'Rites of Passage,' on display at The Museum of Sex, reveals all that has changed and all that tragically remains the same in the battle for equality and representation.

In 1978, photographer Mariette Pathy Allen took a trip to New Orleans. She writes: “By fluke, I stayed in the same hotel as a group of crossdressers who invited me to join them for breakfast on the last morning. When I took a group picture, I was moved by the experience of looking into the eyes of one of the people in the group: I felt as if I was looking at the essence of a human being rather than a man or a woman.”

The trip began Pathy Allen’s 40 year effort to document the diversity of gender identity—an undertaking which began before digital photography and before the internet, when transgender and gender-variant identifying people were apathetically erased and ignored by mainsteam narratives with violence even worse than today. Rites of Passage 1978-2006, on display at The Museum of Sex, exhibits Pathy Allen’s photography and ephermera over this span, revealing all that has changed and all that tragically remains the same. Central to Pathy Allen’s work however, lie certain imperatives—resistance via collectivity, visibility, and resilience.

Her first book, a collection of photography and interviews titled Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them, released in 1989 despite having already received over 50 rejection letters from various publishers. Pathy Allen’s photographs as well as handwritten programs for protests and events tell a story of solidarity when spaces to freely express gender nonconformity could be few, far flung, and still dangerous. But Pathy Allen doesn’t dwell excessively in suffering. Her photography is joyful. She photographs families in the daylight. Her work imagines expansion beyond stereotype: a right to love and a right to humanity.

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