April 26, 2017
We Are Transilient
By Basil Soper and Johanna Case
Trans people are often visible in the media. Usually, it’s because of a tragedy (they were murdered or committed suicide) or because they accomplished some comparatively conventional thing, like becoming a homecoming queen, winning the right to play high school sports alongside folks of their gender, finding true love, landing an acting gig, writing a book.
Yes, these things should be celebrated. They represent trans people defying the odds. The world is not set up for transgender people. Every institution, person, and many laws are impacted by a traditional sense of gender and sex and they govern a trans person’s ability to lead a successful and happy life.
So, the media visibility should be helping, right? We think it’s not.
These accounts of individual liberation—the “trans stories” we have all read about—help create an almost uniform storyline of what it means to be trans.
Mainstream media, generally led by cisgender (nontrans) journalists, tells trans stories in ways that make them more palpable to cis people. In fact, journalists almost never use the word cis when writing about trans people–a choice that immediately makes trans folks the “other.” They focus on the same few questions:
“When did you know?”
“What surgeries did you have?”
“Who abandoned you in your transition?”
Through this narrative, the media has effectively boxed in trans issues, bodies, lives, and battles, without humanizing them. It does not do justice to the dynamic beauty of transgender people.
My partner, Johanna Case, and I embarked on a travelling trans journey in 2016 and plan to hit the road again in 2017. In Transilient, we want to show the world, through candid interviews and portraits, that anyone you meet could possibly be trans. We want to show the world that trans folks are more than our gender identities. We are resilient and filled with potential. We are so much more than our transition. Instead of focusing on the differences between trans and nontrans people, Transilient likes to look at the similarities and create an intimate platform for underrepresented trans lives.
Samson: My favorite tattoo, is actually, um, one that goes across my chest, it says Hallelujah written backwards in mirror letters. My wife just asked me about it this morning and I always kind of dismiss it and am like, “Ah. It’s kind of important- I got it, whatever.” I just told her what it was about. I got it the day after I finished my last round of chemotherapy. I wasn’t supposed to because with chemo you’re not supposed to get a tattoo, but I did it anyway.
Sophia: I’m really into 80’s metal and hair bands.
Julisa: I speak three languages, I have a college education, and I type eighty-five words a minute. There is no reason that I should not be able to get an opportunity.
Griffin: Transitioning has not been easy but I am happy to know who I am. Because I was able to pass so quickly I was experiencing cat calling and all of the stuff women go through right from the start and it was so scary. I had to learn how to hold my ground and how to say no. I was a virgin until March of last year. Due to the abuse I endured as a child and being uncomfortable with myself, I just never had wanted to have sex. The part of transitioning where I experience the most hardship has been that all of these cisgender men want to have sex with me but they don’t want to commit to the fact that they did have sex with me.
Kay: Everyone was so happy when gay marriage passed. We weren’t sure if it would apply to us. Our tribal council told us that the tribal constitution still defined marriage between a man and a woman. Even though marriage equality is a given all across the land, in native land that is not the case.
Jonah: I sell my [art] work cheap so I can scatter it and give it to people need it. My business model is “Steal from the cis and give to the trans.
Basil Soper and Johanna Case are students in the Bachelor’s Program for Adult and Transfer Students at The New School. See wearetransilient.com for more photographs and interviews. This July, Transilient is hitting the road again in a post Trump America tour to the states most impacted by anti-LGBT legislation.
Transilient is a winner of the Center’s Prized Solutions competition. This competition identified exemplary research and ideas from New School students that focused on issues impacting New York City. Students from across the University submitted their pre-existing, well- developed, and innovative projects that offered creative solutions to some of the most challenging social and economic problems facing communities in NYC.