Transcending self

annie Tritt

2015 - Ongoing

United Kingdom

*Jason, an eight-year-old transgender boy in central Illinois, often returns from school crying inconsolably. His mom decided to move the family and homeschool him.

*Riley Alexis, age twenty, nonbinary (they), from Switzerland put themself into a mental health clinic, fearing suicide. A society that does not support and protect them has become too much.

*Rebecca, a single mom in Chicago, has fought her eight-year-old son’s school district for a year for him to be able to use the boys’ bathroom. The district initially decided to settle out of court, but after Trump's election, the district rescinded, believing they will win.

Each of these young people is a subject of my project Transcending Self. They and their parents chose to make their stories public, believing that doing so will create a more tolerant world, safer for themselves and for others.

Statistics related to being transgender and nonbinary help to illustrate the challenges people like Jason, Riley Alexis, and Rebecca’s son face. Every three days a transgender person is murdered worldwide, with the majority of victims being transgender women of color. In fact, 2016 was the most dangerous year on record for transgender people. Furthermore, nearly half of transgender and gender-creative youth will try to commit suicide before they turn twenty. Studies show support, both familial and societal, can greatly reduce these statistics and that familiarity with gender creative people is one of the greatest predictors of support.

Transgender and gender expansive youth with strong family support were found to be 82% less likely to attempt suicide1. Notably, a new study2, just published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, found that trans children from supportive backgrounds and with supportive peers were no more likely to have depression than their cisgendered peers. Moreover, a recent study3 found that simply looking at photos of transgender people can help reduce prejudice. They found the mere exposure to transgender people can be a source of prejudice reduction. Although the numbers are still too low, 66% of Americans familiar with transgender people feel favorably toward that community 4. In contrast, only 13% of those personally unconnected to transgender people look upon the community with favor.

It has become apparent that visibility saves lives and I am encouraged for the future. I have found a hope in the young people I am working with that will challenge the current narrative. The younger kids, have a self-assuredness and confidence; they are clear about who they are. In older youths, I see openness and a willingness to break free from the rigid boxes into which society has forced us all. All possess creativity and compassion for peers and strangers alike. It is common for people to photograph transgender people by focusing on their bodies. My focus lies elsewhere. I want to see what is fundamental: what makes them who they are inside and out. I want viewers to get past the curiosity of bodies and see humanity.

Two and half years ago, I began Transcending Self by photographing and interviewing transgender and gender-expansive children and young adults. It took a year of research and many rejections to find my first subject. The consequences for being public as a trans person can be extreme, from bullying to death threats; therefore, trust building is an essential part of the relationship and it took time. I am now connected to trans and gender-expansive groups and families around the globe. To date, I have photographed and interviewed twenty-five youths, ages three to twenty, throughout the United States, Germany, Switzerland, England and Ireland. More than thirty youth in Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America are waiting to participate. All of this has been accomplished through my own funding and efforts.

Upon receiving external funding, I plan to continue making images, focusing on expanding the backgrounds and diversity of the youth participants both in the U.S. and abroad. The long-term goal for Transcending Self is to exhibit the material in three different mediums: a book, an interactive website, and public exhibits to raise awareness. For the website, I have collected audio as well as the written interviews, and additional photos, to foster a more complete immersive experience.

Politicians and religious leaders have recently threatened gender-nonconforming communities, both in the US and abroad. Fear is so high that on election night 2016, several transgender youth are reported to have committed suicide. It is now more important than ever that these stories are told so rights can be protected. Beyond politics, I know the work is already making a difference. I receive weekly, sometimes daily, emails like this from Sarah, the mother of a transgender boy who has attempted suicide twice: “The glimpses into each of the families in your portraits leaves me wishing I'd only known their stories sooner so that I might have prevented my sweet boy so much hurt. Thank you for all that you're doing for our children and the world.”

Transcending Self is a critical project not only for the transgender community, but for everyone. Challenging existing narratives about identity works to build a world in which all people are free to become their truest, complex selves: a world in which difference is embraced rather than marginalized, validated instead of repressed.

