Border Trouble: photography, strategies, and transsexual identities
This paper explores the intervention of technology in transsexual experiences from two different perspectives. First, the physical changes transsexual people undergo is examined through the accounts of two transsexual people who self-identify beyond the binary categories. Second, in light of gender beyond the dichotomy, the paper considers the potential for photography to present an “aesthetic of turbulence” (Halberstam 2005: 107) that de-constructs the binary gender model.
The article focuses on two short case studies drawn from a four-year photography and interview study undertaken with a core group of eight people that in turn was based on more extensive research involving twenty-three transsexual people.
In this introductory section I shall explore widely held assumptions about the two-sexes/two-genders system, the medical perspective on transsexuality, the issue of passing, and the possibility that photography of the atypical body has the potential to constitute an intervention into the established gender system and present a challenge to the binary gender categories.
The assumption that there are two genders and that these are aligned with the polarities of biological sex is taken as a given in the Western world and is believed to be a fact of life. Furthermore, "[g]ender attribution is for the most part, genital attribution." (Kessler & McKenna 1978: 153) Following this formula the medical profession views "a sustained desire for surgery" as an essential criteria of a transsexual identity (Bolin 1993: 455).
Ekins and King suggest that violations of the two-sexes/ two-genders system constitute "a potential threat" to the social structures that have evolved out of a belief in this system and that in these instances:
…societies develop a conceptual machinery to account for such deviations and to maintain the realities thus challenged. This requires a body of knowledge that includes a theory of deviance, a diagnostic apparatus, and a conceptual system for the ‘cure of souls.’ (Berger and Luckmann quoted in Ekins & King 1996: 75)
In Western society the medical profession has taken on “this aspect of our reality…” (Conrad & Schneider quoted in Ekins & King 1996: 75). The concept that transsexual surgery "reinforces social conformity by encouraging the individual to become an agreeable participant in a role-defined society, substituting one sex role stereotype for the other" was suggested by Janice Raymond in 1979 (1994: xvii). Raymond asserts that transsexual people are "surgical hermaphrodites" who undergo "superficial, artificial, and socially and surgically constructed change." (1994: 3, 165) She argues that male-to-female transsexual people "reduc[e] the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves." (1994: 104)
What Raymond fails to take into account is that all women and men imitate the accepted model, thus transforming their physical reality into a cultural artifact on a daily basis. Everyday visual presentations are not natural or neutral facts of life that emerge from an essentially gendered self. Individual presentations of the self are developed in relation to culturally created and socially sustained visual models and are performative expressions.
Erving Goffman argues that all social interaction involves both a performance and a reading of the performance (1990: 32). Robert Ezra Park, quoted in Goffman, describes how this performative aspect of reality functions on an individual level. Park suggests:
It is probably no mere historical accident that the word person, in its first meaning, is a mask. It is rather a recognition of the fact that everyone is always and everywhere, more or less consciously, playing a role… In the end, our conception of our role becomes second nature and an integral part of our personality. We come into the world as individuals, achieve character, and become persons. (1990: 30)
Park's argument highlights the fact that the performance of the self is a social fact of life. The feminist philosopher Judith Butler develops this theme further and claims that in regard to gender the performative accomplishment de-stabilises the notion of a fixed gender identity. Butler asserts:
Gender ought not to be construed as a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts follow; rather, gender is an identity tenuously constituted in time, instituted in an exterior space through a stylised repetition of acts…a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief. (1990: 179)
Transgender people use the term passing to describe projecting a gender that is at odds with the person’s anatomical, biological or chromosomal sex. Passing implies an act of secrecy and dishonesty, of playing a part that one has no right to play. However, developing Butler’s hypothesis that gender expressions do not derive from an essential gender identity and Goffman and Park's arguments that all social exchange is performative, it follows that in social interaction non-transgender people are also passing.
The transsexual author, Sandy Stone, draws a comparison between the transsexual person's passing as a biological female or male and "the person of colour whose skin is light enough to pass as white, or to the closet gay or lesbian". She argues that transsexual people are "programmed to disappear" and claims that: "The highest purpose of the transsexual is to erase him/herself, to fade into the normal population as soon as possible." (1991: 295, 299) Stone asserts that transsexual people need to follow the lead of the lesbian, gay, and black activists in aiming for solidarity and emphasises that:
To deconstruct the necessity for passing implies that transsexuals must take responsibility for all of their history, to begin to rearticulate their lives not as a series of erasures…but as a political action begun by reappropriating difference and reclaiming the power of the refigured and reinscribed body. (1991: 299)
The feminist philosopher Judith Butler cites the example of viewing the transsexual body to show how the categories of female and male are central to the way of thinking about bodies. She suggests that the two-sexes/two-genders system underpins our perception to such an extent that we actually see through the binary categories. Butler argues:
…even seeing the body may not answer the question: for what are the categories through which one sees? The moment in which one’s staid and usual cultural perceptions fail, when one cannot with surety read the body that one sees, is precisely the moment when one is no longer sure whether the body encountered is that of a man or a woman. The vacillation between the categories itself constitutes the experience of the body in question. When such categories come into question, the reality of gender is also put into crisis… (1990: xxii)
Following the work of Judith Butler, this paper builds on the notion of the body as a contested site. It develops the dynamics of seeing the atypical body and explores the potential for photographs of atypical bodies to question pre-conceptions, bring to the fore the limits of the binaries, and highlight the extent to which belief in the gender system forms a lens through which the world is viewed.
