Breaking Boundaries: Images and Stories of Transgender Americans

Sebastian’s Team Pick:

I get straight ecstatic when I see honest and positive exploration of trans issues in mainstream media. STRAIGHT GIDDY. So imagine my excitement when I saw The New Republic’s Tumblr today promoting Breaking Boundaries, a new gallery “of stories and images of transgender Americans.” It accompanies Eliza Gray’s article about the civil rights of transgender people in our country which opens asking “What will it take for America to accept transgender people for who they really are?”

About Breaking Boundaries, Gray writes:

“This project began five months ago as a simple reporting assignment: investigate how people who were making the transition from one gender to another learned to alter their voices. That relatively simple inquiry, however, opened a vast array of issues and questions, and introduced me to a number of people whose lives—despite any proclamations of banality—were utterly inspiring. The scope and length of the article grew, and eventually it turned into a broad look at the state of the transgender rights movement.

“Several weeks ago, TNR’s art director, Joe Heroun, conducted a photo shoot in New York with eleven members of the transgender community. I spoke to them and learned about their lives. There was Maggie Stumpp, who transitioned at the height of a successful career in finance. Or, Laverne Cox, who survived intense bullying as a boy in Mobile, Alabama, and has become a stunning and confident actress and producer. And Sam Berkley, our cover subject, a self-described “scrappy kid from Brooklyn,” who decided he was “done with this girl shit” and transitioned a year ago. He is now a plaintiff in a civil rights law suit against New York City.

“It would be impossible to catalog or classify all the varieties of transgender experience. My hope, however, is that the following gallery contributes to our understanding of this community.”


Often the focus in this type of media portrayal is on the transition – a trans woman shaving, a trans man binding his breasts. This gallery is different. These photographs show the men and women they feature as strong individuals, dressed professionally, looking proud, powerful, comfortable, and happy. In two of the photos, two romantically-involved trans women share a genuine embrace and kiss. The gallery is honest but it is about the people, as they really are. How refreshing!

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26 Comments

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      I would hope you would pass it along to your non-trans friends… believe it or not, most of your trans friends probably already know about its subject matter. :)

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    This is definitely great in terms of trans visibility.

    However, I just want to point out that even if someone is not dressed professionally, or is a “streetwalker” (as Ms. Stumpp put it), that does not change the value we should place on their existence. Most of the people in this slideshow are relatively privileged aside from their transgender status. The idea that anyone is “ordinary” as compared to anyone else (“good” trans people vs. “bad” trans people) is just another way of enforcing oppressive norms.

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      I was thinking something along those lines, too.

      I did appreciate that the people in this gallery were displayed with dignity and not in that gawking, exploitative kind of way. Overall I liked it and the last picture was heartwarming. Some pieces that represent a broader range of trans people would be nice, though.

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        You right girl, you right. Sorry for being the requisite downer of the comments.

        I probably I came off sounding harsher than I’d have liked; I do think it does a great job of portraying these people with dignity and respect, and to be fair, some of the people featured are actually working on the very serious institutional problems facing not-so-privileged trans people. I guess I was just immediately struck by the disproportionate number of those featured had higher degrees and then reacted specifically to the part I quoted.

        In any case, thanks Sebastian for an excellent Team Pick!

