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CAUGHT IN THEIR GAZE

WHEN RÍO SOFIA EXHIBITED HER FORCED WOMANHOOD! series of self-portraits in her final year as a student at Cooper Union, she braced herself for a backlash. The work, a mix of still and moving images inspired by forced feminization erotica, was too jarring, abrasive, and unrepentantly deviant, she thought, to warrant celebration. To the visual artist’s surprise, the school community loved it. The president even personally thanked her for creating it, and the admissions office toured prospective students and their parents through the exhibition space to show how safe the school’s students felt to express themselves. Though positive, the response unsettled Sofia.

“I was just so confused,” she says. “I

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