THE BLOG

Why Black History Still Hasn't Paved the Way for Black Transgender People

03/01/2015 09:11 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

It can be argued that the black westerner exists with a somewhat reduced experience due to discrimination. It can further be argued that the black transgender person deals with another level of discrimination, not only from a racial perspective, but from transphobia within their own ethnic community.

There has been much media attention recently on the continued struggle for black lives to matter within a world that still seems to set limits on black achievement. Communities derived from African heritage are united in their quest to join together and pave the way for equality and acceptance. Now, perhaps more than ever before, black people are joining forces and standing up for their rights and recognition.

Yet, there is still disharmony within that same united front when it comes to accepting our transgender brothers and sisters.

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As a photographer, it is my aim to explore and examine what is presented to my lens. I take layers and light and capture not only what I see clearly, but also that which is less willing to be seen. Or perhaps, that which is less likely to be accepted.

My photo documentary of the transition of Naechané Valentino Romeo from female to male was one that spanned a twelve month period. During this time, I not only saw changes from a physical aspect, but also from a social context as well. Each click of the shutter was accompanied by a level of acceptance or non acceptance, the latter seemingly the more frequent.

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Being witness to non-inclusive behavior from a community that is already fully aware of the damaging effects that prejudice can bring was challenging and enlightening at the same time. It drove the message home to me that just because an individual or group has been subjected to one particular type of prejudice, it doesn't necessarily prevent them from playing a part in a different blend of bigotry.

During my interviews with Naechané he confided that many individuals within his close community had been unable to withstand his chosen transition, forcing him to adjust to a new norm. Rather than a display of empathy, he found that he was often forced to deal with ignorance and occasionally contempt. I purposely documented his transformation using black and white images in order to portray his emotional journey as well as his physical one. The depths of color are stripped away leaving the shades of grey to tell a story.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that all men be deemed equal. His speech from 1963 has inspired millions across the globe that they, too can stand tall and be proud. Over 50 years later, we need to ensure that our global black family is at the forefront of those creating change for a more tolerant society. That includes our transgender kin.

I hope this documentary offers some education to those still in the dark when it comes to transgender existence. I hope it offers encouragement to those who don't yet feel accepted for the path they choose. Most of all I hope it helps pave the way for each person of color that, regardless of their gender, there will indeed be a day where they will truly feel free at last.

Adam's Apple can be viewed here in full. See photos from the series below.

Leon Cato: Adams Apple