*names have been changed or omitted at the request of the families

** Interviews and captions have been condensed for clarity and space.

*** some of the caption spelling is in British English




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  • Zak, 13, Isle of Wight England. Transgender boy

    Zak- “When I was 12 I realized that transgender was a thing. It was a lightbulb moment. I did some research and thought about it for about a month, but I didn't really need that time, I knew the minute I knew about transgender. As soon as I knew, I was excited, because I finally felt that I fitted somewhere.”

    “I had spent years trying to work myself out, finding somewhere I fit in, I thought that I was gay when I was about ten, but as I realized I was transgender, it made sense; I'm straight, I'm a straight guy in a girl’s body. I wanted to tell everyone I was a boy, though I wish I didn't have to tell anyone I was transgender, because I wish I could have just been born into the correct body.

    “I had very distorted expectations and thought that I would be able to have hormones and operations straight away. I feel really upset that I can't have the body that I want. The process is too long, and I can't have the hormones that I need. I hate the body that I have, I want it to transform, and it is wrong that I have to wait until I'm an adult."

    Zak’s Mom- “I want people to know he is awesome. He has faced so many challenges in life, and somehow he's still standing. He's so strong, much stronger than he knows, and one day he's going to make someone an incredible husband/partner. I don't care whether people know he's transgender or not. It's nothing to be ashamed of, it just is. He's a person, he shouldn't be defined by his gender, none of us should be, he should be defined by his thoughts and actions. He's very caring, wise and mature and I'm so proud of him. “

  • Piper, 9*, Northern Florida. Transgender girl.

    Questions with Piper and her mom-

    M-How did it feel when you were living as your true gender?
    M “Regular? What does that mean?”
    P “I’m just trying not to use the same words. It felt normal. I feel like me. I’ve always just been me, regular.”
    M-“Are you excited to go to the Gender Spectrum conference in a few weeks?”
    M-“Why not? Don’t you like having a chance to see other kids like you? Talk to other people that are going through similar things?”
    P-“No. I’m not like that. They aren’t like me.”
    M-What do you want people to know about you?
    Piper-”I want people to know that I live in a house. Not a box, or an apartment, or a mansion. I’m just normal. I’m not special, but I’m going to be famous one day.”

    Piper’s Mom-“ Piper does not like to talk about being transgender. We still see a therapist, and we’ve been going to the endocrinologist every six months (now every three), so the topic is one that comes up often. We also, Dan and I, started a local PFLAG, so there are monthly meetings, books around the house, etc. I think she’d just prefer not to even think about it. She doesn’t want to have the transgender label. She is a girl. She’s never felt anything other than girl, and she doesn’t understand why we have to talk about it endlessly. I worry about her and I am concerned. Maybe she just doesn’t have the vocabulary to express what she wants to say, but more than anything, I think she just wishes we’d leave it alone.”

  • Max, 13, Bay Area, California. Nonbinary.**

    Max-“When I was eleven, I realized I was non binary. I’ve felt non binary my whole life, but it was only then did I realized what it meant. I trusted it because it’s the truest feeling I’ve ever had.

    “Living as non binary was freeing, but also scary. I still am often scared of the reactions of people when I tell them.

    “As a trans person who has experienced hate, I want people to understand that nobody deserves to be hated. Everyone deserves love, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, etc. I want to bring hope and love to all people. Regardless of what job I have in the future, I want to help everyone feel loved.”

    Max’s mom- “Max was going through a really emotional time and we had no idea what was going on. I kept asking, what’s making you so sad, what’s bothering you, scaring? How can I support you? Finally, Max said, ‘There’s nothing you can do, you can’t fix this.’ I told them that no matter how bad or how unfixable, I would be with them, we would face whatever it was together. So Max texted me ‘I kinda like boys and I feel more like a girl.’ I was so relieved to know that there was nothing wrong, that they weren’t being hurt by someone.

    "In the beginning, it was important to just let Max know they were loved no matter what, that we would help figure out whatever it was that was happening, and if that meant supporting a transition to a girl, so be it. Then it moved from she to they, and nonbinary. Which actually seemed easier and more accurate. We assured Max that we loved them and we would do whatever Max needed on this journey. They are not alone.”

    **Max identifies as neither male nor female

  • Identical twins, 9. Northern Illinois. Cisgender**, and transgender.

