The Stories of "You Brought Your Own Light."
Manchester central Library Gallery 2018
Salford University 2019
Diffusion Festival 2021
Stories of transformation fascinate me, especially when they are women's stories. I love to photograph teenagers, trans people, and women surviving illness or escaping violent marriages. It is not just the physical changes that draw me but how sometimes our internal, emotional lives change too. To take a person's image is political and is, in part, a self-portrait. I am representing women and men, exploring their narratives and interweaving them with my own. When I construct a story of femininity I inhabit it, with masculinity I feel more like an observer. The people here all desire to grow. To become their authentic selves they begin a journey of transformation, they are a different stages and no narrative is linear or simple.
In 2019 "Grace" won the BJP Portrait of Britain.
TW: Sensitive content, mentions of suicide and self-harm
The only real choice in transitioning is between living as your true self or not living at all.....Up until i came out, I was in a bad place in my life. I was struggling with anxiety and depression linked to that and coming out felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me. It felt like the turning point, when things started to get better. Finally having an understanding of myself, a sense of belonging helped me feel better about my life. Thank you for helping me see myself in a new light.
The liberation of being true to myself is like getting my head above water after my lungs have been burning and screaming for air. The positive ramifications, upon my mental health and confidence in creativity as an artist, are beyond measure.
"Deep down we all have the desire to be seen, to be truly seen as who we are. We want there to be a space in which we can be ourselves, in which we can exist unapologetically, in which we are accepted.
I've understood I can choose who can see me, but I can't choose how they'll see me. As I am here, existing in a time and space where most around me only see people in pink and blue, I have tried so hard to fit in. Yet, here I am, longing for people to see my nuances of yellows, oranges and purples, longing for people to see more than the colour they paint me in their head.
I just want to exist in my true colours, not hide them anymore, no matter if you can see them or not."Growing up shrouded, often in overwhelming sadness, because of something you have no sense of control over or the vocab, the terminology to express the dark feelings of dispair. To break that bondage to become the woman I have always known I am is utter relief and freedom that so few can relate to. I'm one of the lucky ones!
Living in the deepest darkest depths within myself and keeping my secret hidden was all I could do most days of my adolescent and adult life. That became all consuming and soul destroying. I truly believed that I'd never find a way to escape from the prison cage of which I, and society, had created for myself. It wasn't until I stepped out of the darkness of the continual perpetuating circle of deceit, self-loathing self-hatred of my true inner self myself and deception to others and into the light of enlightenment and freedom that I finally found comfort and joy from being able to fully appreciate and celebrate the real me freely and openly.
I attempted suicide before I transitioned, mainly due to my Dad not being able to accept me. Coming out of the darkness and into the light helped to save my life, I was then enabled to be my true self and no longer hide from my true form, I was also able to turn my negatives into positives so I could help others through their Journeys too.
Since coming out in December of 2016, my life has taken a turn. I've fallen into unhealthy relationships, sexual dysfunction and drugs. My career and financial stability are on a knife edge; I've already lost my beautiful home, pets and split with my supportive, long-term partner.But I persevere. With the help of my friends, my family and my trans sisters I'm rebuilding my life. Learning to live and love again. Coming out was the worst decision I ever made, but finally being myself will always be my best.
It's a little difficult for me to talk about difficulties of coming out, as for what I'm aware of, I don't feel i ever did come out. Not because I couldn't but simply because I never needed to. On this front I am blessed with the most amazing mum, who's always known these things before I would do, and at some stage even made me aware of them as I was so innocent and protected. Coming out as non binary more recently was not so much about coming out, my family just love me for who I am, without judgement or prejudice, but more about explaining. How do you explain non binary identity in a world that is so rooted into binary models? I'm a French and Spanish native speaker, so no English with my parents, except... There is no gender neutral in any shape in either of these languages. Everything from people to things, from a sibling to a fork or a car, has a binary gender, male or female... Everything. So I think the hardest was done already: explaining it... To myself.This being said, while people who do come out say that they felt a tremendous feeling of light and liberation, a weight being taken off their shoulders, I must say that this is exactly what coming out to myself felt. Isn't self acceptance and self understanding the most important after all?
Coming out felt like a big deal at the time. I’d pushed so much stuff down because I didn’t feel like I could deal with it and I didn’t want to admit to myself that this was a part of who I was. Eventually, stress in other areas of my life built and built and I couldn’t keep how I felt in check; repressing feelings about my course, my exams, my social life and what I would later come to recognise as my dysphoria all at once was just too much. I messaged a friend from high school. I panicked a lot, this had been something I’d kept a secret and avoided for so long, and then it was out in the open. But she was immediately okay with it. That was huge. I told my house-mates, a couple more friends, my GP, eventually my parents. Then the waiting started. Waiting for healthcare. Waiting for documents to be updated. Waiting for my new passport. Waiting for hormones to start working, then waiting while they continue working. Waiting for the right time to tell friends, extended family, the university. The storm clouds had been gathering for a long time, and I hadn’t really recognised that until they got really dark. Life goes on whatever the weather. Sometimes the rain fades into the background; sometimes a storm demands centre stage. The forecast is looking a lot better now, though.
