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Photo essay gives face and voice to gender spectrum

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Though transgender and non-binary identities have deep roots in human history, we still grapple with allowing people to pursue their authentic selves, and understanding them as a valid part of the spectrum of humanity. Photographer Errol Daniels' important photo series "TransAmericans" is currently on view at the Gay Alliance's Gallery Q. Through intimate portraits of trans and non-binary individuals, the show positions daily life — work, home, and relationships — as an entry point for relating to people with various gender identities.

"TransAmericans" is a series of clustered, informal portraits of people, most of which are presented with statements by the subjects. It includes trans men and women and non-binary people of all ages, presenting what is similar or unique to different generations' experiences. In this project, what is being said is as important as visibility.

"Generally, my projects are about people whose lives are complex and are challenged by physical, social, mental, or political disadvantages," Daniels says in a provided statement. Some of his other projects have centered on people re-entering society after incarceration, the Havana Santeria and Cuban-Jewish communities in Cuba, war in Uganda, and Burma's struggle for democracy. And his roots in documentary photography go back to the 1960's, when he worked within the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago.

"I try to reveal the dignity, humanity, and courage of people who many don't think about in their daily lives," Daniels says. "For transgender individuals, the time before, during, and after physical transformation comes with many challenges." But even after discovering more comfort in their self-expression and identity, they still experience alarmingly high rates of violence, assault, abuse, and discrimination, he says.

Provided info states that the US Office for Victims of Crime reports that an estimated 50 percent of transgender individuals are assaulted at some point in their lives. Daniels says his goal is "to chisel through these statistics and show the humanity behind them. Transgender individuals go through a unique process of self-realization, but they are regular people who face the same challenges, fears, and ambitions as cisgender individuals."

In the statements that accompany the photographs, many of Daniel's subjects speak of hardship and resilience; story after story includes the post-coming-out alienation they've experienced from parents, siblings, spouses, and children, and losses of careers and church communities.

Troy Stover was raised in a strict Roman Catholic household, and felt pressured to marry and have children. "I always felt like I was one of those people who fell off of God's assembly line and was just, like, hastily put back on," they say.

Stover spent five years in the Marines and had a family, but their coming out led to a bitter divorce and the loss of any relationship with their children. But after a period of what they refer to as "black nights" of grief, Stover began to build their true self from the void: "Having nothing left to lose was the perfect place for me to start living," they say.

Another subject, Bridget O'Neill, is early in her transition, and says that she relates to teenage girls who take tons of selfies. The transitioning process is often described as going through a second puberty, she says. "You don't have a stable sense of who you are yet, what your relationship is to your body. There is something reassuring about seeing pictures (particularly flattering ones) of yourself; it makes my identity more real for me."

Other people express the acceptance and love they've received. While members of Diana Patton's family were unaccepting of her transition, she's received understanding and support from her ex-wife and from her biker clubs, including the Hells Angels and the Kingsmen.

Xanadu Fish, who identifies as bi-gender pansexual, was bullied and pushed out of their neighborhood, but their family life provided a rock. Fish has been married for 14 years to their childhood sweetheart, and their two daughters refer to them as "Xanadad."

Partners Felix Krouse and Florian Alaya Fauna's path toward self-acceptance has involved the exploration of various occult beliefs. "A noteworthy concept is the ancient and recurring theme of the diving hermaphrodite," Fauna says.

Krouse's statement reflects on the "alchemical process" of transitioning between genders, and the tendency of people to respond with less hostility to trans men than trans women. This arguably has to do with the raging misogyny in cisnormative circles (people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth), who fail to understand why a man would become a woman.

A subtle, side theme of relationships with pets is present in the collection of photographs, which perhaps unsurprisingly shows that animals are better at unreservedly loving people than humans are — we win or lose animals' regard based solely on our treatment of them.

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