    “I think my child sensed as early as 3 that he was a boy even though everyone was saying he was a girl. He would say "I'm really a boy" or "Mom, you know I'm a boy, right?" He would ask around age 4 for us to call him by a boys' name for fun, but I realize now he was "trying it on". From age 5-7, he would always say "I know I'm a girl....BUT" and then would describe himself as a boy. The day we discussed gender identity (age 8) was the last day I ever heard him say "I know I'm a girl BUT", because he realized he was transgender and that was what he was comfortable with as his descriptor. He was ELATED, and upbeat and confident. Before he was withdrawn and avoided any situation where kids were divided by gender. Once he was in his affirmed identity, he thrived.

    “I spend a great deal of time advocating proactively for him. It's emotionally exhausting. There's not a minute of my day it feels, that I'm not thinking about this and worrying. My work has suffered. Every affirmed mom that I know says the exact same thing. All parents worry about their kids, but few wonder if they may be bullied daily or possible hurt/murdered some day by someone who opposes your child's identity. We've had no overt challenges, and yet I'm exhausted.

    “Supporting a child's identity is not a choice or a fad or a phase. We have a decision ultimately to have a happy, alive son or a miserable dead daughter based on the statistics we've seen. I would also say, this is not something parents force on their kids, as I often read. I could no more make him write "right handed" when he's a lefty than I could say "be a girl because you were assigned that sex at birth based on anatomy". Ultimately, as parents, we all just want our kids to feel loved and accepted. It has to start with us.

    “My child had the bravery to say how he was feeling when he knew he was the only kid who was feeling this way at his school. This took guts. This took self-confidence. He's a fighter. He has a huge heart and he doesn't judge others. He is my everything and I will not let anyone kill his spirit.... not without a fight.”

    **gender you are assigned at birth

  • Azaj, 17, Oakland, Calif. Transgender girl.

    “ It is really different living as myself. I never thought that this would be happening. Before I felt like I was always trying to squeeze into jeans that were 6 sizes too small, but now it feels like am in jeans that were made just for me. I don’t feel uncomfortable. I am not always sad or overly upset. I am free. I now feel like I have a purpose. I no longer wake up hating myself or this world that does not understand me. I wake up with a smile, not because my life is so great, but because I love who I am.

    “I want people to see me and think of my struggles. I want to be the reason people fight to be who they are. I love myself and I know who I am at the moment. I feel like I have a reason to live. I know I will do great things and I want to be the person that girls like me look up to. I want to make sure the world does not take as long as it did to be open to gay and bi people. I hope that I am able to help girls like me so they don’t go through what I did. I want to be the strong and beautiful woman I picture when I look to the future. I want to slay the gods 100 times over doing things that trans girls have never done. I want to be the face of equality.

    “Being transgender is not a choice, although we do choose to transition. Being transgender does not mean you have to be super feminine or masculine. It means that you do not identify with the gender you were born. We are just people who understand both sides of life because we have life on both sides of the spectrum. Call us as we tell you to not as you see us.”

  • Leah*, 4, Bay Area, California. Transgender Girl

    Leah's parents-”At 2 3/4, she would sit in my lap, and announce "I'm a girl", "I'm your daughter", and picking girl's names for herself. After she told us a few times, "I'm a girl, call me 'she', we socially transitioned by changing her name to Leah and using female pronouns for her. She was already wearing exclusively dresses by that point, but we started growing out her hair.

    “Another big sign was around potty training. After months of failing to potty train her, we began to realize that part of her issue was that she didn't want to wear the underwear we gave her. We then offered to get her new underwear and asked what kind she wanted. She asked for "princess" underwear. Once we switched to pink frilly princess underwear, she was potty-trained within a few days. That was about a month before she turned 3.

    “Then, there was the final moment that led to her transition. She had a hard time using the right pronouns for men and women. She would call her female teachers 'he'. I tried to teach her: 'R__'s a girl, call her 'she', and she responded 'I'm a girl, too, call me 'she' '. We transitioned a few days after that, about a month after she turned 3.