I sometimes wonder if things would be different had the Internet been around when I was only 21. Being happily married gives limitations as to the opportunity to develop one's alter ego and prevents any opportunity of taking that character beyond restrictions that marriage entails. When I take myself into this person I cast off all the troublesome worries that daily life brings and it is as if I suddenly emerge through a cloud into a carefree existence if only for a very short period.
My biggest issue is the life I don’t want to leave behind. My family love me and I love them back, I don’t want to be without them. But, they are finding it difficult to accept me since I told them I’m Trans, so we all pretend. They are fearful for me, fearful of what might happen to me, how I might be treated, and I suppose how it may affect them, also.This is human and to be expected, but it is not ideal. I would love them to be able to accept who I feel I really am and be there for me like they always have.I am living my life as best I can as a balancing act, though not everyone can understand, I felt that this was for the best.Things may be about to change and there is always the future, so I remain hopeful that it will all work out and everyone will be as happy as possible in the end,Me, my family and maybe even you.
Caitlin"My Life. My Choice. My Year. I am happy. I am strong. I am confident. I have friends. I have a social life. I am respected. Most importantly, I am ME. I am Caitlin Elizabeth McClare, and I've waited 47 years to be this person."
The most wonderful thing about being transgender, for me, is that I get to craft my own definition of masculinity - free of all the societal and patriarchal traditions of what a man is - and one that serves me completely. I can wear dresses, wear makeup, be camp, be goth and still be a man because I know that’s how I feel. But my gender has always felt much more complex than just ‘man’ allows, and whilst I would never tell anyone to use anything but male and he/him for me, there is a component to my gender that is very non-binary. I don’t like labelling my gender too much and trying to narrow it down to a specific term, so I don’t. But I am, in a lot of ways, a non-binary person. The best way I’ve seen it described is using clothes - I can wear a shirt that is maleness, and a hat that’s non-binary. Wearing the hat doesn’t mean I have less shirt on, and identifying somewhat as non-binary doesn’t mean I am less male. This is really important for me, and I have been able to realise this through meeting a wonderful group of trans people, and through the wider conversation around gender broadening so much in the past few years, since I realised I’m not cis.
I often punish myself for not fitting into the standard of maleness, or for not trying to pass every day; and I’m grateful every day for my support network who remind me that I’m just as valid in velvet as I am in denim. But this goes to show how pervasive these unhealthy and dated societal attitudes around gender are, and I can only hope I live to see them be replaced with the ideas my generation is building: acceptance, freedom and the ability to be wholly yourself and respected. I’ve never been able to imagine my life in the future, but I know it’s going to be so different and so much easier than it is now.
I am called Zenlita Pinz. How did I come to pick a name that I never knew existed. In 1998 I felt it was time to change my name not as part of a gender change but because my family all turned there back on me as it came out I was gay. I was in hospital at the time I changed my name under section for mental health problems. I had been there since 1996 when I arrived in the hospital, I was wearing all pink clothes jeans t -shirt socks. I was called pinky right away by everyone. I have had to live with the regret that I have never been allowed to see my children who were 2 years and 10 months old at the time I left the house. So I was always worried that they would one day, as adults they would come looking for me. I decided to use their names to make mine so I could say I remembered you every single day and every time my name is called I think of you. I became Zenlo Pinz My girl is called Zenna and my boy was called Lazlo, so out if this I had a part of both their names. Pinz is also part of Pinky.
In 2000 I asked my doctor in the secure unit if we could get some help about the gender issues I seemed to be going though. I wanted to buy and only wear pink clothes as well as having my hair dyed bright pink. I knew from the age of 7 I have felt wrong with my body, so I started going to Charring Cross Gender Clinic and was saw a doctor about my gender dysphoria. Every time I went we spoke about how I was progressing in the hospital with being more feminine. The hospital would only allow me to wear trousers and blouses as they look like male clothes. The doctor asked me what I was going to do about my name and I explained that I didn't want to loose the fact it represents my children. I thought for some time and in the end on my birthday May 13 2003 I changed my name legally to Zenlita Pinz.
Now I understand and have met my trans people and I’m involved with helping to run trans groups. I’ve noticed that a lot of trans people pick a name similar to their birth gender name. When I ask people reply that it still feels like their family name. Perhaps they did not want to give up the name they were given by their parents?
Some of my family are now talking to me after 15 years of no contact and they are happy for me and understand why I changed my name and are very supportive. Some still do not want to talk to me, so when I went to my father's funeral in 2017 I did not reveal my current name and introduced myself as Gordon. None of them recognised me as they have not seen me since 1989. To date my children have not yet come looking for me but I can see their Facebook profiles and see they are doing well, both are married and have their own children. I am happy for them and still hold out hope that one day they will look for me. I still have a profile on Facebook in my old birth name so they can find me.
They told me my name meant Princess,
though I never felt the lightness, grace and femininity
that the title suggested.
I walked like a farmer, my grandmother said.
This reality seeming to clash with the royal nickname
they now gave this child.
Hands deep in my pockets. Eyes at the floor.
Trying to not walk like me.
I wore the dresses they gave me.