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      I don’t ordinarily chime in on these things, but feel compelled to add my voice on this one, so pardon the soap box….
      First, my comments about being “ordinary” related to the employment situation for transgender people. In my opinion, finding and holding a job are, by far, the foremost issues we face. Changing that reality requires changing the stereotypes that are used to rationalize not hiring us. Like it or not, across this country, the stereotypical image of a trans person is not very flattering. Of course the stereotype is wrong, but that will only change when straight people begin to perceive us as “like themselves”. Legislation will not change it. We have to collectively change it. We have a long way to go to achieve this. I can tell you that the perceptions of trans people at my firm have changed dramatically for the better. That’s because they see me every day and now realize that I’m pretty uninteresting and “ordinary”. I’m sure that many considered being trans as “icky” (to borrow a politician’s label) when they first learned about my decision. My collegues would probably say that being trans is perhaps the 4th most interesting thing about me. That’s precisely what I’ve hoped for. In this sense, we are all activists simply by virtue of leading our lives.
      Secondly, I wouldn’t refer to any trans person as having “privilge”. For example, I was raised on a small farm in an area of the country that is statistically poorer than Appalachia, I worked hard at a school of 42 people(and held a variety of awful jobs — some involving vast quantities of manure); put myself through graduate school with a food budget of $0.25/day; got married on a business trip because I couldn’t afford a wedding and after 20+ years of work, had to start again and re-prove myself as a woman. Calls from recruiters stopped and realistically my professional career is probably over. I’ve been fortunate and never cry the blues, but I also wouldn’t call that a privileged experience. I’m also certain that you would get equivalent stories from anyone in that photo shoot. Fortunately, no one in the photos was utterly destitute, but I didn’t see Paris Hilton there, either. Surely every trans person has a rough row to hoe — even if they are fortunate. We, of all people, should recognize that. Let’s reserve the “privileged” moniker for, uh, perhaps the children of tycoons, for whom the dictionary definition better fits. We tend to be too hard on ourselves as a community.
      In my opinion, the NR article is a good thing. It chips away at trans stereotypes and that’s a critical step in the right direction.

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        Maggie, thanks so much for your reply. I’m truly sorry if my comment came off as making light of your struggle or that of any trans person.

        I understand that in common usage, the word “privilege” has a specifically socioeconomic connotation, and is generally reserved for those Paris Hilton types, but I was using it in regards to the kind of social privilege that simply comes from being a part of a certain group of society. These groups don’t exist on their own, and in fact, the intersections of oppressed groups are the most vulnerable of all. So a member of a marginalized group (i.e. trans people) can simultaneously be a member of a privileged group (i.e. white people).

        In addition, I very much contest the idea of assimilation as the solution to oppression. While getting [middle class, white] straight people to see ‘us’ (for these purposes I’ll lump all LGBTQ people together) as “like themselves” may seem like the best way to get accepted by ‘them,’ it inherently puts certain people above others and just reinforces the idea that their social and cultural experience is ‘normal’ – that is, if you can’t achieve it, you are doing something wrong. In other words, rather than trying to say “we aren’t so different from you,” perhaps we should be acknowledging just how different ‘we’ (any marginalized group) are treated and trying to figure out large-scale ways of changing that.

        I don’t mean to be hard on anybody (except the racist, patriarchal establishment!), but I do think that there is not enough thinking about intersectionality in a lot of the mainstream LGBTQ movement and that’s all I’m trying to address.

        Anyways, if anyone’s interested in this sort of thing, watch this video of Dean Spade (http://vimeo.com/4596216) and then read everything he’s ever written. He says it way better than I can. I seriously <3 this man.

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    I was motivated to write the above piece I entitled “The State of the Transgender Union” after getting fed up with just about everything negative both within and without our community. It is designed as a “where we are now and where we need to go from here” piece.

    Luv all

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    I was motivated to write a summary of where we are as a transgender community and where we need to go. It is rather wordy but best I could do….

    I titled it “The State of the Transgender Union 2011″ I am of the opinion that since we are far fewer in number than the LGB, it is imperative that each one of us do more than our share toward a cumulative effort toward transgender parity…

    Luv

    all

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    This was a great Team Pick! And that last picture was so sweet :)

    One of my favorite trans* visibility/art projects is Scott Turner Schofield’s one-man-shows and workshops. When I was an undergrad I was in the feminist group on my campus and we brought him to perform several times. This was at the University of Wyoming, which is an *extremely* conservative place, and we still had great turn out and response to his shows. Very compelling and entertaining.

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    Thanks for all the wonderful discussion. I especially liked the recommendation to share the article with non-transgender people. (Those of us who are transgender would likely say cis-gender folks.)

    Caroline Temmermand

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