Transilient: Pulling Back The Curtain On Trans Lives

Trans and non-binary folks from New Orleans to Charleston to Detroit to Omaha have shared their hopes, fears, first kisses, fashion inspirations, livelihoods and relationships.
07/07/2016 02:58 am ET Updated Jul 17, 2016

My boyfriend is trans, before we started dating I had never really thought about trans identity or what it is like to be trans. At that time, more Americans claimed to have seen a ghost then someone who is transgender. In the the two years that Basil and I have been dating, transgender individuals have gone from mythological to being a hot button issue.

Basil and Jo in hats
Johanna Campbell Case
Basil and Jo in hats

My experiences of transphobia are through my boyfriend. Ive seen a cashier eye the name on his ID, scowl, and say “Good Night, ladies”. A close friend defined my relationship with him as lesbianonic. Basil is a somewhat known activist and writer. Once, a local news reporter basically asked me, why I was with him since I was pretty and could date “normal” guys. Virtual strangers have asked me how we have sex. Forming new friendships always brings the question, “Do I tell them or do I not tell them?” I constantly second guess myself about whether my decision is based in pragmatism, privacy or cowardice.

When Basil and I met, I frequently said the wrong thing. I outed him to my friends and family without asking him. I wore his trans identity like a merit badge proving my open mindedness. I continue to mess up using gender neutral pronouns for our friends, even when I fall somewhere on the genderqueer spectrum myself. I’ve heard people say offensive things about transgender people and I’ve held my tongue afraid to be dis-liked, or somehow bring hurt Basil’s way. By trial and error though, I’m getting better.

When he first suggested we plan a cross county trans-centric photo interview project, I hesitated. The world is full of interviews of trans people conducted by cis (non-trans) people. I didn’t want to contribute to the uniformly singular trans interview narrative of; When did you know? How has your body changed? How do you have sex? What surgeries have you had?

I didn’t want to build on the attitude that defines trans people by their trans-ness and implies that they’re science experiments separate from cis people and exist for entertainment only. Basil and I brainstormed ways to go about this project differently. We decided to only use the voices of transgender and non-binary people. Transilient would center the interviews around other facets of trans people’s identities. Meaning, we steered clear of the old narrative that focuses on bodies and transitions rather than their interests, feelings, and experiences.

There is a huge portion of the country who until last year never thought about transgender identity and are now having the bedrock of gender challenged. Basil and I often discus cis involvement in trans rights. Whether we like it or not trans rights are not going to become law nor will transphobia dissipate without cis people joining the fight.

A large swath of the US sides with legislation that makes it clear they believe transgender people are dangerous, and should not to be given basic human rights or be allowed in their spaces. Violence against trans people, particularly trans woman of color, has actually gone up in the last year. Many trans kids continue to be excommunicated from their homes when they come out. 41% of all trans people have attempted suicide sometime in their lifetimes. Nearly all trans people face a level of daily verbal abuse for just existing. I can say with authority that most of us would not be able to handle the daily implications trans people face just for being themselves. However, if the majority of the country doesn’t know anybody directly affected then the hugeness of these facts are lost on them.

By the most recent estimate there are 1.4 million trans identifying adults in the US. (about 0.6 percent of the overall population). If the only trans person people see is Caitlin Jenner then you’re not getting any kind of idea of what most of the comunity faces.

I am someone who has seen intimate relationships with trans folks changes people’s attitudes towards trans issues. Even if we think of ourselves as liberal or excepting that doesn’t matter if we don’t interact with or listen to trans people. Without learning from them how can we understand how to advocate for them?

During the gay rights movement there was a huge push to come out of the closet, with the belief that if the homophobic population realized that they already knew someone who was gay it would be harder for them to demonize gay people as a whole.

If we give more trans people a platform to speak for themselves and share their worlds with us, we can dismantle some of the stereotypes and replace them with better mutual understanding together.

We have traveled over 6,000 miles and are still going. Trans and non-binary folks from New Orleans to Charleston to Detroit to Omaha have shared their hopes, fears, first kisses, fashion inspirations, livelihoods and relationships.

In Denver a beautiful woman in her twenties told us about her challenging dating life.  

Griffin, Denver, Colorado<br>&ldquo;Tinder has banned me, I was upfront in my profile. I said that I was trans but so many me
Johanna Campbell Case
Griffin, Denver, Colorado
“Tinder has banned me, I was upfront in my profile. I said that I was trans but so many men reported me because I was apparently tricking them. I emailed Tinder and they would reinstate my account, they reinstated it three times but I kept on getting reported all the time so they just blocked me in general. I was only on Tinder three times for one session each time. I didn't even meet anyone from tinder.”

A Marine from Columbia, South Carolina shared why he has the word Hallelujah tattooed across his chest.

Evington Holloway, Columbia, South Carolina<br>&ldquo;My favorite tattoo, is actually, um, one that goes across my chest, it
Johanna Campbell Case
Evington Holloway, Columbia, South Carolina
“My favorite tattoo, is actually, um, one that goes across my chest, it says Hallelujah written backwards in mirror letters. My wife just asked me about it this morning and I usually kind of dismiss it and and am like, “Ah. It’s kind of important- I got it, whatever.” I just told her what it was about. I got it the day after I finished my last round of chemo therapy. I wasn’t supposed to, because with chemo you’re not supposed to get a tattoo, but I did it anyway.” 

A musical idol from Basil’s youth from New York talked about grappling with moving forward in their career after transitioning.

Gus, New York, New York&nbsp;<br>&ldquo;What do I do with the fact that the two bands that I am most recognized for, The Luna
Johanna Campbell Case
Gus, New York, New York 
“What do I do with the fact that the two bands that I am most recognized for, The Lunachicks and Lez Zeppelin, are all female bands, like, do I just ignore the fact that I have this whole history? Going forward, does anybody that wants to be in a band with me have to be okay with it becoming a political statement, because I’m a group member? How far do I take that?”

Hearing about the struggles and uniqueness of the trans experience has been eye opening and I am extremely grateful, but overall, the humor, grit, honesty and compassion of the people we have interviewed really nails home the sentiment that trans people are struggling and learning and healing like the rest of us.  So much is on the line for them. The march of progress may be moving in the direction of equality but it does not move by its self. Beyond our support transgender people need to be listened to and to be heard.

 Our interviews are posted on our website and on Facebook, Instagram, twitter and Tumblr. Support our project or become a part of it. We plan to put together a book or exhibition within 2017.

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