    "Given her age, we couldn't in those days have certainty that her "true" gender is female. In fact, a year and a half later there is still room for doubt. It is possible that as she grows older, she could realize that she's not completely at either end of the gender spectrum. What certainty we have is that she feels female at this instant in her long life, and that the best thing we can do is support her.

    “It might be helpful for others to know that we didn't always have the level of knowledge and acceptance of transgender issues that we now have, and will no doubt continue to gain. I have a certain amount of empathy for the discomfort this issue causes so many people. I hope that the more the skeptics come into personal contact with transgender people, the more this issue will fade into irrelevance.”

  • Jay and Rosie, (twins), 5, Luton, England. Transgender boy and cisgender girl.

    Jay's mom--”One day when Jay was almost 4.5 we were in the car and he said out of the blue “Mummy, can you ask people to stop calling me ‘she’ and ‘her’ now, it makes me sad.” This was the real turning point, we had to make a decision to support him and to change pronouns, up until then it was ‘just’ clothes and he was ‘just’ a tomboyish girl.

    “Jay says he is so happy to be addressed using his male name and pronouns, sometimes he gets a little sad at being misgendered but mostly he is happy to just correct people and carry on. He loves knowing that people who are important to him see him as male, and absolutely beams when those he loves most use male orientated terms of endearment. He will sometimes seek reassurance from me that everyone in our lives definitely knows he’s a boy, and when I confirm again that they do, I can see how happy that makes him.

    “I want people to know my child is a human being, that his existence and his identity are valid. And that other people’s ignorance is not an excuse to mistreat the transgender community. Jay would want you to know that he’s a boy, that his favourite colour is orange, and that he loves
    Spiderman. I have been informed that he wants a penis when he grows up ‘but not boobies mummy because that would be silly, hahahaha!’

    “So far we are lucky that Jay has not experienced any gender dysphoria, I’ve heard of children as young as 5 being desperately unhappy with their bodies. We have discussed with Jay that although most girls have vaginas and most boys have penises, there absolutely are boys with vaginas and girls with penises. So he is happy enough to be a boy with a vagina for now, and I hope we can help him to navigate the approach to puberty.”

    (British English)

  • Riley Alexis, 20, Lake Constance, Switzerland. Agender**

    “I’ve always been agender and all I do is gender-neutral, just by simply existing. Though I think where it first started to feel real was when I met my amazing and very supportive queer peer group and friends. Being around people who acknowledged my identity was very helpful for me – I felt accepted.

    “When I started vocalizing, expressing, and experimenting, was around the time where I started claiming these terms as myself, as my identity. It was a time where I put more time, thoughts, and energy into exploring my gender identity and gender expression. I am still exploring and finding myself. I think this is something many can relate to – we are always reflecting and figuring out who we are and what we want. It’s a lifelong journey and it’s wonderful.

    “I have no energy, nor interest in society telling me how I should look, what I should do with my body and how I should behave – and all that. I’m tired of people constantly telling me ‘I should be more manly’ or ‘if you want to be a woman you should do that and that.’ It’s exhausting and I am not having it any longer. It’s my body, my life – you have no say on that.

    “Facing and dealing with depression, dysphoria, and anxiety is quite a struggle on its own. As well as people staring on the streets, or on public transportation – to verbal and even sexual assaults. But I think most frustrating is the feeling of having no self-determination. For everything about you or your body – you have to wait for a doctor’s approval. Document changes, HRT etc. It takes a lot of time, energy and money for what is mostly just waiting, frustratingly convincing – where some stranger has more rights about your body than you do.

    “I want to be able to make my own decisions for my own life and body – without needing the approval from several doctors, for example for changing my name, it doesn’t make any sense why I need an endocrinologist’s and a psychiatrist’s certificate to do so."

    **Riley, Alexis identifies as a feminine queer person between the genders.

  • Justin*, 8, and his brother, Bay Area, California. Transgender boy.

    Justin's Mom-” He was sure (about being a boy) and in my heart I was sure too. I couldn't do anything else. When your child tells you something like that, you know it's real and you know in your heart they can't live any other way or they would not be able to be true to themselves. I told Justin I will always love you no matter what. Whether you are a boy or a girl I will always love you!

