Canterbury Museum

Trans-what? Assume Nothing: Celebrating Gender Diversity

Posted: 24 June 2009

Transsexual, intersex, gender fluid – when you enter Assume Nothing at Canterbury Museum expect to be greeted by a series of intimate portraits and a long list of terms that illustrate the diversity of gender identity.

Photographer Rebecca Swan says this list is by no means exhaustive.

“There are terms like transgender, transsexual, whakawāhine, fa’afafine, hermaphrodite or intersex, as well as drag kings and drag queens. But within those boxes, every person’s way of identifying their gender is unique. Not everyone fits neatly into these categories. The title sums it up – although sometimes it’s challenging, I try not to assume anything about anyone’s gender identity or in-fact anything about them.” she says.

Developed and toured by TheNewDowse, Assume Nothing is on display at Canterbury Museum as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival 2009. The exhibition explores the intimacies, complexities and nuances of gender diversity through a collection of portrait photographs by Rebecca Swan and films by Kirsty MacDonald. Individuals portrayed include much-loved New Zealand personalities Carmen Rupe and Georgina Beyer, activist and spokesperson Mani Bruce Mitchell, and artist Shigeyuki Kihara.

Several of the people profiled in the exhibition also took part in the Human Rights Commission’s Inquiry into the Discrimination faced by Transgender People. The final report was published in January 2008.

Kirsty MacDonald says, “This is my hope, that while my film and Rebecca’s images will not tell you what to think about gender, they may open up cracks in your thinking and move you to embrace the idea of assuming nothing about her, him, you, or me.”

Alongside the exhibition, Canterbury Museum and the Human Rights Commission are running a series of public programmes that focus on improving understanding about the human rights issues faced by trans people and reducing discrimination.

Swan says greater awareness of the diversity of gender identity is an important step towards reducing stereotypes and discrimination.

“I believe discrimination based on any form of difference, occurs predominantly through a lack of awareness. I have such huge admiration for everyone in Assume Nothing who generously share themselves with complete strangers via the book, the film and the exhibition. I believe it's this vulnerability that moves people and that's the bridge to understanding and respect. That's the essence of the project for me."


Rebecca Swan and Kirsty MacDonald will be attending an invitation only preview of the exhibition at Canterbury Museum on Friday 3 July. For further information, interview and image requests please contact Communications Manager Karin Stahel on 03 366 9429 ext 869.

For a summary of the Transgender Inquiry report visit

Public Programmes at Canterbury Museum

Assume Nothing Floor Talk: Rebecca Swan and Kirsty MacDonald
28 July, 5.30 – 7.00 pm 
Artist Rebecca Swan and film maker Kirsty MacDonald share their passion for the Assume Nothing project, the challenges, both personal and professional and the extraordinary trust and respect developed over 14 years to create the artworks you see today.

Trans 101: an introduction
28 July, 7.30 – 9.00 pm
A fun session for people wanting to understand more about the issues faced by transgender and transsexual people. The panel of guests reflects the diversity of trans communities. Bring along your questions and hear about the Human Rights Commission’s Transgender Inquiry, and ways you can support its actions and recommendations.

Young and Trans: working positively with trans youth
18 August, 5.30 – 7.00 pm 
A workshop tailored to those working with youth, this programme focuses on creating schools, youth groups and health services that are positive, inclusive and safe for trans youth. Guest speakers include trans youth and people that work with them.

Trans Vocal: sharing our stories builds our community
18 August, 7.30 – 9.00 pm 
Trans people will talk about the power of using creativity to express their gender identity. This session is a celebration for trans people, their families and friends, and is open to the general public. 

General admission to Canterbury Museum is free; donations are appreciated.

Canterbury Museum is located on Rolleston Avenue, in the Cultural Precinct, next to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and opposite The Arts Centre on Worcester Boulevard.