TransSanAntonian: Examining Identities and Gender Fluidity in the Archives is San Antonio’s first exhibition that explores identities and appearance across the gender spectrum through the lens of archival materials housed at UTSA Libraries Special Collections. San Antonio and South Texas have a rich history of LGBTQ+ culture. Photographs, print materials, textiles, video, and ephemera reveal diverse interpretations of what it means to be lesbian, gay, Trans, and queer in Texas. By examining past lives, events, and places, we contemplate how contemporary concepts and perceptions of gender, identity, and appearance are rooted in the historical fabric of emerging queer culture.
The exhibition features eight collections spanning the years 1963 through 2017. TransSanAntonian showcases collections that uncover how lesbians, gays, and trans persons claimed safe spaces in which they affirmed queer identities, experimented with transgressive performance, and resisted outside attempts to disrupt the sanctuaries they so carefully constructed.
Drag shows, gay bars, and gender bending performances—staples of queer culture—are depicted in the many photographs on display. The juxtaposition of t-shirts from the 1970s and 80s with recent activist signs created by students, remind us that members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to demand equal rights and acceptance. Digital records from the Community Alliance for a United San Antonio (CAUSA) chronicle San Antonio’s battle to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and veteran status.
The terms transgender and queer are used as umbrella terms that represent a diverse array identities, expressions, and experiences that deviate from social and cultural norms. Other terms include crossdresser, drag, transvestite, and transsexual which depict variant stages of gender fluidity and expression. The term LGBTQ+ often does not apply when describing archival objects created before widespread use of the acronym.
Organized for the McNay Art Museum by Melissa Gohlke, Assistant Archivist and Katie Rojas, Manuscripts Archivist for UTSA Libraries Special Collections.
Sterling Houston Papers
Sterling Houston (1945-2006) was a native San Antonian who had a lifelong career as a playwright, actor, and musician. In the plays represented here, Houston turns the socially-constructed binaries of gender, sexuality, and race on their head and challenges his audience with non-traditional perspectives. High-Yello Rose (1992) is a musical retelling of the events of the Texas Revolution with an all-female cast. In Womandingo (1992), male actors play female characters, female actors play male characters, black actors play white characters, and white actors play black characters. The Late Late Show at the Gilded Cage (1980s) is delivered by a drag queen (played by Houston) who is grappling with the changes brought about by the HIV/AIDS crisis, which was near its peak at the time the play was produced.
Lollie Johnson Papers
Lollie Johnson (1939-2001) was a San Antonio nightclub owner and active lesbian and gay community supporter. The Hypothesis Club, L J’s Cabaret, Faces, The Broadway Cabaret, and The Noo Zoo Co. were some of Johnson’s establishments during the 1970s and 1980s. These places functioned not only as bars, but as sanctuary spaces where the LGBTQ community could come together as a created family. Johnson can be seen in several of the photos, identifiable by her head of blonde curls.
T-shirts as Historical Objects
Ever think that well-worn t-shirt stuffed in the bottom of a drawer should be thrown out one day? Think again! Some t-shirts and textiles shine light on cultural trends and local history. The t-shirts on view here were donated along with more traditional archival materials such as photographs and print materials. Fortunately, the donors had the foresight to recognize the historical value of these textiles. In 2015, UTSA Special Collections began participating in a project named Wearing Gay History, a digital archive of historical LGBTQ+ t-shirts.
Victor Lopez and Rudy Cardona Photographs
Victor Lopez and Rudy Cardona co-created Texas Crown Productions, which organized drag pageants in the Corpus Christi area from 1990 to 1996. Photographs on view were taken by Lopez and are from the Miss Corpus Christi America, Miss Corpus Christi Metroplex, and Miss Texas Riviera pageants (1992-1996), as well as the 1994 Houston Baile—a formal LGBTQ+ dance. The proliferation of drag pageants across Texas emphasizes the importance of this form of entertainment within queer culture.
Activism Signs and Ephemera Collection
The signs displayed here were created and used by students at The University of Texas at San Antonio in the UTSA Students Against Hate Rally, which was held on UTSA’s Main Campus on April 25, 2017. The rally was held to protest LGBTQ+ discrimination and raise awareness of the presence of LGBTQ+ persons in society. Signs such as these are public, active expressions of self-representation and ally-ship.
Gene Elder Papers
Gene Elder (1949-2019) was a San Antonio artist committed to activism and the preservation of LBGTQ+ history. During the 1970s, Elder served as the manager of the San Antonio Country, a large gay disco that attracted unwanted attention from local and military police prompting frequent raids. After one particularly hostile raid in December 1973, Elder created the camp ballet Fairies Fiasco as a political and artistic statement against the mistreatment of homosexuals. He described the ballet as “a parable about coming out . . . a story about telling the truth.”
Before the internet, transgender publications served as an important source of information for crossdressers, transvestites, and transsexuals. Advice on everything from makeup tips to sex reassignment surgery fill the pages. Personal ads offer a mechanism for connecting with others.
Linda and Cynthia Phillips Papers
Linda (formerly Jim) and Cynthia Phillips became prominent transgender activists in the 1980s and gained national exposure during the 1990s when they appeared on several daytime talk shows. The couple focused on educating the public, including members of the transgender community, on their experiences as a transgender couple. The Phillips were affiliated with the Boulton and Park Society of San Antonio and served as the primary organizers for the Texas “T” Party, the largest convention for crossdressers in the nation. As classic car enthusiasts, the couple restored more than 150 vehicles over the years, including a 1957 Shelby Mustang.