    “I felt scared and overwhelmed at first. It would hit me in my car when I was alone. I longed for Sarah, with time I don't feel as sad. Sometimes I worry about Justin’s future and just hope that everything will be ok.

    “Since Justin has become Justin he lets me hold him and cuddle with him. Before the transition Justin would barely let me touch him. I think that Justin is happier as a boy.”

    “Justin’s second grade teacher and principal also had a difficult time getting on board and helping him with his transition. His teacher wouldn't use the correct pronouns and when Justin was having difficulties with the kids at school the principal just said yeah, it's going to be really tough right now but that's just how it is. The kids spent a lot of time teasing Justin. I finally pulled him out of school at his request and he finished off the year doing independent study.”

    His dad- "I didn't sign up for this. But I'm in it for the long haul. I'm scared at times. I fear for his future. I want him to be happy. I want him to be accepted. I want him to have friends. I want him to believe that anything is possible. I want him to know that he is loved. "

  • Sky Noah, 15, Frankfurt, Germany. Transgender boy.

    “There is no sex education in Germany when it comes to transgender or even homosexuality.

    “At the school corridor (after he came out) people started yelling ‘you tranny.’ When I walked by people they were spitting on the ground and stuff like this. I got bullied in school for years and it stopped in senior year - it's all about self esteem!

    “When you go shopping and the employees of the mall call you a young man... This is making me happier than the best present on earth ever could!

    “My mother is using female pronouns and my birth name - it hurts, but sometimes, just sometimes she's calling me with my male name - these are the happiest seconds in the week then. My father just said: ‘you'll always be my daughter’ - no matter if I one day have a beard, short hair or a penis - I think he'd still call me his daughter.

    “Being trans* is a challenge and I accepted it. Bullying is often a big deal. If I go to the male bathroom, I get beaten up, and in the female bathroom I get yelled at. If you say ‘I'm trans' most people first think of Drag Queens / Drag Kings and think we're that different. We aren't,. Transitioning isn't easy, especially if your parents don't support you. But I won't give up.

    “When I'm an adult, I want to help all of the german LGBTQ Youth - I still don't know how but I want to and I'm gonna do this. And my hopes for the world? My big dream is, that gay marriage gets legalized in Germany, and more sex education too.

    “Just let me say this ONE thing to you: It gets fucking better. Even if you don't believe it, it gets better. Life is a gift, and you should live as happy as you can. Talk to people, laugh as much as you can, never give up fighting.”

  • Chloe, 20, Cork, Ireland. Transgender woman.

    After coming out I had huge disphoria and struggled leaving the house and speaking when I was out in public. There were moments where I would feel like I was doing the right thing, and moments I thought I was going crazy. Gradually over time, I started to feel the benefits of being truthful to myself. Everything felt natural to me, the clothes fit my body better, my hair getting longer suited me more. I have started growing more as a person.

    “The biggest challenge I have faced has probably been the public scrutiny, hateful comments, misgendering, hateful videos being made of myself and my sister (she has a trans sister). Living in a body that you feel doesn't fully belong to you yet, is extremely painful, but dealing with people who think you are disgusting and sick is mentally draining.

    “I understand that my gender does not define me or who I am. I refuse to let gender roles and female/male privilege control me.

    “I am perfectly imperfect and proud.”

  • (l-r) Hannah* and Nicole*(identical twins), 8, Northern California. Cisgender, and gender expansive.

    Nicole's mom-- ”What really drove home how strongly Nicole felt about NOT having “girly” things was when the twins would receive matching birthday gifts. Nicole would politely say thank you, but then turn to her sister and say, ‘you can have this.’ Nicole handed over scores of presents to Hannah until I began telling family and friends to pretend they were giving a gift to a boy when choosing for Nicole. By age 3, I was exclusively shopping in the boys department for clothes, pajamas, underwear, swimwear, socks and shoes, backpacks, lunch bag, bike.

    “The kids were watching Mrs. Doubtfire. They laughed at how comical Robin Williams was dressed. And I volunteered that some people really do dress like the opposite sex, normally and not so comically. Then Hannah said you can take medicine to become the opposite sex. Nicole didn’t believe Hannah and asked me if this was true. I told her that yes, there are some medicines (hormones) people can take to help them have more feminine or masculine features. She emphatically jumped in, “I want that!”

