Cis Penance is an online exhibition by artist Zoyander Street, launching as part of Site Gallery's Digital Realness, a season exploring the relationship between our online and offline selves. The exhibition takes the form of an interactive digital game exploring stories of transgender and nonbinary people.
Cis Penance is named after an essay by trans writer Patience Newbury, Maybe You Should Never Transition. Newbury argues that to deny trans people the right to transition when they decide to do so “serves positively no benefit to a trans person. It merely impresses a cis person’s own denial of a trans person onto that trans person, forcing the latter to serve a cissexist penance.” In this project, trans people talk about their experiences of time, many describing the "cissexist penance" they've paid to bureaucratic and cultural gatekeeping in the UK.
Zoyander Street has interviewed transgender and nonbinary individuals from around the UK. This project highlights material about temporality, drawing attention to the sisyphean bureaucratic processes imposed on transgender people in a country growing increasingly hostile to trans civil rights.
For Cis Penance, Zoyander turns these interviews into interactive dialogues, where the player acts as the interviewer. Whereas traditional documentary makes the viewer into an observer whose only job is to respond emotionally, here the audience is called to respond through their actions.