My photo story project for this class is called “Trans*parency: Revealing the Life of a Trans* Man.” It focuses on the life of Kaiden Dunn, a trans* man living in a suburb in Michigan, and his journey on finding his identity. A person who is trans* is one who feels that his/her gender does not match the sex he/she was assigned to at birth. It is important to remember that gender is psychological and sex is biological.
In Kaiden’s case, he was born and classified as female due to his genitalia. However, Kaiden has doubted whether or not his gender has matched his sex throughout his life. However, by the time he was a junior in high school, he decided to start the biological transition process from female to male.
I chose to do this story because the concept of being transgender is still considered to be a taboo topic: one that is highly misunderstood and unaccepted by more conservative people. Up until very recently, the trans* community, as well as the gay and lesbian community, has been widely unaccepted. Because of this lack of understanding and acceptance, living as a trans* Male can be a challenge.
Most days, Kaiden experiences being unable to “pass” as male, and is often mis-gendered as female in public despite dressing like a man. The confusion of pronouns, such as “he” and “she,” can be uncomfortable for members of the trans* community. On top of the pressure of feeling misunderstood, there is stress from potential anti-trans* violence, and feeling of being an outcast. These stresses can cause many like Kaiden to suffer from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Another mental disorder called “body dysmorphic disorder,” in which a person believes their own appearance is defective and unworthy of being in public.
I will follow Kaiden’s journey over the course of the semester, and I plan to dig deeper into three facets of being trans*: the medical, the public, and the private. The medical will include T-shots, therapy, and episodes of depression and anxiety. The public will cover public restrooms, shopping, and passing. The private will deal with identity, relationships with family and friends, and life at home. By the end, I hope to have a book compiled of photos published to share.
With this project, I hope to accomplish is one that will help expose the life of being trans* in an attempt to show that a trans* person still a human being: that they are not freaks of nature, but compassionate, creative, and hard-working souls that deserve the same rights and freedoms as those who are cis-gender (one who’s gender matches their sex.) By documenting Kaiden’s life, I want to be as transparent, informative, and revealing about the life of a person who is currently transitions from one gender to the other.
I met Kaiden in 2008 through Nancy, who was one of my best friend’s and his cousin. They invited me to go to trick-or-treating with them in his neighborhood. We all got along really well that night. However, after that, I didn’t really see him again. He lived far away from the rest of us and didn’t go to our school. He was just Nancy’s cousin.
At the time, he still went by his birth name and used female pronouns. I never once thought that he was trans* or thinking about becoming trans*. I don’t believe he even knew completely either. We were still kids after all. Barely 15. We were all discovering our identities in the world.
When I graduated from high school, I did what every graduate does. I threw a party. Nancy was invited, of course, and had asked if Kaiden could come. I was happy to let him come and have a good time.
By this point, he had his name legally changed to Kaiden. I had a hard time remembering that as I introduced him by his birth name to my family. I don’t think he was using male pronouns at the time. However, he was on his way through transitioning.
Having him at the party reminded me how much we got along back in 2008. From that point on, I started inviting him to all of my events that I held. He went to the zoo with us, came to my Christmas parties, and soon he started attending Youmacon, an anime convention held in Detroit every Halloween weekend, with us. We were becoming really close friends. By the end of 2012, I was calling Kaiden by his legal name and was using the correct pronouns. He was out as a trans* male, and things were going well.
Now, we’re very close and trust each other 100%. He feels comfortable enough with me that I can hug him without warning (he normally doesn’t like being touched) and he feels comfortable enough letting me do this project on him. In addition to that, he’s one of my closest friends who doesn’t judge me for my own phobias. My emetophobia (the fear of vomiting) makes it hard for me to feel safe and comfortable traveling with people. However, I can go to conventions with him and share a room no problem, knowing that if I were to suddenly feel sick andgo into a panic attack, he’d give me the space I needed without asking me invasive questions.
Over the course of the years, I have become very protective over his identity. In public, I jump into conversation to drop the male pronouns to prevent any gender confusion. I correct my friends and my parents when they use the wrong pronoun, and I sometimes scold myself whenever I randomly say “she.”
It makes sense that I thought of Kaiden immediately when I was first assigned the project to create a photo story about a person. The challenges we’re facing is finding ways to photograph something that is mainly psychological. However, with both of us being photographers, we’re finding ways to work together to create a book that will hopefully spread some light over his journey.
A person who is trans* is one who feels that his/her gender does not match the sex he/she was assigned to at birth. It is important to remember that gender is psychological and sex is biological.