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Beyond the Binary

Simmons scholars helped Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts put its “Gender Bending Fashion” exhibit in context.

When the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston announced its recent “Gender Bending Fashion” exhibit, it immediately caught the attention of Simmons’ gender/cultural studies student Matisse DuPont ’19MA, who reached out to the Museum via Instagram. 

“The language they were using seemed rooted in a binaristic notion of what gender was in order to subvert that,” said DuPont. “I wrote to them expressing my concerns, and the development team invited me in for a meeting. From there, they hired me as a consultant for the interpretive texts.” DuPont proceeded to recommend that the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) also enlist Professor Jo Trigilio as consultant—and they did. 

Photograph above: The MFA exhibit included this dress from Alessandro Trincone’s “Annodami” collection (Spring/Summer 2017).

“Since I’ve met Mati, we’ve had ongoing discussions about gender and appearance. We are both gender variant and locate ourselves in queer culture,” said Trigilio, who has a longstanding academic interest in gendered clothing, bodies, and appearance. 

The MFA exhibit examined the history of fashion—from haute couture to streetwear—that has challenged the traditional division between menswear and womenswear and the forces that have sought to enforce gender as a strict binary. The exhibit also explored contemporary approaches to gender fluidity. 

“I ensured that the interpretive texts were in line with contemporary theories of gender and sexuality, while still remaining accessible and edifying for the public,” said Matisse DuPont ’19MA.

Professor Jo Trigilio, left, and Matisse DuPont ’19MA

“I ensured that the interpretive texts were in line with contemporary theories of gender and sexuality, while still remaining accessible and edifying for the public,” said DuPont. “Being able to apply my knowledge as an academically informed member of the LGBTQIA+ community to this widely reviewed exhibition at such a prestigious institution was incredibly fulfilling.” Along the way, DuPont also “successfully advocated for the Museum to open its first permanent, multi-stall, all-gender restrooms.” 

Trigilio helped to compile a glossary to accompany the exhibit. “I applaud the MFA for taking the time to provide an educational context for the exhibit. Gender variance is poorly understood and often conflated with sexual orientation. The glossary provides definitions of terms associated with gender variance and sexual orientation.” 

Trigilio and DuPont both said they thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with the MFA team. “The open and collaborative spirit that framed our work allowed us to learn from one another,” said Trigilio.