A Collaborative Video Series
Surgery started in 2012 as an ongoing collaborative video project with artists Creighton Baxter and Bug Davidson. I made the first Surgery video because I repeatedly experienced point 5 from the Non-Trans/Cisgender Privilege Checklist:
5) Strangers and acquaintances do not ask what my genitals look like or what medical procedures I have had.
Surgery allowed me to transform my rage into something productive and political. All of the Surgery videos are captured in Photobooth, because it resembles the format of trans vlogs on YouTube.
Creating Surgery was a way for me to attempt to come to terms with disappointment, the failure to be seen as trans, and the slow pace of change in regards to how others speak or do “not speak” about my existence. In his essay “Art and Objecthood” (1967), Michael Fried mandates that “theatrical art is corrupt, perverted, incurable, infectious, and degenerate.” These words are synonymous with the language that has been used to talk about my existence as a trans person, and trans people generally. Others refuse our physical existence, because they are uncomfortable with our genitalia or what might be under our clothes. I am seeking to validate the idea of queering theatricality, in life as well as in my artistic practice.
What is the body, if not personal and/or political? Surgery is therapeutic but not therapy— I view Surgery as a form of dialogical catharsis. The art world is invested in polite queer artists making polite work; it would be even better if the work they were making had something to do with relational aesthetics or social practice.
I have no name.
This is a form of daily social practice.
My work attempts to talk about the process of breaking down isolation in order to survive the trauma of day-to-day life. Artaud said that “no one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell.” Gender confusion is a small price to pay for social progress. I define social progress as the visible presence of transgendered bodies in my work. I am aware that others may not read my body as transgendered. However, this is how I choose to define my body and gender. People can learn to work around my definitions of gender because I have spent my life working around others’ definitions. I have the right and ability to exercise complete control over my flesh. It’s mine. I live here. I don’t rent. I am not borrowing it. My body belongs to me and I am going to do with it what I choose until I die. My body becomes the site of reclaiming physical and psychological space.
— Sarah Hill
I have long used humor to deflect serious and possibly hurtful questions and conversations, and as a way to be honest. There are years of shame that I must navigate to be able to speak about a lived truth, to include my image and voice here. I wrestle with the process and outcomes of how funny I want to be/can possibly be. I believe in the healing power of laughter and that jokes belong to people that exist.
Throughout my life I have encountered coercive commentary and questioning about my body. As a person with a hunchback I am often asked by others when/if I will have (or could afford to have) the spinal fusion that would “fix” my “deviation.” Since I have “come out” as trans* I now encounter similar questions and commentary about my genitals and secondary sex characteristics. My performance within Surgery is part standup and part exorcism; a collaged re-performing of the violent and insidious utterances of people throughout my life.
Sarah’s invitation to perform in Surgery was and is very much about trust: trusting in Sarah’s construction of my performance through video-editing and trusting in the potency of trans* people across spectrums of experience to create interdependent means of making our experiences affirmed and sustainable.
“Surgery” is from our Sex Issue (winter 2014/2015)