trace.

Queer Artist Collective

Jared Cobain on being a trans life-model

Alex Foley

I have always felt so awkward about having a body. As a child I suffered with this vague feeling of panic about it, some pure base animalistic intuition that it would give me away somehow, as being some kind of different, inherently disgusting being with secretions and impulses and physiological changes. Puberty was a disgusting, messy, tactile hell. I attempted to exert some control over this ever-evolving and uncomfortably changing beast by self-enforcing eating; exercise regimens; and policing my outward appearance, actions and speech. This reached a point where I could barely move or talk in front of others without obsessing over each action from every angle before doing it, and yet I still felt out of control and awkward.

I don't know how much of that is down to being transgender, living with (suspected) ASD, or just growing up shy. What I do know that is as I've gotten older and experienced more of life, since I've begun my transition, since I've started to work on acknowledging and accepting my body and mind's funny quirks, I've become much, much happier. The hormonal effects on my body have made it feel like home again. Changing my body shape through weightlifting has had a profound effect on my self-confidence as well and has brought my body more in line with how I see it in my mind. And a big part of this journey has been starting to work as a life model for art classes.

Modelling creates a space

where you cannot go anywhere or do anything but stand, sit or lie entirely still for an extended length of time, while your body is intensely scrutinised from all angles.

I had drawn models in naked life drawing classes before, as it's easier to learn to draw figures when you don't also have to contend with accurately representing the fabric of the clothes as well. I'd been told it was really liberating and fun work, and gave you interesting insights into the collaborative nature of the artmaking process. I was super nervous the first time modelling but had researched some starting poses to try and made sure the class and tutor knew I was new and open to suggestion for improvement by talking to them all and discussing their drawings of me during the break. It went pretty well apart from an ambitious crouching position I held for 20 minutes.  I was particularly anxious being a trans person (the first trans model I knew of at that particular studio), modelling for the first time for people who may not have known I was trans as I don't have the typical body of a cis man. I actually, to this day, haven't had any comments from any of the artists about my appearance, apart from some notice of muscle building and my unique tattoos. In my head I had envisaged complete outrage, disgust, confusion, questions. But all I did was model and get drawn. The thing about artists that go to life drawing sessions is that they often end up seeing naked people with varying bodies. It stops become novel very quickly when you're just trying to concentrate on representing the subject in front of you. In the same way, being naked ceased to feel novel. Being in a community of life models who have all drawn each other naked, nudity becomes normalised. My own nakedness now feels totally natural, the disgust is gone completely. My confidence has soared.

Now I'm finally feeling at home and relaxed about nudity, and this is down to strength and openness of the trans and NB community, as well as putting work into changing my body and working hard to take ownership and not being ashamed of owning an incredibly average body. Realising that having a normal human body doesn't somehow inherently make me a bad person. However I'm very well aware while writing this that I my viewpoint as a white able-bodied trans man living in Brighton will be very different from many other trans and NB people. What works for me won't work for others. This is why I'm invested in improving access for trans and NB people in different areas of life, like life drawing. I don't have all the answers. Overall I really want to improve access & visibility and appreciation of people that aren't often lifted up in a positive way. I'm tired of only regularly seeing standardised people in art and the shadow this casts over others who don't fit that mould, but I'm also torn due to focus and obsession of cis media on trans bodies, and not trans lives.

Modelling creates a space where you cannot go anywhere or do anything but stand, sit or lie entirely still for an extended length of time, while your body is intensely scrutinised from all angles. As a trans person and artist, I found this process extremely profound. Trans bodies are scrutinised in public without our permission as people make rules for us and spread their misunderstanding to others in the form of disgust or hate. In this context I was displaying myself with full permission. It felt like a staunch challenge to a room of presumably cis people to stare and examine. There is currently a weird blend of outright scrutiny and confused mystique around our bodies. People understand some elements of trans-ness, but are completely ignorant about others and uncertain whether or how to ask (often neglecting to research the topic themselves, but that's a whole other topic!). You have a lot of time to think while staring at the same spot on the wall for several hours. As someone who never stops to sit quietly and do nothing, this gives me a chance to go through some forced quiet time, which ends up being a deeply meditative experience. I think that many of us as trans people often don't feel we can allow ourselves to just be, in a world that doesn't allow that.

 

Jared will be running a life drawing session as part of The Marlborough's trans pride programme, with trans and NB life models, open to trans and NB people of all abilities to come and draw with us. For more details visit http://www.marlboroughtheatre.org.uk/event/trans-life-drawing/

 

IG @jaredcoopercobain