For the first of our LGBT History Month 2016 events, Jana and Jen of the Rethinking Sexology project joined Dr Debbie Challis at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology to discuss ideas about gender identity across history. Debbie spoke on depictions of the Egyptian pharaohs Hatshepshut and Akhenaten in the ancient world and how their allegedly ‘transgressive’ identities have been interpreted. Jana and Jen discussed how sexual scientists and other writers in the early twentieth century developed theories about gender and especially early notions of trans identities – ideas that still shape our modern understanding today. We considered how these ideas drew upon the past and specifically Egypt and the figures of Hatshepshut and Akhenaten.
This project responded to some of the themes and personalities in the Institute of Sexology exhibition at Wellcome Collection, informed by their own experiences as young trans people. The aim was to create a lighted hearted response to some really complicated ideas, in a way that everyone can understand and enjoy.
Each person designed their own Transvengers character who travels back in time to challenge key sexologists and their ideas – many of which continue to shape society’s thinking about sex and gender today.
Transvengers is a Wellcome Collection Youth Programme project.
* Someone who (at least partially) disagrees with the gender they were assigned at birth.
In summer 2015 Dr Jana Funke, our project director, took part in a discussion at the Southbank, London with four acclaimed writers – Malika Booker, Kei Miller, Warsan Shire and Rachel Mars – about how to make sense of sex.
The writers presented work which illustrates how radically different sex is for different people and invites us to consider sexuality from different perspectives, sometimes confronting cultural and religious taboos.
Jana discussed how literature contributes to our understanding of sexuality alongside scientific and medical research. The early pioneers of sexology research reached out beyond medical disciplines to understand our sexuality and in turn literary writers used ideas from science and medicine. She argued that this multi-disciplinary approach is important for contemporary research. Alongside brain scans, measuring hormone levels and genetics, literature helps us understand other dimensions of sex, the psychological, the social and the emotional.
This was part of the Sexology Season at Wellcome Collection.
This discussion considered the way in which, from asexuality to sex addiction, there is huge variety in our experience of sexual desire. Both the temptation and the conflict it can create are enduring themes central to Western literature, yet sexual attraction has been little researched until recent decades. The panel suggested we are still largely in the dark about many facets of attraction, so having little or excessive desire can be difficult experiences.
Jana joined Dr Helen Mathers (Open University) to talk about some of the issues raised by the work of the early sexual scientists featured in the exhibition, in particular 19th century prostitution, the definitions of sex work and the ‘victim narrative’.
Listen to more podcasts from The Sexology Season featuring discussions with sexual health professionals, researchers, artists, psychologists, sex workers, sex therapists and interesting questions and observations from audiences.
In 2015 our projects director Dr Jana Funke ran a series of workshops in The Institute of Sexology galleries at the Wellcome Collection. She examined photographs from late 19th and early 20th century sexual science publications to explore how these sex researchers used and interpreted photographic evidence. What role did such photographs play in allowing individuals to explore their own gender identity and sexuality? Read Jana’s write-up blog of the event.
After the event, visitors had the option to have their picture taken by photographic artist Bret Syfert. Bret turned the shots into gender blurring portraits. See the results and read Bret’s write-up blog of the event.