Sharing your story of struggle and resilience can be revolutionary — especially when lives like yours are consistently misrepresented.
An ongoing photo and interview series called Transilient taps into that idea, documenting the diverse lives and experiences of transgender and gender-nonconforming people around the U.S. The series aims to challenge mainstream media representation of trans lives, and prove that trans people are more than just their experiences with gender.
Transilient is created for the community, by the community, featuring portrait-style photos of trans people along with excerpted, unedited interviews with those depicted.
The result is a raw and powerful Humans of New York-esque documentation of trans Americans' everyday lives.
Griffin of Denver: "Do you guys remember what 'scene' is? ... I was really recognized on MySpace for that ... I had no friends in my town, but I had 10,000 friends on the internet."
The goal of the series, according to creators Basil Soper and Johanna Case, is to change the "trans narrative" one interview at a time. To do this, the pair shifts the focus away from a person's experience with gender with their questions, instead focusing on the many other aspects of an interviewee's life.
"We bring so much magnificence and creativity to the world and that is overlooked so often."
"The project intends to destroy a notion that trans folks are only trans and do not have a much going on outside of their gender identity," the creators wrote on the project site.
Transilient's first stage, shot last summer, documents 37 different people living in various areas of the country. Soper and Case spent June and July 2016 traveling around the U.S. — along with their 8-year-old Carolina dog, Yepper — to meet with those featured.
The duo is currently crowdfunding to continue the project this summer, and they also hope to integrate video into the next stage.
Anna Scofield of New York City: "I love how skating shapes my femininity. I feel more like a hardcore girl, and it’s good because I feel like a riot girl at heart. “
Soper, who transitioned to male while living in North Carolina, was inspired to create the series with Case (who describes themself as "genderfluid-ish") after seeing an uptick in mainstream interest in trans lives and stories. This increase in fascination with the trans experience came after legislation like the state's "bathroom bill" law, HB2, made headlines.
As the battle for trans rights became more mainstream in North Carolina, Soper and Case, who are in a relationship, were often interviewed on their partnership and lives. But in the process, Case says they were often asked invasive questions about Soper's body and their sex lives.
"The law provoked the media to gush trans stories — but they were written from the cisgender gaze and I was tired of it," Soper says.
Riley Johnson of Chicago on becoming a dad: "It was the realization that 'Holy crap! there is now this little person who I am responsible for.' It was almost up there with wedding-vomit-inducing jitters."
The trans community has a long history of being mischaracterized and misrepresented in mainstream media. Many stories circulate that focus on their experience with gender alone, often gawking over the process of transitioning.
Since only 16 percent of people report having ever met a trans person, media representation is often how non-trans society forms opinions about trans rights and politics.
"If the trans community has no opportunity to represent itself, it's easy for people to make snap judgments about the community without ever really having a conversation with anyone who has transitioned," Case says.
Samson Holloway of Columbia: "My favorite tattoo, is actually, um, one that goes across my chest... I got it the day after I finished my last round of chemotherapy. I wasn’t supposed to because with chemo you’re not supposed to get a tattoo. But I did it anyway."
Transilient is Soper and Case's attempt to provide a comprehensive introduction to members of the community. Through the series, they hope to assert that trans people may have a complex gender history, but they otherwise lead very ordinary lives.
"Trans people are everywhere," Case says. "Trans people serve in the military. Love their moms. Work on themselves. Have their hearts broken. Dote on their cats and dogs. Obsess over Star Wars. Basically, trans people are not all that different than you."
Brodey Bartlett of Omaha: “That’s a question I get: 'Why did you transition if you’re just going to date guys?' Because, I’m a guy and I also like guys. That’s why."
The series is still relatively new — and the effort to shift public opinion is no small feat. But Soper and Case say they're determined to document life as their community experiences it to help move the needle.
"We bring so much magnificence and creativity to the world and that is overlooked so often," Soper says. "I just think the trans community is one of the most lovely, diverse, strong, intelligent and compassionate groups of people I’ve ever encountered. We are sincerely beautiful."Topics: Conversations, gender noncomforming, Health & Fitness, LGBT, Photography, Social Good, transgender rights, U.S., World