There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn

Once upon a time, in the shabby streets of Sweet Auburn, Atlanta, I met a beautiful soul who would forever leave an indelible mark on my heart. It was 2017 when I first met CC, a black Trans woman, facing the challenges of homelessness and addiction.

CC’s story is a reflection of the struggles experienced by many black Trans women in the US. It sheds light on the barriers they face, the resilience they embody, and the ever-present need for acceptance and support. May CC's memory serve as a reminder of the challenges yet to be overcome and the importance of fostering a world where everyone can live.

Once upon a time, in the shabby streets of Sweet Auburn, Atlanta, I met a soul who would forever leave an indelible mark on my heart. It was the year 2017 when I first met her, a black Trans woman named CC, facing the challenges of homelessness and addiction.

CC asked me to photograph her. Touched by her vulnerability, I agreed, promising to send the pictures to her via Facebook messenger. But I didn’t hear from her until February 2020.

"Hi, hi, how are you? I remember this," her message read. She told me that she was incarcerated. Despite the difficult circumstances, she found comfort in our connection through Facebook messenger by sending me video messages and letters. She knew the risks of getting caught using a smartphone. But her desire to stay in touch with the outside world was stronger than her fears.

During her incarceration, CC faced unimaginable cruelties as a trans woman trapped in a men's prison. Often placed in isolation for her own protection, she fought to preserve her spirit. It was within those walls that she refound her faith in God and immersed herself in the words of the Bible.

CC's resilience shined through as she maintained being positive, even expressing gratitude for her time in prison. It was there that she received the desired hormone treatments that allowed her to embrace her true self and break free from the grip of addiction.

January 2023, I received wonderful news - CC would be released in February. True to my promise, I immediately booked a flight to visit her. CC was granted parole and was welcomed back to her mother's house, even though her mother struggled to fully accept her as a Trans woman. CC was grateful for a place to stay, sleeping on the couch. Before my arrival, she had even managed to find a job, a source of immense pride for her.

During my visit, we shared unforgettable moments. We went out for meals, shopped for wigs and clothes, and had so much fun together. However, beneath the surface of her infectious positivity, I occasionally glimpsed moments of sadness in CC’s eyes. It weighed heavy on my heart, knowing that building a fulfilling life in a country where acceptance would never be complete, would be a challenge for CC. Financial constraints prevented her from affording the full extent of her transition or maintaining hormone treatment, with no insurance and a low income.

On the last day of my visit, CC invited me to witness her First Fruit offering, where she donated her first paycheck to God in a mega church. Holding her Bible tightly, tears streaming down her face, she danced, sang, and proclaimed her devotion. CC firmly believed that this offering would bring immeasurable blessings, a sentiment underscored by a passage she had thickly highlighted in her Bible.

Heartbreakingly, just a week after I departed, the darkness she had fought so bravely against, returned to her life. CC gave in to the temptation of drugs, and two weeks later, tragedy struck. She suddenly passed away.

I made the journey back to attend her funeral, where she was laid to rest as a man. However, her beautiful memorial celebrated CC for who she truly was - a courageous Trans woman. Her mother shared with me that she had received CC as a son, and now, she wished to return her son to God, just as she had received him….

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"In Prison" This picture is a still from one of the many video messages I received from CC during her incarceration from January 2020 to February 2023. Specifically, this image is a still from the first video message she sent me in 2020.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"Prison Shirt" When CC was released from prison, she received a white blouse, beige pants, and black sneakers, all of which were crafted by fellow inmates. Wearing these clothes upon release made it clear to everyone outside that you had been an inmate.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"Confined" Even though CC has been released from prison, she doesn't experience the freedom she should. Instead, she feels confined within herself, yearning for acceptance as she understands the challenges of being truly embraced for who she is.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"The Phonecall" Although CC knew the risks of getting caught using a smartphone, she called me on regular base with FB Messenger. Her desire to stay in touch with the outside world was stronger than her fears.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"The Wig",When CC was released from prison and moved in with her mother, it was her mother who bought CC a wig. In the beginning she didn't want CC to wear the wig at home, but slowly she started to accept more and more CC being Trans.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"Shower" CC endured unimaginable cruelties as a transgender woman confined in a men's prison. Her body was undergoing a transformation due to hormone treatments, which frequently exposed her to danger, especially in the communal showers.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"Hometown"At the age of 16, CC ran away from home due to a lack of acceptance within her family, setting in motion a journey of homelessness, addiction, rehab stays, and two prison terms. However, this time, she has come back to her hometown for good.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"The Couch" CC was granted parole and was welcomed back to her mother's house, even though her mother struggled to fully accept her as a Trans woman. CC was grateful for a place to stay, sleeping on the couch.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"Feminine" CC takes immense pride and joy in her breasts, as it was in prison that she finally received her so desired hormone treatments, enabling her to embrace her true self. But now outside of prison she has to pay for her treatment herself.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"Mother" Despite her mother's struggle to fully accept her as a transgender woman, CC felt an unwavering love from her.As CC got older, she understood that her mother's struggle was rooted in fear of rejection and violence against transgender people.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"Shopping" Upon her release from prison, CC only had her prison clothes. During my visit, I had the pleasure of taking CC shopping for new clothes and wigs.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"The Bible" It was within the prison walls that she refound her faith in God and immersed herself in the words of the Bible.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"Tears" CC invited me to witness her First Fruit offering, where she donated her first paycheck to God in a mega church. Holding her Bible tightly, tears streaming down her face, she danced, sang, and proclaimed her devotion.

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"RIP" Heartbreakingly, just a week after I departed, the darkness she had fought so bravely against, returned to her life. CC gave in to the temptation of drugs, and two weeks later, tragedy struck. She suddenly passed away

© Ingeborg Everaerd - Image from the There ain't nothing Sweet about Sweet Auburn photography project
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"Piedmont Park" On the last day of my visit, we had a great time at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. After CC's funeral, I went back, sat down, and thought deeply about my friendship with her and the sadness in her life. I cried. RIP my dear, brave CC

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