On November 11, 2015, Abby Stein came out as transgender and announced that she'd already begun hormone replacement therapy (HRT) on her blog. But what started as a personal declaration became a viral sensation, since Stein has an unusual backstory — she grew up in a deeply religious community as a Hasidic Jew in Brooklyn, was married at 18, and had a young son before coming out.
It wasn't long before news organisations were telling her story in simplistic, bold headlines: "Member of prominent Hasidic family from Brooklyn comes out as transgender," "Hasidic groom Yisroel Stein is now a woman called Abby," "I left Hasidism to become a woman."
Almost a year later, it's clear that the conversation around Stein's transition must move beyond what any headline can convey. And thankfully, photographer Melody Melamed worked with Stein in order to do just that; Melamed's photographs reveal a more intimate, nuanced take on a story that was once treated as tabloid fodder.
It wasn't long after Stein went public that she met Melamed, who reached out to her online. Melamed was intrigued by Stein's unique narrative and conveyed as much in her initial messages, explaining that she wanted to help capture the story of Stein's transition. Meanwhile, Stein was drawn to Melamed because she made one thing clear: She had no interest in making Stein go viral all over again.
"I think there’s more to her story than somebody just writing an article about where she grew up," Melamed told Refinery29, adding that she and Stein had an "instant bond" when they first met. "We kind of just got each other, although we were strangers."
Melamed set out to make their first shoot together as intimate as possible, with Stein posing in her underwear and bra — which was "pushing it," according to Stein.
"But I actually liked [shooting] after that. It did help me feel more comfortable," Stein said. "Melody’s really good at pushing my boundaries in a good way, in a very understanding way."
Since then, Melamed has photographed Stein a handful of times; every time they meet, they add another chapter to Stein's story.
"There are some photos where you can see my chest and there’s a huge difference in every way," Stein said. "The facial difference, my hair — everything has changed so much. It’s making me feel more positive."
She added: "A picture speaks a thousand words."
Stein's physical changes are certainly evident in the photos, but Melamed said that Stein's transformation didn't stop at her appearance.
"The photographs we’ve taken together speak so much to her emotional journey," Melamed said. "I’ve been lucky enough to go there with her."