Portrait Of A Man – transsexual photographer – Brief Article
BORN AS A WOMAN, AN AWARD-WINNING PHOTOGRAPHER TELLS HOW HE BECAME THE MAN HE IS TODAY
I suppose I have told the same old stow countless times now. I mean, every transsexual man I’ve ever met tells the same stow: “I never felt like a girl; I played with boys’ toys and liked boys’ games, etc.” Then a rehash about pubescent anxiety, how your body betrays you and you begin to develop very clever coping mechanisms to manage the stress. Like bad posture to hide your budding breasts and big boots and baggy shirts–and lesbianism, if you’re lucky.
That was my stow, anyway. I figured out early on that I had somehow gotten a square peg, and I wasn’t too happy about it. Right from the start this skin of mine just didn’t fit. Maybe it was because Mom was going through a divorce when she carried me in her womb. Maybe she was having some survival issues, causing her to put me awash in testosterone.
Or maybe it was those G.I. Joes I played with. Did you ever have one? They had the best uniforms. Lots of outfits to choose from–and boots, don’t forget the boots. Big guns and grenades and cool scars. (Scars. I see a real early influence here.) Or it could be that I noticed I always got KP duty and was never promoted above the rank of private when I played Army with the boys on my block. Girls were never allowed to go into combat.
I don’t really know what felt so out of whack, and I don’t think I really care. I guess there are as many reasons why a transsexual is transsexual as there are people in the world. All that matters is that it’s my body and I can do what I want with it.
It’s too bad that my days in Lesbiana had to come to an end. After about ten years of Butch Camp, I graduated to Boy World, big time. All of a sudden, one year I woke up and realized that the boobs had to go. What’s more, I wanted a beard too. And a nice, hard, lean body to go with it. A penis? I would settle for an oversize clitoris; it was cheaper, and it works better.
I guess that meant I wanted to be a man. But that felt so alien in the beginning of my change. I was still very socialized as Butch Lesbian. (That isn’t the same as Female. Do ya get it?) I felt like a boy in the first few years, and I looked like one too: lots of pimples and a breaking voice, a bad temper and a randy disposition. I remember one occasion when I was shopping for clothes with my girlfriend Isabella. She was High Femme (I was still into femmes in those days), a few inches taller, and a little older than I was. We were in the boys’ clothing department at Macy’s, which was the only place I could find shirts to fit me. (Besides, I was in my second adolescence.) The salesperson looked at Isabella and then at me and said, “Oh, is that your son?” I was mortified. I was 29 years old; Isabella was 36. People used to think she was some kind of pervert or something. She was a real trooper, stayed with me through teenage zits, disapproving lesbians, and hetero assumptions. Life was pretty weird in those first years of transition, but it was exciting as well.
It was then that I picked up a camera for the first time. Around ’93, I guess. I was taking really bad snapshots of myself to send to friends and family. You know, the kind that are sort of out of focus and lop off the top of your head because you’re holding the camera at arms length. I really got it that visuals were essential to help the folks back home keep up with me as I went through this strange body transformation, this chemical and surgical reinvention of self. That’s when I realized that visuals were useful in helping everybody else understand it too.
I knew I had to photograph us. Transsexuals, I mean. Us–that’s what was new and different about the idea. I was going to be a photographer who was like them. I believed that we needed that, to see images of ourselves by one of us whose eye through the lens looked for a reflection. Self-portraiture. An eye that didn’t see anything odd or freakish. An eye that looked for beauty.
I began meeting more transsexual people, listening to their stories of change, and I started taking their pictures. I took more photos of myself and watched eagerly as the hormones, body building, and chest surgery sculpted my female form more and more into a male one. I was proud of what I saw, in me and in them. We all had one thing in common, if nothing else: We were hell-bent on becoming the people we believed ourselves to be. We had to; we didn’t feel it was a matter of choice.
By 1996 my book Body Alchemy was published. It’s a collection of photographs that will show you just about everything you ever wanted to know about female-to-male bodies and is chock-full of proud, handsome trans men. I have tried to represent some measure of my community in an effort to provide bolstering and informative images with text for both trans and nontrans readers. I feel it has been a needed contribution in a new wave of transsexual activism, very much a part of a burgeoning movement that began about the time I was figuring out what an f-stop was.
Finally, nearly 12 years later, I am feeling just fine. I look in the mirror, and I see the man I’ve worked so hard to grow up to be. My body has that muscular and hard build like those comic book heroes that I always wanted to look like. (Well, maybe not quite as big, especially in the crotch. Did you ever notice how big they look in those tights?) My beard, at long last, has filled in, while my head begins to bald, and my photography career goes skipping down its path. I’ve got a delicious pup of a girlfriend (partner) who, ironically (or maybe not so ironically), is a very handsome butch, indeed. Everybody thinks that Stephanie is my son–or my boy–and that I am some kind of old pervert queer. I tell you, being a man can be a very confusing thing sometimes.
Cameron’s work has appeared in Artweek and in his book Body Alchemy, published by Cleis Press.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Liberation Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group