In October of 2014, I found myself sitting across from the amazing American actor Denis O’Hare in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Both living in Fort Greene, a beautiful, leafy neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, we both found it a little curious that we’d actually met for coffee 1300 miles away in Louisiana. Looking back, it was nothing but divine intervention. During our lovely conversation, I expressed my disappointment in the lack of media representation for transgender men and the lack of acting opportunities for us. Denis simply said, “Create your own work.”
Keeping Denis’ words in mind, I traveled back to New York and sat with my thoughts about the lack of transmale representation in American media. With the few opportunities transmen have, almost all of them are passable and almost all of them actively work to erase qualities that are seen as trans. From the way acting roles are written to be cis-normative to the way photos are cropped to block out hips or are retouched to erase scars. It’s inauthentic to the lived experiences of so many transgender men, and creates a standard that is unattainable for a lot of trans folks. This kind of representation also reinforces the idea, to non-transgender people, that gender is binary; that a man is A and a woman is B and that there is no A- or B+.
A week later, back in New York, I went to a panel discussion called LGBT TV which featured television showrunners whose shows were helping to shape the LGBT television landscape in the US: Brad Falchuk from Glee/American Horror Story, Jenji Kohan from Orange is the New Black, Jill Soloway from Transparent, Michael Lannan from Looking and Peter Paige from Queer As Folk/The Fosters. A great conversation was had, as all of these shows are wonderful, but the one thing that struck me came from Jill Soloway and was something I’d also heard a week prior a thousand miles away: “Create your own work.”
I knew what I needed to do. I needed to fill the void that I was seeing and add my voice as a transmasculine person to the world. On October 31, 2014, I took what was the first of an ever-growing series of daily fine art self-portraits, I call, “Mine.” The title refers to the reclamation of transgender storytelling by transgender people and also a reclamation of my own trans identity that had been watered down by an unsupportive romantic partner and unsupportive family. The daily format of Mine is meant to be unremarkable and ordinary, showing a glimpse into the daily life of one person who happens to be transgender. But once viewed on a larger scale becomes remarkable and extraordinary, highlighting authenticity, emotion and desirability.
On a technical level, it was very important for all the photos to be unedited, except for lighting when it’s dark outside. It was also important that most of the photos be full body, or at least ¾. My hips are never Photoshopped to be slimmer, my chest scars are never edited to be lighter.
Mine’s goal is to show the most authentic version of a transmale narrative, and judging by the outpouring of supportive messages I’ve received, that’s something the world wants and needs to see as well.