Barbie parties and ballet.
Amongst real girls; coordinated, dainty and joyful
in their frilly, pink second skins.
Like a hermit crab in an ill-fitting shell,
I was increasingly constricted by my gender
as I grew.
Make up and nail varnish,
training bras and periods.
Growing pains in body and mind.
The beautiful new home I was to embody as a teen,
never came to fruition.
Nor had I really expected it to.
I did not fit.
Muddling with labels.
Licking them as stamps,
Finding they would not adhere.
In time, new words alike to dandelion seeds on the breeze,
drifted into my lexicon.
With their growth came understand.
I opened that forbidden door in the west wing of my mind;
the one that the heroines in stories are told
never to enter.
But if she didn't; if Alice never drank from the bottle,
then there would be no purpose to the story,
There is safety in the familiar,
but no movement,
Beyond lies the story; the call to adventure.
Finding 'The Man in The Iron Mask',
facing my 'monster' locked away.
Becoming 'The Wolf',
and finding him tame and playful,
has brought me peace.
Masculinity did not equate toxicity in me,
I was not bad.
Nor did it erase the hermit girl.
She is kept safe,
and cherish for all that she has been through.
There is wriggle room in my shell now.
It feels more like home than it ever has.
Like all living things,
I will grow, I will change.
I may even transform.
I walk my walk, with my hands in my pockets;
And if ever I find I do not fit,
I now realise it is not me that is the problem.
Undead, that’s what I was. Not alive, merely existing from one period of dissociation to the next. Unable to express myself, robbed of the vocabulary I needed. A shroud of normalcy wound about me, to protect the world from my so-called deviance, and myself from the world. Obviously, I spent a great deal of time contemplating a more decisive form of suicide and weighing the consequences. One day, I chose to live, consequences be damned.I cast away so many aspects of myself, falsely deeming them ‘masculine’, trying to dance within the double standards imposed upon all trans folks. Turns out I needn’t have bothered, but I’m still glad I did. Over the years of transition, these aspects have returned to me. Each one with an improved understanding of myself and a renewed drive to enjoy my various hobbies, to do things my own way, and to not put up with society’s delusional expectations of what gender and sexuality should be.I am the sum of my dreams and experiences, I live a life of no regrets, I am the Navigator. Hopefully, my siblings can learn from our lessons and find themselves faster, and with less anguish, than I did.
After several years of not knowing how I felt about who I was, it was when my grandad died recently that I decided to come out. I hate the thought that he will never know who I really am, but I know he would have supported me regardless. I don’t want to regret people not knowing the real me.
"There's currently a huge contrast in my life between how loudly I express myself, and how quiet parts of my life are mandated to be. The tension created by this dichotomy is palpable wherever I am, and I am torn between feeling scared, and feeling angry. Breaking the silence is essential, surely, but I fear it will not be the only thing it breaks, and that the collateral damage may not be worth the victory. Is there something pyhrric about coming out? Gaining control over one area, but losing connections established over years? Maybe one day I'll know, but for now, I wait in silence."
When I transform into Karen the change in body shape seems so natural and comfortable.Whilst I may be fooling myself as to the true image when I look in the mirror the reflection looking back is far more easy on the eye than the ageing man who normally looks back.
It has become apparent that there are far fewer of us than we would have thought of 100% one gender and in an ideal world I would probably flit from one to the other but if I have had to choose one the feeling gets stronger as I get older that really I should not hold myself back any longer.
There’s no need to worry anymore
‘cause you’re dead.
I’m not the same person as before
‘cause you’re dead.
I’m not waiting for the phone to ring
‘cause you’re dead.
The postman doesn’t bring anything
‘cause you’re dead.
I’m another year older and you’re not
‘cause you’re dead.
Free to be the daughter that you didn’t want
‘cause you’re dead.
I’m not quite what you expected of me
but you’re dead.
Not burdened with being your black sheep
now you’re dead.
I wish I could miss you but I don’t
‘though you’re dead.
I already missed the mother that you weren’t
and you’re dead.
- Two in five trans people (42 per cent) who would like to undergo medical intervention as part of their transition, haven’t done so yet, because they fear the consequences it might have on their family life.
- Almost half (48 per cent) of trans people don’t feel comfortable using public toilets through fear of discrimination or harassment.
- A third of trans people (34 per cent) have been discriminated against because of their gender identity when visiting a café, restaurant, bar or nightclub in the last year.
- More than a quarter (28 per cent) of trans people in a relationship in the last year have faced domestic abuse from a partner.
- More than two in five trans people (44 per cent) avoid certain streets because they don’t feel safe there as an LGBT person.
- One in four (25 per cent) were discriminated against when looking for a house or flat to rent or buy in the last year. One in five non-binary people (20 per cent) have experienced discrimination while looking for a new home.
- When accessing general healthcare services in the last year, two in five trans people (41 per cent) said healthcare staff lacked understanding of trans health needs.
- More than a third of trans students (36 per cent) in higher education have experienced negative comments or behaviour from staff in the last year.
- 84% of Trans people have suicide ideation and 48% have attempted suicide.
Source: Stonewall Trans Report 2017.