    ”She still calls herself a girl because she is very honest and feels she can’t ‘lie’ about her genitals. I understand that this is typical with kids who are very honest, ages 7-9. They are literal and concrete thinkers who can’t deny their physical biology even though their head and heart conflict with that biology.

    “So far, we haven’t had many challenges. I expect that may change at puberty. I really hope that the positive attitude she has now can carry her through more challenging times that may come in the future. My ultimate hope is that Nicole remains happy with who she is. I believe she demonstrates happiness and joy presently because she is being true to herself.”

  • Audrey*, 5, Northern California. Transgender girl.

    Audrey's mom-“At around 2.5 years old, I thought my son was probably gay. He acted differently towards high heels, jewelry and dresses than my older son. About 2 years later, our son transitioned to living as a girl and everything clicked into place.

    “Over the course of a year, our son expressed that he wanted to be a girl when he got older and that he wanted girl’s hair. He also slowly started wearing dresses in the house, then out front, and finally out to events. His passion for being a girl continually strengthened and by the time he was 4.5 years old, he was ready to own the fact that he was truly a girl inside. Our son told us he felt like he was a girl inside and that we were confused because we thought he was a boy. He told us he felt like he was pretending.

    “Our daughter completely transformed when we accepted her for her true gender. She was no longer shy around others. She also stopped being so sad and withdrawn. She started acting more confident with who she was and expressed this to others. Friends told me how different she was since she transitioned. She also finally didn’t need to present as an extreme girl. After the transitioned, she started to play with a variety of toys, not just the ‘girly’ toys.

    “She knew who she was before she could even talk. It was us, her parents, who needed to learn who she was and not just depend on her birth sex.

    “Every time Audrey makes a wish, it is always the same. She wishes to marry a boy and have babies with him. I hope that by the time she is old enough, that this can truly be a reality for her."

  • Jake*, 8, Central, Illinois. Transgender boy.

    “I didn’t trust it (her son being transgender). I didn’t want to trust it. I had no knowledge of the transgender experience, what it meant, how beautiful and unique it was. To me, it was the end of our worlds, and so I didn’t force or oppose him, but I didn’t encourage him. I was very scared and I think that he was scared, too. I think it’s normal to be scared about such a huge step, but it didn’t stop us from taking it.

    “He often told us how sad he felt, being called a girl. He felt like it wasn’t right, didn’t suit him. He felt out of place and he felt incredibly isolated from his peers. There were many days he’d come home from school crying, because some boys wouldn’t let him play with them, because “he was a girl” or because the teachers had divided classes up by gender again, and he had been pointed out as going to the “wrong” side, when he followed the boys.

    “We chose to withdraw him from public school and homeschool. He was experiencing anxiety. We also moved towns. He transitioned in the middle of second grade, in the middle of a small town, and everyone knew. We had the full support of the school and a few friends who stood by us, but I think for the most part, we were tolerated. He wanted a chance to be like any other boy, and not constantly called by the wrong name or pronoun, on accident. We are all much happier where we are now.

    “He’s so kind and gentle and generous of spirit. He believes in helping others and protecting the weak and defending those that can’t defend himself, and I love that about him. His gender doesn’t define him, I won’t let it and he won’t let it. And that’s what I would want the world to know. Gender should never define a person. We should treat all people as people first.

    “There aren’t any challenges with being transgender. The challenge comes with society and being treated like a human being. Not everyone wants to pass, not everyone has the privilege of passing, not everyone can afford to pass. And not everyone should have to pass. The challenge is dealing with the vast majority of people who dehumanize someone, for not subscribing to a strict set of gender ideals. The challenge isn’t being transgender, the challenge is everyone else that can’t find it in themselves to treat everyone as a human being.”

  • Hayley, 14, Liverpool, England. Transgender Girl.

    “When I started living as a girl I felt myself, and free to express who I really am and was meant to be. Others, sometimes forget that I wasn't born female and that makes me happy because I just want people to have the thought that I was born female and always have been Hayley.

