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#tofacetransvoice: An International Collaboration of Two Trans Artists

Updated: May 5


Linn Schiffmann (left), Dalton Harrison (right)

In July 2023, thanks to the ART.Transfer Work Scholarship from the Dortmund Cultural Office, I, Linn Schiffmann, non-binary visual artist and writer from Dortmund, Germany had the opportunity to travel to Leeds. My goal was to collaborate with poet Dalton Harrison on an artistic project focusing on transgender, queer, and LGBT+ themes. That’s how the project #tofacetransvoice came to live.


The concept behind #tofacetransvoice was not only to give a face to Harrison's poems but, more importantly, to capture the deep emotions within his verses. In Leeds, we worked on integrating his poetry into my paintings, depicting the mental strain experienced by trans individuals, but also the joy of living one’s true self.


Before my journey, two online meetings with Dalton took place. Initially concerned about our collaboration due to his reserved demeanor during these sessions, it turned out, that he was just trying not to overwhelm me. I discovered, upon meeting Dalton in Leeds, an open and expressive personality. Dalton generously shared his story, providing insights into the background of his poems and allowing me to connect with his life.


Throughout my 10-day stay, Dalton and I worked at various locations significant to his poetry. We visited Chapel FM, where we did a reading. Peter Stafford, our contact at Chapel FM, played a crucial role, supporting us and facilitating the connection between Dalton and me.


The journey to Leeds became not only a creative collaboration but also a personal enrichment. We attended Pride events, Dalton introduced me to his friends, and I immediately felt at ease in their company. The relaxed atmosphere aided not only our artistic growth but also our interpersonal connection.


Overall, the trip to Leeds was not just an artistic adventure but also a journey of personal connection and understanding. My gratitude goes to the Dortmund Cultural Office, Chapel FM Radio, and especially Dalton Harrison for this unforgettable experience. I hope for more joint projects with Dalton and lots of visits with all my new friends from Leeds.


 

International collaboration and the journey to #tofacetransvoice

 

When we look into a new year, we think deeply about what’s to change and what might change or if we even can. I looked at 2023 as the year of new beginnings. I was four months fresh from my top surgery and was wearing my body like I had been hit by a thunderbolt by Zeus' fair hand.

 

I had been given many labels, and  I now felt like I was finally making my own. I had gone from ‘It’s a baby girl’ to ‘’Who’s that guy?’ from make-believe to my authentic self. With each step I took, I never doubted everyone would one day see me, yet, every day, doubting how I could make this dream happen as my thirties were disappearing and my life spiralled into prison.

 

What happens when a life stops? When it is stripped bare and all that is left is a body and one room. A cell.


Those two years saw me find myself and begin shaping and forming my body in words. Finding language that would keep me alive long enough to get out of my body's prison and out of my reality. A female prison in the North of England.

 

Each poem was my gender journey; each word was my scream into water. The empty cell that echoed and the hope one day, I would find redemption.

 

I lost my mother when I was still in prison. She was a poet, painter and writer. I was always so fiercely proud of my Dutch heritage. Her legacy grew seeds of hope to one day be the poet and writer she could be proud of.

 

In July 2023, I felt overwhelmed and honoured to work on a project that shaped words and art together. That took my voice as a trans man and painted colour and life into every word that shaped and formed a picture of strength and pain and, in doing so, created art that could shine a light on queer lives.

 

Meeting Linn was more than a collaboration of creativity. It was a summer of queer joy, of learning about myself through the eyes of others. I suddenly found myself living the poetry I wrote from another perspective. All the loneliness I had felt my whole life, from my childhood to a prison cell. Reframed myself in the ten days I learnt from Linn about the colour of words and how our voices mattered as long as we worked together. I found the connection and communication I had not found when I sat alone night after night, listening to the train hammering across a bridge near my prison cell. All the alarms and emptiness changed into laughter, and I realised I was wrong in all the moments I thought no one was like me or felt like me. These moments reminded me of not who I was but who I knew I would always be. Learning to love yourself can be hard, living in the shadows of your past, your body, your life. But finding the light can be anywhere. If you learn where to look, going back to the significant places of my poetry with Linn, I found the moments I had become my dreams. In that space between survival and living, I found me. Everyone deserves to find that peace. This collaboration brought me trans joy and friendship and showed me the importance of finding your tribe and following your heart.