My work emerges from a tradition of photographing transgender and transsexual people, for example the work of Loren Cameron, Catherine Opie, and Del LaGrace Volcano. However, I have moved beyond their work, through a methodology that involves collaboration, empowering the subject, and presenting the projection of the self from the participant's point of view.
At the start of the project I set out to develop a process of mediation that would facilitate exploring the subjects' perceptions rather than my own and to establish methods for creating portraits from their perspectives. In other words, to work with the subjects to produce images that were meaningful to them. In order to encourage the participants' engagement in the research I developed a form of photo-elicitation, adapted from the methodology that has evolved in visual anthropology and visual sociology.
Photo-elicitation promotes the subject's active involvement in the research process. During the course of the inquiry this method enabled a dynamic interaction between the participants and myself to develop that allowed our respective voices to come out and constituted a two-way process, rather than a one-way flow of information from the subject to the researcher. Within this process the camera became an “active participant…rather than a neutral recorder” (Meyer 2006: 447). My study explores the first adaptation of photo-elicitation to be undertaken with transsexual people into their experiences of the relationship between gender, self-image, the body, and the social domain. This type of research in this kind of community has not been previously undertaken.
The researcher John Collier first named photo-elicitation in 1957 (Harper 2002: 14). Photo-elicitation uses photographs in interviews in order to trigger responses. Pictures can be made by the researcher, the participant, or they may be from archives or personal collections (Harper 2002: 19). Edwards suggests that photographs have:
…enormous potential…for opening alternative histories and giving different forms of expression to telling histories. Photography can do this precisely because it invites also a subjective, internalised response, even a purely emotional response, that references different experiences and opens a space for their articulation. (2003: 97)
Douglas Harper, founding editor of the journal Visual Sociology, suggests that there is a biological foundation for the difference between people's responses to images and words and that this may be why photographs used in interviews give rise to a particular form of response. Harper argues:
…the parts of the brain that process visual information are evolutionarily older than the parts that process verbal information. Thus images evoke deeper elements of human consciousness than do words…These may be some of the reasons the photo-elicitation interview seems like not simply an interview process that elicits more information, but rather one that evokes a different kind of information. (2002: 13)
Harper asserts that the information that results is owing to the fact that photo-elicitation "mines deeper shafts into a different part of human consciousness than do words-alone interviews.” (2002: 23) This potential underpins the practice-led basis of this study.
The research was reflexive for both the participants and researcher. Participants were asked to develop ideas for how they would like to be photographed and they were also asked at times to take their own pictures thus controlling the process of making images of themselves. This removed my role as photographer and enabled the participant to become both the observing subject and the observed object in the photograph.
Underpinning the design of the methodology was an awareness of the participants as individual human beings and the need for this to be brought to the fore rather than the research focusing on the general category of transsexual people going through surgery.
As I have discussed, the two-sexes/two-genders system is widely believed to be a fact of life. However, people self-identifying beyond the gender dichotomy are altering their bodies to re-align them with their sense of gender. This case study will explore the experiences of Kitty who self-identifies as a "she-male woman"(Kitty: 05.06.03). In other words, Kitty sees herself as both a she-male and a woman. A she-male is a term used to describe someone born anatomically male, who undergoes some physical changes but retains male genitalia. Kitty takes female hormones (oestrogen) but she has had no surgery. In talking about her gender identity Kitty asserts:
I know there are some natural born women who would say that I’m not the same as them. I say, well, I’m not the same as you… why can’t there be two variations?…To me, at the end of the day, I guess I’m both. Ultimately I am a woman … you could also look on me as a she-male... She-male woman. One may seem on the surface to cancel out the other, but it makes sense to me.(Kitty: 05.06.03)
Contrary to the popular medical opinion that a desire for genital surgery is an essential criteria of a transsexual identity, in discussing her male genitalia Kitty said: "I don’t particularly like them, but I don’t particularly dislike them either." (Kitty: 05.06.03) When I asked Kitty how she felt about her genitalia being visible in some of the photographs we had taken she responded: "…it’s part of me… It’s pictures of my body… and I’m proud of it." (Kitty: 05.06.03)
Kitty's response reveals a deviation from the widely held view that the genitals constitute a focus for transsexual people. For some transsexual people the genitals cause considerable distress and thus it is important to them that they have genital surgery. However, Kitty's account demonstrates this is not the case for all self-identified transsexual people. Whilst there is much common ground amongst the transsexual people I have worked with there are also differences and the feelings that people articulate about their sexed/gendered body parts constitutes a significant area of difference. Kitty's gender identity demonstrates that not all transsexual people identify as either wholly female or male. The relationship between the self-image, in other words the way the person sees themselves in their mind, and how they respond to parts of the body is key to the development of gender identities beyond the female/male categories.