    “What it means to be transgender? It's hard. I'm not going to lie. It is very hard, and people who think it's any kind of choice are very very wrong. I don't see why anyone would choose to go down a very difficult road, and that's what makes us such strong people. To be able to be born a way we didn't want to be, then have to put up with other peoples' problems against us. It is so straining, but we rise above it because we have bigger problems of our own and don't need their input on our lives.

    “The greatest challenge is seeing other people of the gender you wish to be all happy and then you think to yourself,' why couldn't I have been born like that instead of the opposite and not want to be what I am, but something different.?'

    “My hopes and dreams are the same as most probably anyone else's, to get the job I want, to get a good house with a good car, and to have a great partner to share it all with. And to have 2 amazing children who will grow up to be amazing people who don't judge people like this generation seem to do.”

  • James*, 8, and his sibling**, Bay Area, California. Transgender boy.

    James' mom-“When I went to pick him up from school one February day during second grade, I saw one of his closest friends and asked her where my daughter was. She told me that I should know my child's secret: that his inner person is a boy, and that he thinks I'm going to be mad. My friend's child had thankfully told me everything I needed to hear. My child's inner person is a boy, and he was worried about my reaction. I saw no other path than to follow my child's lead. He immediately asked for a boy name, boy hair, and boy clothes.

    “Over the last six months, my child has transitioned and transformed. He has become more confident, happier, and lighter. He feels free of his secret, and it shows. He has started to perform better at school and has fewer problems socially. He appears significantly happier to be himself. He has been consistent, persistent, and insistent that he is a boy. Not that he wants to be a boy, but that he IS a boy.

    “My child has been told, by kids at school, that he is not a boy or a girl, but an ‘it.’ He has been questioned by skeptical kids and adults. Some of his old friends go out of their way to use his dead name or the wrong pronouns. He has chosen to not go to parties, play dates, sleepovers, camps, and other activities due to trepidation about dealing with some of these children.

    “My child is special, not because he is a transgender boy, but because of his profound empathy, bravery, and emotional wisdom. My child would never choose to rock the boat, as his main desire is to focus on others and please them. We know that is not always a healthy quality, and have worked to build his inner resilience and self-focus, but it has always been a challenge. Therefore, when he boldly and bravely shared his truth, and requested to change it all, we had to bravely follow suit. Our eight-year-old warrior is fighting to be himself. We are standing by him as his allies and fighting for his right to be seen as the normal, happy, brave, empathetic, nurturing, creative person that he is.”

    ** His sibling came out as trans, since this image was taken. I will photograph her this month.

  • Bryan, 6, New York City. Transgender boy.

    Bryan's mom-“I think my child has always known he was a boy, but that it never dawned on him to mention it until he was 4 1/2 years old.

    “His discomfort began to materialize a few months into Pre-K as he realized he was being grouped in ways counter to his internal sense of self. One of the first examples he gave me, when I asked him how he knew something was wrong, involved the Pre-K winter performance. He expressed that they had put him on the wrong side of the stage. He was supposed to be on the right, singing the boy lyrics to the duet. He also started resisting ballet lessons despite having loved it the year before. He told me he was supposed to be in shorts, twirling the girls and throwing them in the air.

    “His 5th birthday was towards the end of Pre-K, and my kid's personality was changing. A month prior, he had told me he wished there was a boy in my belly. I said, ‘awww, you want a baby brother?’ He said ‘no, I should have been a boy in your belly.’ That was the moment everything changed inside me. Everything came to a crashing halt, all the big signs and little signs, and it was suddenly clear as day that my child was really unhappy inside, and testing the waters to see if I could help him figure out what he wasn't even sure he needed. I was at a complete loss. I had no idea what transgender meant, let alone that a child could be feeling this way. I went into denial, although inwardly I knew nothing would ever be the same. After a few months of seeing my joyous, exuberant, gleeful child become withdrawn, I agreed he could finally cut his hair after his dance recital. That was one of the best days of his life.