 

Poems that shaped the paintings

 

'Speak out! Power, Privilege, and Pride' by Linn Schiffmann

Power, privilege and pride

 

Do you feel you need to hide?

Is true identity to hard to find

Experience based on the society you were born into

You surrender to power and privilege

But where’s the pride!

Don’t be silenced

What happened? What’s important? What’s avoided?

Speak out!

Gender, race, sexuality or age

Does religion or class seal your fate?

Behind all that is denied

Behind pre-judged notions

Is a heart

Knocking down barriers

To be spoken too directly, rather than the person next to me

Or not to fear interactions with anyone due to my gender identity

To walk into a bathroom and not be assaulted

My validity not judged by if I pass well in society

Or not checking where I can take holidays in case I am breaking a law

To not go hungry or homeless

Or worry about what message my wardrobe is sending out

To be expected to change my name upon marriage or questioned if I don’t

I simply want to be seen as me


 

Shadows on my wall

'Shadows on my wall' by Linn Schiffmann

I’ve always loved the sea

Memories change and circle

Hurt, dreams whirl inside

Glide along, white foam, repeat

Hear nothing but sounds

Salt in the air

Wave after wave

I’ve always loved the sea

Kneel down on hot sand

Land that goes on and on

No walls, fences or bars

Hard just staring at a picture

Mixture of feelings

Overlap

Trapped

Repeat

Like the waves to the shore

One day, one year

The sounds, the air, the roar

The tide will change

Lace my lungs with freedoms breath

I’ll sit and watch the waves

No longer just a picture on my wall

 

 

The lucifer effect


'The lucifer effect' by Linn Schiffmann

I was born into a prison.

My body 

Alien

Each step I took

Praised

Only if I conformed

I looked over their shoulders

Only to wake in a sweatbox

I felt the air 

 Enter my lungs like the smoke of a blown-out candle

While each colour faded to black and white

I stood

In front of barbwire

Behind brick and wall

Between officers and prisoners

Reliving dreams

Where I was screaming into water

When I took my first shower

I tried to remember the feeling of sea spray against my skin

But only found

The taste of my tears

I was locked in

A transgender prisoner

Inside this prison

Inside the fortress of my body 

Trapped inside my mind

Confined

A matryoshka doll

Hidden deep within

My soul

A prison within a prison

Maybe that’s why they call it

Transgression

But now I am ready

To turn my prison

Into my platform

My time inside has taught me that much

To transform my pride

To not be defined by my worst mistakes

From inside to outside

I will be me



 

About Dalton Harrison

 

Dalton Harrison is a dyslexic trans man with a history of prison. He is currently studying for a BA in criminal justice and criminology, and he believes that is why he did the practical before the theory. Dalton has performed in Blur the Lines at the Playhouse, the Leeds Literature Festival, and the Leeds Poetry Festival.

 

His poetry has been used in several plays on criminal Justice themes and a contemporary dance called Seventeen by Dance United Yorkshire. He has had his poetry changed into music for the Leeds Lieder Festival and performed on BBC 3 Music Matters. Dalton has talked at universities across the country and collaborated internationally.

 

Recently performing at the BBC Contains Strong Language. Dalton has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines including Pink News, Queer AF, Transmuted, Education Review, Research for All and recently, the anthology Twenty-eight. His debut poetry collection, The Boy Behind The Wall, is a memoir account of his life.


 

 

About Linn Schiffmann

 

Linn Schiffmann (she/they), was born on Friday 13th in 1990. Residence: Dortmund, Germany. They have a B.A. in General & Comparative Literature and History, and are a full time visual artist and author.

 

In literary terms, Linn tends towards gloomy short stories and dark twists and turns. They describes themself as pan and non-binary and wants to make the LGBTQ community more visible through their queer protagonists.

 

Several publications in German/Austrian anthologies/literary magazines.

Recent project: QUEER-NunRedenWir, an anthology with texts that focus on the topic 'queer' from 30 German authors who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.

 

Since 2020, Linn has been a member of the authors' guild LiteraturRaumDortmundRuhr.

 

They are also a member of the German Writers Union (VS) since 2022.

 

Last but not least, Linn is the editor of Wortwischer, a podcast about literature and the literary business with focus on the Ruhr area.

 

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