Stunning Photo Series Shows Transgender Kids As They See Themselves

Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
As the year draws to a close, It’s a time to look back on things that happened over the past twelve months. Over the next few days, we’ll be revisiting some of our favorite stories from throughout the year, and seeing again what they mean for 2015 in review.

This story was originally published on May 23, 2015.


Photographer Sarah Wong spent the past 13 years documenting the journeys of a group of kids who either identify as transgender or question the gender they were assigned at birth. The result, a photo series called Inside Out, lets the children present as they see themselves — it's like a wonderfully gender-affirming game of dress-up.

Wong, who's Dutch, began the project when she was asked to do a photo book for a children's hospital. "The parents of [transgender] children saw this book on broadcast and called me. They [also] wanted such a book. A week later we met and the children immediately touched my heart," Wong told us over email.

The portraits show the subjects at a variety of ages, posing as they wish and dressing how they feel most comfortable — regardless of the gender they were each assigned at birth. The children's parents wanted to keep them anonymous, so some portraits are accompanied by the subjects' ages, but never names.

Sometimes, the subjects look confidently into the camera, proud of their sports victories or showing off their cute outfits. Sometimes, they seem like every disaffected teenager on the planet, lounging on the sofa and waiting for the shot to be over with so they can get back to what they were doing.

Simply put: They look like kids.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
The Netherlands, where Wong is based, has made moves in recent years to improve the quality of life for transgender individuals. In 2014, a law went into effect to allow transgender people to more easily change the gender listed on their official documents, eliminating requirements for invasive surgery or hormone therapy. At the moment, individuals must be over the age of 16 to apply for a documentation change, but that may change when the law is reviewed in a few years.

Age 7
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
Age 14
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
"I felt a great responsibility as a photographer to be really honest about their true identity, and show this non-commercially and non-sensational[ly] to society," Wong said.

Age 18
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
"In those 13 years, I never saw boys in dresses or girls with a football. I saw very normal boys and girls, with old souls. In ancient Indian society, cross-gender children were very special. When you had such a child, you and your family were blessed."

Age 14
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
Age 17
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
"The most surprising [thing] was they taught me who I was. I helped them and they helped me somehow. The analog, 4-by-5-inch camera was their mirror in who they truly were, and they were my little mirrors in reflecting myself."

Age 7
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
Age 10
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
"The difference is that [trans] children now share their identity on social media channels, just like [everyone else]. The world is open to everybody."

Age 9
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
Age 16
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
Even as transgender rights improve in certain countries, in others it's still dangerous to live openly as a transgender person. According to The Guardian, 2.7 billion people live in countries where it's illegal to be gay or transgender.

Age 10
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
Age 17
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
Perhaps the most captivating thing in the series is the changing expressions from younger photos to the older ones. The set, determined faces give way to slight smiles; the confused looks to confident ones. "The children seemed to be much happier [as they grew up]," Wong said. "I guess we have very brave, pioneering [people] in the Netherlands."
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Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Wong, via Inside Out.
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