As a grassroots organizer in North Carolina, Basil Soper had grown accustomed, if not weary, of fielding the same set of insensitive questions about the transgender issues. "Everyone wanted to focus on the body, the tragedy, or their own struggles with trans identity," he tells Refinery29. "When people focus on the trans and non-binary physical transition or only the hardships we face they miss out on seeing us as full humans and we become unrelateable to them."
Already aware of how mainstream America freely "othered" trans people, Soper decided he needed to do something more for trans representation after North Carolina's "bathroom bill," which banned people from using public restrooms that don't match their gender at birth, passed in 2016. That's when Transilient, a series of photographs and interviews featuring transgender individuals in which they control their narrative was born.
For the last two summers, Soper and the rest of the Transilient production team have traveled the country, seeking to capture the spectrum of transgender experience — and prove that there is more to being trans than what others might assume.
As he continues to meet more people, Soper says with confidence that there is a vast range of perspectives, values, and life paths among transgender Americans. But, he also notes that trans people are united by the support they show for one another. "We all show up for each other and are happy to connect with one another even if we are really different," he says.
Transilient's goal, of course, is to relieve trans people of the burden to prove that they are more than their appearance. It shouldn't be their responsibility to teach the rest of the country that they are whole, multi-faceted people. "The constant education wouldn’t be needed if people could just see us as humans and trust that we know what is best for us and what makes us happy," Soper says. "We’re human beings who live full, interesting lives, contribute to society in a multitude of ways, and deserve to be treated as such."
Ahead, meet some of the people featured in Transilient and read their stories.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Gender and sexual orientation are both highly personal and constantly evolving. So, in honor of Transgender Awareness Week, we're talking about the importance of language and raising the voices of the LGBTQIA community. Welcome to Gender Nation, where gender is defined by the people who live it. Want to learn more? Check out our Gender Nation glossary.