Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Coming Together

My last post was a bit of a love letter about the project Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Art In America. This past weekend I had the opportunity to participate in another great photo project by L. Weingarten called A Series of Questions. In his own words:

This ongoing body of work explores the power dynamics inherent in the questions asked of transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and gender-variant people.

Many documentary photographic projects that deal with trans issues exploit the genders of their subjects, pointing to an "otherness" or inappropriately exoticizing their bodies. A Series of Questions seeks instead to make visible the transphobia and gender-baiting that can become part of everyday interactions and lives, forming a fuller picture of the various lived experiences. In so doing, this work contrasts with the dehumanizing approaches that predominate the images made of transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and gender-variant people, which often focus solely on their gender or trans status, or use them to further a specific point about social construction and gender.

I was drawn to this project for the way it exposes the level of invasion trans people experience on a day to day basis. Strangers asking questions about our bodies and relationships that they would never ask anyone other than perhaps a very close friend. By turning the very personal questions outwards, the public is forced to grapple with what these questions mean and how uncomfortable they can make us.

The only other person I had modeled for in this intimate sort of way was Molly, and we had known each other for a long time prior. I was a little apprehensive about what it would be like with a stranger. Being photographed can be a really intimate experience. Good photos and photographers ask you to expose a lot of yourself. To truly participate I knew I needed to bring that to the table. The experience ended up being wonderful. We went to a park in deep South Philly (not necessarily known for it's queer friendliness) and although we got a number of stares I always felt comfortable, protected and safe. (Anyone who would like to participate in this project should contact the artist.)

The experience reminded me how great it is that there are a number of projects that are focusing on queer communities--projects looking beyond ourselves and trying to capture our worlds. Aside from us as queer people taking control of own representation, I love how these projects are forming bonds within our communities that otherwise never would have been there. I am able to meet artists and models and through my being photographed I have a shared experience with countless others.

I've noted before that transitioning is a very isolating experience. We transition (some of us more publicly than others) we feel awkward and uncomfortable and lonely and lost. Then we begin to pass and, for some of us, we're so relieved that we just want to be left alone. This happened to me and being left alone was fine, until I realized I was alone. Not literally alone, not unsupported--I had great friends, a wonderful family and an amazing partner. I just didn't have that same group around me that seemed to come out of nowhere when I moved to college and really came out publicly as a dyke.

Part of this is certainly a change in life circumstances. I don't want to go out to a street fair, get wasted and look at at people. (All those things are great, but I'm partnered and too old. I prefer to sit and get wasted in a darkened bar or my living room.) I've met other trans guys, many of whom I like a lot, but for what ever reason our paths don't cross on a regular basis and I don't feel that sense of connection.

These projects make me feel a little more connected, they help us all be part of one big picture. I recognize names, I recognize faces, I recognize people. We are making our own culture and we are beginning to do it smartly, consciously and, most importantly, we are doing it together.