I have been obsessed with dime museums lately. I am currently in the process of adapting my previous post on them, Dime Museums and the Exhibitionary Complex, into a full book chapter for an upcoming collection, and my mind has been racing with thoughts. Dime museums are fascinating institutions that lie at the intersections between the museum and the circus. This was the realm of the humbug, where any manner of lie would be told to an adoring public. Wax dummies next to fake taxidermy. At the very heart, where the glitz and glamour of show business crossed with the curatorial, was the freak show. It was from the dime museum’s stage where the cabinets of human curiosities could be seen.
It was popular. Really popular. It was through his dime museum that PT Barnum became a household name. They would peak in popularity between the 1880s and 1890s, suffering a slow decline until their fateful death in the interwar period. But their memory lingers, even to today. My previous post looked to apply museum theory in the form of Tony Bennett to discuss dime museums, and in researching the book chapter, I found myself thinking on another facet of museum studies; Jennifer Tyburczy’s Sex Museums and her declaration that all museums are sex museums.
CW: Talk of Transphobia and TERFs
When I started searching for materials on transgender museum studies, I found essentially nothing. Literature on queer museums focuses so much on sexuality that I have seen LGBT and sexual minorities used interchangeably. In one of the few articles that I found that actually addressed transgender issues in a meaningful way, Robert Mills described “the T in ‘LGBT’ is often a fake T” (Mills, 256), a phrase often by trans activists to discuss the lack of trans visibility in the queer community. That article was originally published in 2006 but even 15 years later, I do not believe enough has changed to make that characterization any less true. For the most part, this usually encourages me to keep doing what I am doing, reminding me just how important my voice is to this field, but it can get so exhausting.
Trying to bridge the gap between transgender studies and museum studies.