Tanya.
Desirée Hall: And I’m Desirée.
TP: Today we are chatting with Angelic Goldsky. Angelic is a queer and trans nurturance culture builder, and transformative educator who has been leading workshops and advisory sessions on nurturance culture for the past three years in arts organizations, institutions and schools.
Moving with the notion of recognize to transform, they have founded events promoting consent and queer and trans safety, including queer homelands at the museum of anthropology, every kind of love at the Chan center and the UBC LGBTQQ2SIA+ plus pride festival.
DH: They are the founder of the Transgender Expressions Haven, a virtual center for arts expression and transgender creative genius celebration, which they were a proud recipient of a creative BC interactive grant to produce. They hold an MA in arts politics from New York university, where they build their base of theoretical and practical components of system building outside of oppression and violence and toward equality for all.
Angelic Goldsky: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me. It’s such a delight to be chatting about the futures of queerness and transness within museums together. Which is yeah, just something I really excited about in general. So yeah. Thank you for having me.
TP: Thanks for being here. We’re so glad to have you. So we’d love to just start off if you wanted to introduce yourself and where you are and how you’re doing in this moment.
AG: Thank you. I’m doing pretty good. I am resided on the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish lands. Colonially known as Vancouver, BC, and, you know, it’s really sunny today.
It’s really bright. It’s warm. Like I went out without even a sweater today outside, so yeah, I’m feeling pretty good. And as for myself, I think the bio covered some of those kinds of. Logistic things I guess about me, but yeah, I feel quite queer today. I’m a poet and right now it’s also the verses festival of words.
So I’ve been really blessed to be around a lot of poets recently. And that’s been where I’ve been at and it’s nice to share a space with you folks and dive into some conversations that I think that I’ve been orbiting around and immersing myself in day to day.
TP: Yeah. Great to share virtual space here with you.
DH: So you are involved with Vancouver’s first trans art gallery. The Transgender Expressions Haven and its recent exhibition, queer digital intimacies. And so we’re wondering what is the Transgender Expressions Haven to begin and your role within it? Maybe we’ll just start there.
AG: Yeah, so the trans expressions Haven is an art gallery and also a not-for-profit organization where our focus is basically bringing together trans artists to create. We have a virtual art gallery that’s like a 360 kind of Google street view-esque type of thing, like video game that you can walk through a gallery space and engage with all of these artists.
We have a bunch of international artists uh, media artwork or visual art or sonic art. And yeah, the theme that we have for that current exhibition is queer digital intimacies. So we were really concerned with what the curator Sol Cabrini spoke about archiving the now and the not yet in regards to queerness and specifically kind of embracing trans futures and the way that the internet can be possibly a safe Haven for trans futures.
And exploring that. So I think that a lot of the work that we do with the trans Haven we put on events, we put on programs, we do these virtual exhibits. We have in-person parties and that kind of thing, but fundamentally at the root of it we’re here to really celebrate trans artists and to see the work that trans artists can make when the work is really geared to be specifically in that environment.
So, you know, an Uber queer environment which I think also lends to an Uber futuristic one as well. And one that’s kind of like looking ahead to what is possible within queerness and within art?
DH: Mhmm yeah that’s really neat. I was just thinking about some of the conversations we’ve been having too and just the possibilities when people are supported and in a safer space, um, yeah.
Versus like making space within a heteronormative museum or gallery space, you know?
AG: Yeah, absolutely. Like being able to create a space where people are like from the ground up, it is a trans space as opposed to, as you said, it’s like embedding us within something where it hasn’t been. So, it’s nice to create that. And co-create that and cultivate that in community to see what even is a trans art gallery and that these were questions that we were having at the beginning. Because in my view, before my team came through and delivered beautiful concepts that, just took it to a different level.
I was envisioning like, oh, we’re going to make a virtual art gallery there’s going to be white walls and we’re going to put art onto them. And then people were like, well, why would we put white walls with name and medium and date in this way that galleries do that, why would we replicate that?
Like, what is actually a trans way of curating or creating space? And so the gallery ended up being probably 20 times larger than life in how big it is. And in terms of the vastness of the video game dimensions. And then also for names, we had people submit usernames and the way that people spoke about the work is very different.
The way you move through the space is very different. Yeah, just everything about it. I think ended up being completely new so yeah, which is different than having a different gallery come in and have a trans art exhibit where there is trans art on the walls. So it’s cool to be a part of that and to see that all transformed together.
