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San Francisco Has a New Gallery For Trans Artists, By Trans Artists

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A green person in front of a psychedelic background holds a mysterious object.
A still from the 1997 film 'Alienator' by Texas Tomboy, whose work is showing in Liminal Space SF's first exhibition, 'Sensor.' (Texas Tomboy)

Over the past two years, the City has hemorrhaged thousands of residents seeking more affordable housing or a break from urban living during a pandemic. But some San Franciscans have used that time to put down deeper roots. They saw that the momentary dip in the real estate market provided a rare opportunity to establish something creative, generous and less baldly capitalistic—the kind of venture that, before COVID, might have had a tough time getting its footing in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Trans artist, curator, activist and writer Sam Carmel was one of these people. Near the start of the pandemic, they heard that a studio complex across from Victoria Manalo Draves Park in SOMA was having trouble filling an open unit. The 7th and Folsom Street location was intriguing: adjacent to both the Leather and LGBTQ Cultural District and the Transgender Cultural District, the space could serve as a nexus of the two if programmed intentionally. The studio had good sunlight, and Carmel had the time and will to remodel it so that it would be ready to showcase visual art.

After drawing up plans, Carmel acquired grants from Queens of the Castro and YBCA’s Guaranteed Income Pilot for Artists and got to work. Impressed with Carmel’s perseverance in the studio, the landlord also entrusted them with the 35-seat black box theater across the hall.

“I named it Liminal Space because [it] denotes a transition point, a movement through or beyond gender, a point in time, between entrance and exit,” says Carmel, whose gallery opens to the public on April 29 with DJ sets and performances by Bored Lord, La Frida, Del, Fiera, Rose Cherami and WELIVEINPARADI$E.

“I think it’s a beautiful term to think about in conversation with trans identity,” Carmel continues. “It also speaks to what feels like the inevitability of displacement. I’m not sure how long it will last, and this space may disappear or move as time goes on.”


Creating a space specifically for trans arts had long been a dream of Carmel’s. A 2019 Mills College graduate, they are a founding member of Queerdome, a harm reduction program for queer psychedelic drug users piloted at Burning Man in 2019. They also co-founded Transguard SF, a security, peer support and harm reduction organization that operates within trans-centered recreational events.

But Carmel saw the need for more spaces designed for trans inclusion that didn’t revolve around nightlife. Specifically, they noticed a dearth of representation in the local visual art scene.

“As trans artists, we are often pigeonholed into nightlife or pushed out of the conversation completely,” says Carmel. “I wanted to create a place where we can come together and be in community, and engage in a space that is open to new ideas and modes of artmaking.”

“I want trans people to have access to show in a professional gallery, so I built a gallery for us,” Carmel adds. Their hope is that Liminal Space will “give artists the space they need to launch their careers and be in conversation with the contemporary art culture of the Bay Area and beyond.”

For Liminal Space’s opening on the 29th, Carmel has curated Sensor, a multidisciplinary show featuring several generations of trans artists: sculptures and installations by local multimedia artist Orlando; videos by San Francisco and New Zealand-based video artist Texas Tomboy, who produced the first and only film in history to feature over 100 transgender actors; sculptures by the late San Francisco artist Edward Mordak; and miniatures by the late skag-drag performance artist and painter Jerome Caja.

For Texas Tomboy, the endeavor is a revelation: “A majority of work I’m showing has never been shared with anyone ever,” he says. “When I was making it, bisexuals weren’t included and transgender was barely a word. There were no arts outlets I felt safe reaching out to.”

“Now we have a 100% trans art gallery run by and for our community and allies,” he says. “A dream come true.”

Sensor opens Friday, April 29, at Liminal Space in San Francisco, at 6pm.

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