Photographer documents her own gender transition

It took me 27 years to realize I was transgender. It took a month or two to decide on the physical transition. It took me even less time to realize that I needed to document my transformation, for myself and anyone who needed to see it.

I should start at the beginning.

Growing up in Baltimore in the 1990s and early 2000s, I had no idea people could be anything other than the gender they were assigned at birth. There were no resources or role models available to me at that time to even begin to understand who I was.

However, there were small hints of my homosexuality, a feeling of being different, something intangible. I never shared or had the opportunity to explore these feelings until my early twenties. When I was 21, I came across videos of trans women on YouTube talking about their transitions. I periodically returned to the videos to see their updates, which intrigued me. I figured this was just research for a story I wanted to do about trans identity. I wasn’t ready to face the truth about myself yet.

I moved to New York in 2011. Keeping my mind and body occupied with working in the photography industry distracted me from introspection. In 2015, I was sitting in my therapist’s office when she casually mentioned a person — a celebrity — who had come out as trans. I don’t remember the context of this conversation. I don’t think I was even paying close attention to what she was saying. But I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s interesting.

That disposable comment was the spark that forced me to stop ignoring what was burning in my subconscious. When I was at home, alone with my thoughts, I reflected on my identity. I ask myself again and again, “Am I trans? I’m a woman?’ I thought probably not. Then I thought, ‘Maybe?’ I went back and forth, but over the days, then weeks, the answer became clear: “Yeah, that’s you.”

Finally, I realized that I had to accept who I was.

All the confusion I had felt made sense; all the puzzle pieces fit together for the first time. Everything just fell into place. Confident and excited, I started moving quickly to make up for lost time.

I dated first with my therapist, just to test the waters, and then with my mom, who was happily my rock throughout my transition. I’m lucky that everyone in my life, including my parents, my brother and my friends, really accepted.

Basically, I owe my very existence to my trans elders, especially Indigenous, Black, Asian, Latina, and POC queer people. They were on the streets and in our communities doing the hard work, paving the way for the rest of us to discover and live authentically as ourselves. Pioneers, like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and countless others stood up and fought for our community at a time when visibility and representation was near zero.

A few months after coming out, I started taking hormones and started doing self-portraits. Turning the camera on myself was a way of understanding where I started and where I was going to end up. As a photographer and someone who didn’t encounter positive images of trans people as a child, I felt I had a responsibility to tell my story through my own queer perspective.

I do not intend to be representative of all trans people. Just as there is no one way to be human, there is no right or wrong way to transition. We each have our own path.

My journey turned out to be a medical transition. In 2016, I underwent facial feminization and gender reassignment surgeries. Facial feminization surgery reconstructed my skull, shaving the bones to remove the effects of testosterone. Although it may seem extreme, imagine finding out who you really are, then looking in the mirror and seeing someone else. The surgeries have been painful, but the journey to be yourself always includes pain, sometimes mentally and physically.

It’s hard to go back to old family photos now. I wish I had been me sooner. But when I look at the photos of the beginning of this project, I see a person who is being himself. And towards the end of the series, there are a few images where I think: “This is me, as I am”. I have no regrets.

Allison Lippy is a Brooklyn-based photographer whose work explores the convergence of identity, culture, and science in spaces of transition. Follow her on Instagram.

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