As gender identity remains a topical issue, it raises interesting questions about equality and self-expression. It’s been estimated that nearly 1.4 million Americans openly identify as transgender, although it’s suspected that the true number is much higher. According to the American Journal of Public Health, 90 percent of those who identify as transgender have experienced harassment or discrimination at some point in their life and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes solely on the basis of their gender identity. Additionally, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted in 2011, showed that 41 percent of its participants had attempted suicide at some point in their life, citing sexual, physical, and verbal assault and discrimination as the main reasons.
While public figures like Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, and model Hari Nef, have successfully brought a greater amount of social acceptance, the celebrity circuit that accompanies them can often overshadow the real issues that are still facing this community. Media coverage that, at times, can verge on sensationalist or serve as tabloid “click-bait” also forces an increased number of trans people to be asked invasive questions about their sexual orientation regardless of whether or not they’ve invited the conversation. The benefits of increased attention surrounding the community undoubtedly outweighs the negatives, but as it goes with any movement, educating the general public is a process that can take time.
Here, CR asks six transgender women—some artists, one Parsons graduate set out to design gender neutral clothing, and a model—to tell their stories.
“I’ve been transitioning my whole life, but chemically, I’ve been changing for the last nine months. Most recently, I graduated from Parsons in New York and have been developing my own line of gender neutral clothing. I want to celebrate the grey areas of life and stop labeling things. Clothes should just be called clothes. As I continue to form it, I’m redefining and reconstructing my own gender identity and what I want my gender identity to be. I’m not sure what the finished product will exactly look like, but I do know that it will be honest. I think it’s the responsibility of trans individuals to use their creativity as a vehicle to talk about their stories. There’s so much disparity between the trend of over-simplifying and glamorizing trans girls and the hate and crime a lot of the community goes through on a daily basis, but I do think that there’s hope. As long as you’re patient and willing to understand that not everyone’s going to get it the first time around, we can keep moving forward. It’s a step-by-step process and requires a team effort on both sides, but when I see how far we’ve come even in just the last year, it makes me excited for the future.”
“People have this strange sort of fantasy that fashion is evil, but for me it’s really helped me to trust myself. I moved to New York from Maine, and along with studying art, I’ve found the few portraits and fashion photoshoots I’ve been involved in to be really positive experiences in terms of forming my identity. It sounds cliché, but coming to the city was by far the biggest thing I’ve done in my life. I sort of broke down when I arrived because what I had done was so important for me. Coming from a small town with really rigid views about lifestyle, was really suffocating. I felt like I had to play the role of the outsider. It’s only with space away from there that I’ve been able to transition. I don’t really have any particular plans for the future. I’m just trying to understand myself and figuring it all out as I go along. I’m still in the process of change, but I think that we all are. I feel like people are starting to realize a lot more about themselves and their identity. Not everybody is as solid as they always think. I definitely know that about myself.”
“When I was a kid I would go to Walgreens to get a sketchpad and crayons, and I would always be doodling. As I got older that turned into writing as well, and now sometimes my drawings and writing turn into sculptures and performances. I did my first show at Cooper Union in New York last August and have a performance at Smack Mellon gallery in Brooklyn in March. I use my art to tell my stories about life as a trans girl, as a black person, as everything that I am, but I use a mythogical context to buffer it. I didn’t grow up a boy and then suddenly one day think ‘I want to be a girl.’ It was more that I’m a really androgynous person with a really androgynous body and felt liberated being in a place of neutrality. As I matured, I felt too solidified as a man, so I decided to do something about it and grow more approximate to femininity. I identify as a trans girl, but also I just identify as trans because I’m super tomboyish and I love wearing really boyish clothes and looking like I may or may not have just gotten out of bed. I think that my name is reflective of that. Haize is like a fog. A mystifying thing which can act as a metaphor for androgyny and just being in-between. I don’t think anything in life is permanent—not even me—so I chose to live in the now. It’s just me going as I go and seeing what happens.”
“I’m from Arizona, but right now I’m living in Portland taking some college classes. When I was 15 I came to New York and started doing some modeling. I was still a boy then, but I always knew in the back of my head that wasn’t how I actually was. I just didn’t know much about it. Now I’m 21 and I’m signed to Women/360 Management. I’m their first transgender model and there’s never been any issue with it, but I didn’t chose to announce it to world until last summer. I’m a pretty shy person, so being public about it has been hard because I don’t like to draw a lot of attention to myself, but I do feel a duty to send out the message and bring greater acceptance to the trans community. At the same time, I’m just a person and this is my life and everyday reality, not a show for people to watch. I’ve started writing and telling my story, but for now I don’t want to share it. For the foreseeable future it’s staying safe on my computer.”
“I’m from outer space originally, from a planet outside of The Milky Way, but I’ve been in New York for about four years. There aren’t many other places I’d want to be in this country and I’ve had lots of different lifetimes in my time here, but I don’t think life is about getting to a destination. I call myself an artist as an umbrella term because I do and am a lot of things. My best friend died in 2014 which marked a big turning point in my life. He was the most amazing person I’ve ever known and inspired me to acknowledge my trans-ness. That’s when I started really creating art. For my first show, I shot lots of full-frontal nudes of myself and put them up on the wall for my friends to see. I felt really empowered by that, like I had nothing to hide. This is me and this is my body. Right now I’m working on a film with a friend called ‘Ready When U R.’ It’s about the relationships we have with ourselves, and freedom and what it means to us. I’m not trying to prove anything or shock anyone with it. It’s symbolic of a lot of things and I want the audience to interpret it in their own way. In an ideal world, no one would have to think about how they’re interpreted. My personal goal is to get to a point where I don’t think about other people existing at all.”
“The first photoshoot I did in this body was scary, but I related the feeling to going on stage before a performance. I’ve been in theater all my life, so I tried to hone in on the adrenaline and breathe. As soon as I stood in front of the camera, I felt so liberated. It was like I could finally do this and be my own vision. I’ve lived all over, but most recently Miami and now Brooklyn. I think it’s much easier to live in New York because there’s a really strong transgender scene and there are a lot of modeling and performance opportunities for me. There is so much exposure for the community in general right now and I think that just getting the word ‘transgender’ into people’s mouths is a good thing, but it can be hard when people only want to see the before and after pictures. They don’t want to see the rawness of transitioning. People can be transgender and have beards or choose to take hormones and not conform to feminine stereotypes of beauty. It’s about choosing who you are and how you want to live and not letting society tell you otherwise. I think that we have a long way to go, but at least the world is finally talking about us.”
PHOTOGRAPHS JUNE CANEDO
FASHION RON HARTLEBEN
MAKEUP LINDA GRADIN
HAIR BLAKE ERIK
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