DH: Yeah. And I love just that end product of the collaboration too, right. That’s why I love collaborative work. It always ends up being so much different than you expect and in a great way.
AG: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. If you’re listening to this podcast, you can go to the haven.lgbt that’s the website. It’s always fun to get an alternate to.com you know, dot LGBT is great. But yeah, if you just go to the Haven dot LGBT there’s the gallery there, and you can literally just start exploring, and go through the space and see a lot of cool stuff from amazing artists.
TP: That sounds like a really cool space to explore. And such an innovative approach to it all. In a recent post that you had on your social media that we came across, you discussed how supporting transgender art is supporting transgender life. And we wanted to read part of the quote here.
So, you said “I desire more commitment to the vastness of what transgender life non-binary -ness and freedom from gender based. It really could be specifically in art institutions that deem our bodies, talents, poems, unprofessional, not family friendly or out of scope. I would like to see trans people in audiences welcomed by venues called their correct name, given accessible washrooms, respected in their identities and not terrified that is the bare minimum, but that’s not what I dream of.”
So before we move on to the rest of the quote, there’s more, there’s so much there already to kind of unpack. And it’s so articulate and you share this great vision. We wanted to know, can you share some of the barriers to that commitment above and the experience of what trans artists do you face already today?
AG: Mm, yeah, definitely. Thank you for that question to kind of unpack that first part. You know, all those things that are listed in that quote I really do mean them. Trans artists are kind of positioned as people who are brought into a space, as opposed to the whole space, being there to serve them. And so that comes with all sorts of stuff like tokenism, fetishization et cetera, exploitation, all that stuff comes through that kind of position of like our art being observed and then as opposed to the art space being held collaboratively.
And I think it could be maybe like a hard thing to understand if you’ve never been in a position like that in your life, where, you know the difference between that, but to have your work be observed and to have somebody look at it as an observer. That means that the art has to then serve the observer and a lot of trans life and trans art doesn’t serve the observer.
If it’s within these institutions that have upheld cisnormativity, heteronormativity, white supremacy, et cetera. And so I think that day-to-day, it’s like those calls that I’m making in that is not only should we have gender inclusive washrooms, not only should we respect people’s names and respect people’s pronouns, not only should we have trans artists be at the forefront of the exhibition, not only should it be celebrated, we should also be deeply understanding the worlds that are being brought in the art and seeing how we can change the way we engage with it. So we’re not just looking at the art and seeing what it does for us, but we are actually co-creating together and we are learning from it. We were being inspired from it.
And it’s a receptive mutual process, which I think also is something that applies to all forms of artists in general, too. And I think of galleries and museums and a lot of spaces that I have had like a beautiful privilege to work with and be with. I think that there is this kind of culture of, preservation in museums you know, don’t touch the art, you know what I mean?
Like, don’t smell the art, don’t engage with the art in this way. Don’t all these things, all these rules around how art needs to be looked at and examined, or so anyways, basically in that quote, I’m thinking of how do we challenge that? Separation between audience and visitor and artists and how do we position the art as not as something to just be observed or gawked at, or exploited or whatever, but actually deeply integrate the work and immerse ourselves into that reality in a way that is filled with empathy and love and co-creation.
But thank you so much for that question. I really appreciate you bringing that.
TP: No, thank you so much. And I think you articulated that really well, and you expanded on all of those levels and like you said, going beyond the bare minimum, it’s like, we need to establish those levels and those layers of safety and challenging those structures as a bare minimum. And then what, and how do we serve the community and co-create in ways that serve the community that it’s meant to serve.
So, yeah. Thank you for so eloquently expressing that that was really beautiful.
DH: So moving into the second part of your quote you share your dream of complicating what trans art is, and quote, “complicating the expensive potential of leaving behind all coercive identity frames, rising together toward spiritual justice that is more vibrant and alive than any false performative signal.” we’re just wondering if you could elaborate on that. Yeah.
AG: It’s so intense, but I love having my quotes read back to me like that. It’s just so cool. It’s like, wow. Okay. The first part here, complicating the expansive potential of leaving behind all coercive identity frames.
And I really do believe in a fundamental way that queerness, transness ethnicity, culture. Religious identity, any kind of way that, we know ourselves to be, all of those ways they’re so interlinked and the freedom that comes with embracing ourselves is so interwoven with all parts of ourselves.
