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Annette Sabater '84

An Iris Stands Tall: A Mother’s Journey, a Daughter’s Transition

As a mother, Annette Sabater ’84 stood witness to a profound coming-of-age story when her transgender child—who had proclaimed herself to be a girl at age 2—began a medical transition at age 16. As an artist, Annette explored her own experience and emotional response through graphite, charcoal, and oil pastel on paper, from 2014 to 2016. The result is a collection of observations, musings, cultural commentary, and personal narrative captured in An Iris Stands Tall, recently exhibited at Cerimon House and Multnomah Arts Center Gallery in Portland, Ore.

The pieces featured here embody four intimate aspects of Annette’s story. “Purple” shows newborn babies boxed in by preconceived ideas of gender at birth, with one outlier who defies this dichotomy. “Boy Queen” confronts the challenge of dressing up on Halloween. When her 4-year-old, then identified as a boy, wanted the glam and sparkle of a princess costume, Annette tried a compromise. He could be a king, complete with plastic jewels and a faux-fur-lined purple taffeta cape. “The king costume was safe, and we were hopeful it would satisfy his regal feminine spirit,” Annette writes. It didn’t work. “But I am a queen,” he insisted.

“Hoodie Shell” shows a boy wrapped in his favorite layer of clothing that served as “a means of getting lost ... where he could hide and feel protected.” And “My Eyes Will Always Be Blue” documents an important moment for Annette during the transition. “My daughter reminded me that her core remained the same,” she writes.“I began to look into her eyes more as her outside appearance shifted from young man to woman. I looked, and found her soul remained steady and strong as the process continued.”

To see more works from this exhibit, visit asabaterart.com or view them in person at The Arts Center in Corvallis, Ore., May 10 through June 26.

—Stacey Cook

Hoodie Shell. Oil pastel and graphite on paper. 18x24 in.
Purple. Oil pastel and graphite on paper. 22x31 in. Boy Queen. Oil pastel and graphite on paper. 18x24 in.
My Eyes Will Always Be Blue. Oil pastel, graphite, and charcoal on paper. 18x24 in.