Alexis Hollada is one of Houston’s most dynamic metal musicians. She has sung and played bass in both Project Armageddon as well as her current project, Doomstress. She’s also a trans woman, and one of the city’s primary voices in trans acceptance. We previously chronicled some of her life in the aftermath of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance's passing as opposition mounted, borne on scaremongering over the perception it would allow sexual predators into restrooms.
It was following the repeal of HERO in the 2014 mid-term elections that photographer Gary Watson began to get interested in trans rights. Watson is best known as the writer and director of the short film and tie-in comic book, After Twilight, a dystopian tale about Texas seceding to form a theocracy, something that feels more and more plausible as years pass. After watching North Carolina institute its transphobic policies regarding bathrooms, Watson began work on a new photography project exploring the issue.
“I knew this is something that is going to come up in the Texas legislature the next time around,” says Watson. “I wanted to do something about that.”
A mutual friend introduced him to Hollada, and the two began collaborating on what would eventually be a narrative photo exhibit called “Dear Lieutenant Governor, We’re Just People.” Starting in June of 2016, Watson would follow Hollada to various outings in her life, capturing both the unique fire that is her as a local rock goddess, and the more intimate moments that make up her day-to-day life.
Appropriately staged just off the hallway leading to the men’s bathroom in Spring Street Studios, “Dear Lieutenant Governor” is a touching black-and-white celebration of a life that many fear and do not understand. Watson shot many of the images on a Leica camera that predates the Second World War, and it lends a playful banality to everything he captures in his images. Maybe you caught some of those amazing Jeffrey Gent photos of same-sex couples from the past that make the rounds on the Internet every so often? Those photos ground LGBTQ life deep in the past in part because of their sheer artifice, and Watson’s vintage camera drapes that mantle around Hollada even as he shoots her rocking out or repairing a motorcycle engine.
My personal favorite image from the exhibit is a backstage one. Hollada stands off to the left, her face slightly blurry and half in shadow as she stares intently at longtime Houston music scenester Herman Garcia. Above her and to the right is a sign that says, “the following persons will not be allowed on the premises,” with indecipherable pictures of faces underneath.
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It’s the perfect image to sum up the struggle of trans Texans right now. A federal judge recently ruled that doctors could refuse to treat trans people owing to religious objections (you can read our coverage of the horrific discrimination trans people already face in the medical community). Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has also been making strides to institute a North Carolina-style bathroom law here in Texas. Trans Texans are quite literally under attack.
Which is why Hollada continues to participate in such projects.
“I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t mind that it always comes up being transgender and a woman in metal,” says Hollada. “I wouldn’t say it’s burdensome, but I do sometimes wish I could just focus on the music. On the other hand, I get messages from fans, friends and kids struggling with trans issues; I know I am helping them. I realize it’s a responsibility.”
“Dear Lieutenant Governor, We’re Just People” runs through February 18 at the Spring Street Studios Tank Space, 1824 Spring Street. The opening reception is tonight (January 12) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.