I think of just poets who have spoken so beautifully about how their gender is their culture or how their gender is their race or how these things are actually each other. And to find, I think the freedom and the joy of being whatever it is that you may be, I think is also on some level to escape and to leave behind the false imposition of what that identity is.
And I think for me I had to really strip away from the coercive understandings of what being a trans person is in order to find the freedom of transness, which is so expensive in a way that I believe is spiritual. And I do think that at the, that last section on the quote where I speak of if we come towards this freedom, we are kind of gearing ourselves towards a spiritual justice.
And my friend once brought that language to me. And I just loved it so much more than like social justice, because I think it took it to a different level of emancipation of not only me and the identity, but also the soul. And I think that fundamentally that is the possibility of art is to lead us to that kind of spiritual freedom.
And then the ending there, “false performative signal”, like I definitely think that, it was a little. A little pointed, but I actually wrote this for Create a Stir magazine for the trans day of visibility article. And I think one of the questions was what do you think art institutions can do to support trans artists?
And I just really wanted to hone in that, what we’re speaking about is beyond really any performativity, it can’t actually measure up to spiritual justice. I think it’s something that is maybe innately known as well. I think that people who run institutions and who are a part of galleries, I think that they know the difference between okay, we ticked a box and okay. We are helping healing processes happen. Like I think people know the difference, but I think sometimes when it gets down to, people are just like, we’re so desperate for us to do something.
They might conflate the two or think that one is the other or whatever. So I wanted to really hone in, the work is real and the work is spiritual and the work is deep and it’s not as simple as writing one post for something or putting a symbol up somewhere or putting a flag somewhere.
It’s embodied and yeah, justice is actually at the forefront and not an aesthetic.
DH: I love that – “justice is not an aesthetic.” Wow. Yeah. There’s so much in that. Just on that last point about, thinking about institutions and kind of performativity and I think you’re right like that. I think people do know in their hearts at their core what feels performative and what is truly like yeah. I just also wanted to echo back the coercive understanding of identities. I really like that framing of it hadn’t really thought about it that way. I think about it in terms of going back to disability, just because that’s been on my brain. I had a discussion recently with somebody about, there’s so much stigma of, do I get to claim this identity? And what does it mean? Because I think that “disabled,” has to be so much worse than what I’m experiencing or something like that.
Like there are these preconceived frames of what it means to be disabled. And I think that’s true of trans ness and queerness and they are absolutely coercive, like, Hmm. Yeah. So I just really liked your way of phrasing that.
AG: Thank you. Absolutely. Like I think that there’s a lot of people who, I mean, in the Jewish community, which I’m also a part of I do see that as well with like, I’m not Jewish enough, I’m not queer enough.
I’m not trans enough. I’m not this enough. And I think that all of that is through that coercion. Of telling you who you are or telling you who you are not, and both things are equally painful. So it’s like giving people back that ability to claim who they really are regardless of whatever metrics are supposedly there to classify you.
TP: Yeah, I feel like there’s so many things you say Angelic that we could quote and we’ll add it to them. We’ll add it to the next thing. Cause I even, I also jotted down emancipation of the soul and spiritual justice. I really liked that one as well. So yeah, thank you for all those words. I hear the poet and you coming out.
AG: Thank you.
TP: You speak a lot about trans futures. So we’re curious if you could talk about that. What are trans futures, and what is your vision of trans futures in museums and heritage and cultural institutions in particular?
AG: Trans futures… I think of like Alok (Vaid-Menon) who’s doing such cool work with like degender fashion, I think of amazing poets, like golden, who just released their book, a dead name that chose to live.
When I think of trans futures, I think of just being with my boyfriend and just like living a beautiful life and being in the sun, you know, and like rolling in the grass and braiding each other’s hair, though he has longer hair than me right now.
I think of joy and I think of art and I think of poetry and I think of being together and I think of. You know, maybe, and I’m just trying this out. Like I also think of maybe there is not even. I know that there’s definitely no, no gender binary in this trans future. But maybe there’s not even gender at all, question mark? possibly…
So that is trans future to me. And then when I think of trans future like how do we access that kind of like, level of peace and play in art spaces like museums and other cultural institutions? I think of museums that you feel free when you’re there.
You feel alive when you’re there, you feel tapped into creative power when you’re there. I definitely think of obviously biased-ly, but I do think of the work of the Trans Haven when I think of trans future and other spaces like it, because we were inspired by so many beautiful collectives.
