These Joyful Photos Celebrate The Beauty Of Trans Women
Trans women share what Pride means to them.
Fifty years ago today, the Stonewall Riots of 1969 marked the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. As we celebrate Pride, it’s important to remember that trans women of colour including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy were at the forefront of the movement. As model and activist KhrystyAna puts it, “This is Pride month; a month we would not have without trans women of colour. Yet, despite half a century of progress, trans rights still fall behind those of others in the LGBTQ+ community, with trans women of colour remaining the most vulnerable members of the queer community."
KhrystyAna teamed up with photographer Amanda Picotte, model Seana Steele, and stylist Guvanch (all four of whom are part of the LGBTQ+ community) to create this photoshoot celebrating trans women. The photos are part of the KhrystyAna’s Real Catwalk Project, dedicated to throwing out conventional beauty standards and championing inclusivity. Thirteen trans women, including Steele, posed for photos wearing high fashion pieces in pink, blue, and white to represent the Trans Pride Flag.
The photos are beautiful and joyous — very different from how the media typically portrays trans women. “The elegant and elevated aesthetic is purposeful, aiming to provide needed representation that is not objectified,” KhrystyAna, who directed and produced the shoot, tells Refinery29.
Along with being photographed, the women featured here shared their stories and their thoughts on what Pride means to them. “I’ve been deeply affected by the tragic events that trans communities have been experiencing. Now more than ever, I want to highlight the voices of trans women,” KhrystyAna says.
Trans women are living more visibly, which is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, we are integrating into mainstream society, which humanises us and allows people to be more compassionate. This translates into resources. But on the other hand, people are seeking us out, looking hard for us, to harm us.
Every day brings another challenge with safety, with consent, with medical care, with housing. As a trans person, it never stops. The system we live in was not built with us in mind, so every day we have to go against the grain just to survive. As a Black trans woman who happens to be very successful in media, I too still have to fight for bare minimum resources.
Cis people need to no longer be surface allies. Saying you love trans people or marching for trans people is no longer enough. Trans women, especially Black trans women, are under attack. We are being killed at ever-growing rates. You need to be willing to get hit for a trans person; you need to be willing to shield their bodies. You need to pay trans people. You need to not be an ally, but a warrior.
My experience as a trans woman in 2019 is vastly different than my experience was a decade ago. While I have what we call "cis-passing privilege" now, but that was not always the case. I experienced transphobic harassment and abuse from family members, schoolmates, and even complete strangers. Despite now being able to walk down the street and not be called a 'man' or a "faggot," I still deal with being discriminated against when I disclose my trans status to people… especially cisgender heterosexual men that express a romantic interest in me.
In terms of love, dating, and relationships, living as a trans woman can often be a very lonely life. What I long for more than anything is for cisgender people, no matter their sexual orientation, to allow themselves to let go of their biases towards transgender people. They need to realise that we simply are human beings trying to exist in a world that viciously continues to deride, attack, and murder us for living authentically as ourselves. I wish with all my heart that more cisgender folks would lend their allyship, love, and support to us in a time that still feels as though we as trans people are at war with the entire world because of our gender identity.
The biggest difficulty I have encountered as a trans woman is my journey to learn to love myself. With so much hatred, not only from the rest of the world but even our own community, it is difficult to not give up. However, time and time again, I remind myself that who I am is NOT a hindrance — it is a blessing.
Being trans has taught me so much about how to relax and simply be a human being who not only loves myself but everyone around me. This life has given me patience, love, and an all-around thirst to know more about the world around me and the people within it. To all of the trans women and men who have paved the way before me, I say thank you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself and to continue paving the way for future trans people who can eventually evolve into a life of peace.
Cis people need to realise that gender isn’t that difficult of a construct to tear apart, because it is so easy to create. The more fluid our culture becomes, the safer it becomes. I’m not asking cis people to change their gender, I’m simply asking them to not judge mine. Gender is built on such fragile foundations. Find what makes you comfortable, and run with it. For you, it may be jeans. For me, it’s a floral dress.
Educate yourself. You live in a time where you can find information by speaking into a piece of technology that tells you the answers. If you don’t know, ask. If you don’t understand, study. If you don’t have a theory, have a discussion. You can’t learn otherwise. Ignorance is an excuse in which one chooses dirt over water, while complaining they’re thirsty. Drink up!
I have privilege as a cis-passing white trans woman, but I still have lost family and supposed friends after deciding to transition. Dating has also been really challenging, between dealing with fetishisation and facing rejection under the guise of wanting children that cis women unable to conceive would never have to face. Ultimately, we are people. We deserve the same things cis people do — love, happiness, health, and most importantly, safety. Trans women are women and our rights are simply human rights. Listen to our stories and stand up for us by showing support. Help put a stop to transphobia by calling people out on their remarks and actions instead of being complicit through silence.
Some things are better than they were 50 years ago; there is definitely a lot of awareness and the younger generation is a lot more open-minded. But still we see trans women of colour being murdered. So far in 2019, 11 Black trans women that we know of have been murdered and this has to stop. Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Laverne Cox, Tracey “Africa” Norman, Janet Mock, Caroline “Tulla” Cossey, Andrea Pejic, and many other trans women have inspired me to live with authenticity and demand respect from a world that so often ignores or shuns us.
As a 25-year-old trans woman of colour, I can only imagine some of the things my sisters went through 50 years ago. However, things are far, far from perfect even now. Progressive cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles can seem like safe havens to a young trans person who may be growing up in far more dangerous and harshly judgmental area of this country. But, even here in NYC, I’ve run into violence and discrimination.
When it comes to discrimination, my problems, as a trans woman of colour, are threefold: I’m African-American; I’m a woman; I’m trans. Each one of these things comes with its own burden, but when combined, it increases the chance of both discrimination and acts of violence. I’ve suffered sexual assault numerous times, without help from a justice system that wasn’t attuned to the plight of a trans woman of colour.
However, there is hope — in the slowly-growing networks of LGBTQIA+ social and governmental organisations that helping to create outlets for young trans people, and in the media and institutions of learning that are slowly educating people. Compared to 50 ago, it seems as if things may be getting better for our community. But it still feels like a crawl at times, when I wish it was more of a sprint.
Text by Erika W. Smith