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The New Dowse Celebrates Gender Diversity

Trans-what? Assume Nothing: Demystifying and Celebrating Gender Diversity

Assume Nothing, TheNewDowse, 12 April – 31 August

Transsexual, intersex, pan-sexual – when you enter TheNewDowse’s latest exhibition Assume Nothing, you will be greeted by a series of intimate portraits and a long list of terms that illustrate the diversity of gender identity.

However, photographer Rebecca Swan says this list is by no means exhaustive.

“There are terms like transgender, transsexual, whakawāhine, fa’afafine, hermaphrodite or intersex, as well as drag kings and drag queens. But within those boxes, every person’s way of identifying their gender is unique. Not everyone fits neatly into these categories. The title sums it up – although sometimes it’s challenging, I try not to assume anything about anyone’s gender identity or in-fact anything about them including their sexual identity.” she says.

Swan’s intimate portraits of people who have alternative gender identities will be shown publicly at TheNewDowse from April 12, alongside new documentary footage by award-winning director Kirsty McDonald.

Featuring several well-known personalities, such as politician Georgina Beyer, performer Carmen Rupe, activist and educator Mani Bruce Mitchell and artist Shigeyuki Kihara, the exhibition profiles over 20 people who define their own gender identity.

Several of the people profiled in the exhibition took part in the Human Rights Commission’s Inquiry into the Discrimination faced by Transgender People. The final report was published in January 2008.

Alongside the exhibition, TheNewDowse and the Human Rights Commission will be running a series of seminars that focus on improving understanding about human rights issues faced by trans people and reducing the discrimination they face.
The Transgender Inquiry met with over 200 people, including transgender people aged from 11 to those in their seventies. 80% of submissions described experiences of discrimination.
Swan says greater awareness of the diversity of gender identity is an important step towards reducing stereotypes and discrimination.

“I believe discrimination based on any form of difference, occurs predominantly through a lack of awareness. I have such huge admiration for everyone in Assume Nothing who generously share themselves with complete strangers via the book, the film and the exhibition. I believe it's this vulnerability that moves people and that's the bridge to understanding and respect. That's the essence of the project for me"

Director of TheNewDowse Tim Walker believes the exhibition, which will tour nationally, will lead to greater discussion around human rights for transgender people.

“The exhibition presents the experiences of some extraordinary people. We hope presenting these stories in a creative and non-judgemental way will provide an opportunity for people to learn about something that they may have found in some way threatening, or challenging. TheNewDowse is a safe and public space, where an exhibition like Assume Nothing can allow a lot of questions and discussion and ideas around sexuality, gender identity and cultural constructs. We see this as a key responsibility of museums in our society.”

If you wish to speak to either Director Tim Walker or Photographer Rebecca Swan please contact Communications Adviser Mandy Herrick on 560 1475.

For a summary of the Transgender Inquiry report see -

Celebrating and understanding gender diversity

Presented by the Human Rights Commission in association with the exhibition Assume Nothing

Young and Trans
Working positively with trans youth
Friday 27 June, 2.00 - 3.30pm
Specifically tailored for youth workers, guidance councillors and others working with young people, this workshop focuses on ways to create positive and inclusive environments in schools and youth groups for trans youth. The workshop will include guest speakers from the trans community who are youth or have worked with youth.

TransVocal - Sharing our stories builds our community
A dialogue session for Trans people, their families and friends.
Friday 27 June, 6.00pm
Join Julie Watson from the Human Rights Commission and guest speakers from the Trans Community. Using Rebecca Swan and Kirsty MacDonald’s images as a starting point, they will facilitate a conversation around the power of sharing stories, the link between trans and creativity, and ways in which to leverage the Transgender Inquiry to generate and support new initiatives.
(duration approx 90 mins)

Trans 101
Saturday 28 Jun, 2.00pm
Trans 101 is for people who want to understand more about the transgender community – what the words mean, how to facilitate trans people’s ease in an organisation or community group, what are appropriate questions to ask, what were the findings of the Human Rights Commission’s Inquiry into discrimination experienced by transgender people.
(duration approx 60 mins)

All sessions are FREE and will take place at TheNewDowse. 45 Laings Road, Lower Hutt, Wellington

To book please contact


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