Now I’m forgetting a lot of the different names of them, but there’s this QT BIPOC collective in New York, that had these, I think that they’re still doing this, where they do these interviews and they talk about queer black futures and there’s like these artists that come and they speak to each other and they just have these amazing visions of what is possible.
Similarly I think of this other panel that I listened to, it’s called writing new worlds, Alexis Deveaux and Alexis Pauline Gumbs were on the panel. And they were talking about okay, in this new world that we’re building through our writing as poets, as creators, We have abolished linearity of time, you know, and it’s just kind of like envisioning past clock time, envisioning past all these boundaries.
So I think as we move together through that, it’s like creating space where people can really, really heal in their art and really, really be open and not be stressed about punching into a clock. At least even for a second, at least for a moment, have a breath from the every day pressures of capitalism and they can just come and just be immersed in something and remember who they are.
And I think that the more we create spaces like that, where people can walk into an art gallery or, they remember who they are and they remember what their purpose is. If we can just keep extending the amount of time that that is possible for people, which means extending the ability for people to access that, I think we’re on the right track, you know? So that’s my answer to that question but I’m really curious about how everybody would answer that question and like what the shared vision would be kind of as a manifest together.
TP: Just before this, I was in a session where it was actually about, it was sort of this speculative futures ideation and the leader of the session was a social innovator, trans social innovator. And they actually shared this song called utopian futures by Kimya Dawson. I don’t know if you know them, but it was cool.
Cause it was another example of an ideation of some transformed futures.
DH: So we’re just curious, thinking about longterm inclusion of frameworks, how to start, but also how to implement longer-term strategies and mindsets. If you have any thoughts on that.
AG: I mean, I really love the toolkit that we’re building. I think that that’s such a good place to start, and continue from. And so to have these really large scale policies or educational resources that speak to a pretty elementary, but also profound understanding at the same time.
So something that if people have never experienced the word trans before, but they’re at the top of their museum and they just need a place to dive into everything in a really comprehensive way and to understand on a fundamental level. I think that that is really huge. And I think that that really does help shift the culture in a really wide way.
And sometimes you don’t notice those shifts because sometimes you might be really focused on oh, we haven’t done this yet. Or we’re not like as liberated as … or we’re not here yet or da da da, but actually we are doing really amazing work and developing those kinds of like resources, distributing them, speaking in this way, openly about it and just pushing the conversation further and further and further until hopefully it cracks open. And there’s some weird, non-linear utopia that starts to rainbow matrix itself out of like all of the conversations or something.
But until then I think that this is the work, you know, really getting staff and volunteers and faculty of spaces and artists in residents and artists and everybody to, learn, learn, learn, and see the beauty and see the joy in what being trans and what being queer is.
And I think that’s something, actually, my partner told me about after he attended one of my trans inclusion lectures I was doing at Ryerson university. And he was just like, look. I don’t know if people necessarily understood from your presentation in a clear way, what trans is after this, like three hour talk.
But they can understand that this, that there is joy, you know, and that is something that I think that oftentimes we might leave out when we’re sharing about queerness and transness with folks. And especially when we’re trying to educate them in a very kind of intro 101 way.
And I think that’s important. I think it’s important to share the joy and share the future and share the love because that is why we’re doing it in the first place. It’s because we want to have more joy, love, and peace and freedom and acceptance and all of that stuff in the space.
And so that should be in the resources and that should be in the training materials and I’m excited just to see like how all this continues forward with the work of BC museums and in general, like across this country, how we’re taking the conversation further and further.
DH: Yeah. I think radical joy or just joy as resistance. Is so important.
TP: Is there anything else that you wanted to share or any final reflections as you’ve been sharing all these wonderful insights, any kind of surprises or things that have kind of popped up or percolated from this conversation?
AG: I just want to say I’m super thankful and grateful for being on this podcast. It’s so nice to chat about queerness and transness and the possibilities within museums and institutions and galleries in a way that just feels so nourishing and just feels really optimistic. It was such a delight to chat and to imagine and envision together.
DH: Thank you for being here and thank you for reminding us about joy and futures. We’ve had some pretty dynamic conversations so far, so it hasn’t all just been rooted in history at all, but I think it’s just really important to remember joy and futures.
TP: Yeah. Thank you so much.
Mentioned in this podcast:
Trans Expressions Haven: https://thehaven.lgbt
Alok Vaid-Menon: https://www.alokvmenon.com/about
Writing New Worlds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i27YaBjzYqY
Kimya Dawson, Utopian Futures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKFiP4wo0S0