    “I asked my kid if he'd like to stop at the store and pick up more boyish pants. He asked me if we could use the boy's fitting room. My heart was about to pound out of my chest, but I calmly asked ‘are you a boy?’ He looked at me really scared, and after the way I had acted the past year I don't blame him. I don't know how he still had any faith or hope left in me, but he nodded. I said ‘well, boys use the boy's fitting room, so yes.’ Once he was sure I wasn't joking, it was like a veil lifted, and my happy child had returned. He hugged me tightly and I knew from that moment on I could never go back to insulting him by calling him my daughter just because of what's between his legs. He flew through the boy aisles, the word elation doesn't even come close. And with this, I also saw how scared he was of getting into trouble. It was as if he knew he couldn't tell just anyone his dark secret. It killed me to know such a young child had this heavy weight on his shoulders. Trying to balance his truth with what he knew society expected of him.”

  • Ellie, 6, Washington, DC. Transgender girl.

    Ellie's mom-“On Ellie's 4th birthday, she had an Elsa and Lightning McQueen party. The house was filled with friends and she flitted around happily in an Elsa dress and tiara. After the party was over we were walking up to bed and I said "You are my favorite princess boy'. To that, she stopped, looked me in the eyes and said ' I'm not a boy mama. I'm a girl in my heart and my brain.'

    “Before Ellie socially transitioned, she was a quiet, somewhat taciturn little child. She didn't have many friends and hid a lot. If we were in public or out, she would hide and not talk to people. That all changed when we switched pronoun and then name. We made the decision in the car one day on the way to a museum. When we got out the car she ran up to a mom and her child and said " Hi! I'm Ellie! What's your name!" From then out she made friends, was playful and way more outgoing. She's certainly an introvert... but she's a happy one.

    “I hope that as people like us share our stories that others will take the time to read them... really read them. I hope they ask questions, learn and educate themselves. Even if that is too much to ask, I hope that people, at the very least, respect others' identities and think about what they would want for their child. While they may not have a trans child, I can guess that they certainly want a safe, happy and loved one. And that is what is most important. WE are lucky to have Ellie in our lives and wouldn't change her at all.”

  • Kyla and Mya (twins), 18. Los Angeles. Nonbinary.

    Kyla (left)-“I feel most comfortable in the space between the gender binary, a space where I’m allowed to construct my own ideas of gender and gender expression. That means I feel more masculine than feminine. For many, this is a hard concept to understand.

    “Being nonbinary also means I will never truly be accepted by society. It means that when a stranger asks me, ‘Are you a boy or a girl?,’ I have to evaluate which option will keep me safest.

    "Growing up, I learned to keep my emotions and fears inside, and expressing my gender to others meant tearing down the walls I had built up around me. I’m a very non-confrontational person, so I’m often hesitant to speak up about my opinions or my identity. But I am here, and I want the same as everyone else-to be loved, to be accepted, to be comfortable in my own body."

    Mya- “I’m still figuring myself out. I think finding my gender has helped me be more open and true to myself. I hide who I am for the most part, but I’m learning how to open up. Ultimately, I hope I am more authentically me than I was back in high school. I’ve definitely found a community and purpose through my identity. I think one of the most striking challenges I’ve faced is in respect to race. The ways my mixed race Japanese identity interplays with my gender identity is complicated, and not something traditionally discussed in nonbinary spheres.

    “Gender still baffles me, and I didn’t grow up seeing it the way others do. I can’t say I now understand gender on a personal level, but I have a better understanding of it on a societal and institutional level. Trans identities expose the underpinnings of gender in ways that our society often deems as dangerous.

    “We are complex individuals living in a complex, multidimensional world. It doesn’t make sense for gender to be any different.”

  • Lilly, 12, Chico, Calif. Transgender girl.

    Lilly-“While other kids are developing, you’re not. You’re either on hormone blockers or you don’t know what to do yet. Also, nobody really has a crush on you, because they think you’re weird or different because they think you’re really not the gender you are.

    “At the end of the day, people can say what they want about you, but the only voice that matters to you is yours. They just don’t struggle with the things we struggle with.”

    Lilly’s dad-”All I ever really needed to do was follow her lead, listen to her, embrace what she loved and was passionate about. I think this is true for parents of cisgender kids too – we have our own agendas as parents. The lesson is to let go - support and love unconditionally. Lilly, at age 8, told her mom – in no uncertain terms – that she was a girl. Truth is in my mind – she always has been.”