My discussions with Kitty reveal that her self-image is predominantly female and that she identifies with females. In describing a reaction she sometimes has to women on the street she said: “I’ll look at a woman, at a certain something and that’s me.” (Kitty: 05.06.03)
Figure 1. Mata Hari (Image from: www.ww1-propaganda-cards.com/mata_hari.html)
As well as recognising herself in women she encounters in the public domain Kitty identifies with representations of popular female film stars. In an email I sent prior to our first meeting, I asked Kitty if she could name anyone with whom she identified. She promptly replied and included pictures of Mata Hari, Marilyn Monroe, Constance Bennett and Hedi Lamar. Figure 1 is the picture of Mata Hari that Kitty sent me. In an accompanying text she described characteristics of herself that she recognised in the images. In the email she wrote: “This shot of Mata Hari for me represents so much.” (Kitty:15.05.03) In an interview three weeks later she said: “Mata Hari, to me, tends to sum up very much myself.” (Kitty: 05.06.03)
Figure 2. Kitty (Photo by Sara Davidmann)
The identification with the image of Mata Hari that Kitty expresses here is significant with regard to much of the photographic work that was produced with her. The photography sessions constituted a liminal space that enabled the dialogue between the self-image and the external world that takes place through images to come to the surface. As a result of this performative encounter the photographs provide a record of the becoming or being that which Kitty would like to be.
Figure 2 is a photograph that was constructed by Kitty. She wanted to be photographed in her boots and feather boa. She initiated the pose and made adjustments using a mirror until she was satisfied with her appearance. At the time I did not make a connection between the photograph she was creating and the Mata Hari picture. However, having studied the two pictures I now would suggest that there is a resemblance between the images. The similarity resides in the fact that both pictures depict generalised orientalist fantasies that are highly sexualised and consistent with the idea of the glamorous Orient. Whilst Mata Hari is draped in lengths of fabrics, Kitty uses saris and scarves from her collection to create an exotic backdrop. Both Kitty and Mata Hari are transformed in these pictures into orientalised odalisques.
Identifying with images of others and the significance of this in the process of self-visualisation has formed a pattern in my research. However, I do not mean to imply by this that transsexual people's gender identities are formed through responding to cross-gendered images of others. The participants' accounts indicate that there is a primary internal sense of gender. Rather, it appears that images of others form a particular focus that enables the internal self-image to become externally manifested.
I would suggest that these pictures of Mata Hari and Kitty reveal how images of others enable the externalisation of the self and provide insight into how the process of identification operates. The subject sees the original image, recognises her/himself in the image, internalises it, incorporates it into the self-image, and subsequently externalises it through personal expression. The notion that Kitty's self-image is projected in Figure 2 is underlined by her response to the photograph on seeing it for the first time. She exclaimed: “This is me… It's everything that I am." (Kitty: 07.03.04)
Kitty's daily life tells a very different story from the glamorous image portrayed in Figure 2. She is unable to blend in with expected gender presentations and as a consequence of this she is frequently read as either a transvestite or a transsexual person in the public domain, causing her considerable emotional distress. She has been spat at on the street, shouted at, pointed at, accosted by drunks, and is frequently stared at.
Kitty's experiences show that in order to be able to interact with ease in public spaces it is necessary to be seen to belong to one or other of the socially sanctioned genders. The confrontational behaviour that Kitty repeatedly encounters in public spaces demonstrates that gender beyond the binary categories constitutes a threat to some people. It is perhaps owing to this that normative performances of gender may extend to non-normative identities. The fact that transsexual people are "programmed to disappear" (Stone: 1991: 295) was discussed in my introduction. I would suggest that the reactions to Kitty that are described here are significant with regard to why many transsexual people are "seeking a form of sanctuary in the gender roles they adopt." (Whittle 1996: 212) For Kitty, the conflict between how she sees herself and how others see her constitutes a major source of distress in her life. This issue contributed towards her desire to take part in my research. Kitty explains:
As I understand it, the work we’re doing…is very much a reflection of me, which I’ve wanted for a long time, an opportunity for me to tell myself as I am, and show myself as I am…I’m trying to leave something behind…that people can look at…and whether they believe it or not…I know that is Kitty up there. (Kitty: 05.06.03)
Kitty asserts that her gender identity has not been a matter of choice. Whilst others in the social sphere react to Kitty as if there is something fundamentally wrong with how she presents herself, she emphasises that in her view it is the gender categories that are wrong. Kitty asserts: "If society’s got a problem making me fit the puzzle then maybe the puzzle’s wrong." (Kitty: 05.06.03)
Kitty's experiences demonstrate that, contrary to the medical view, transsexual gender identities are not necessarily contained within the binary categories and that the genitalia are not the defining issue for all transsexual people. The photography-led methodology of the study enabled Kitty to project her gender identity in a way that she is prohibited from doing in public spaces. This in turn revealed the significance of identifying with images of others in the process of self-visualisation.
This case study of Robert's experiences describes a second non-binary gender identity. Kitty's account described the abuse she receives in public spaces since she changed gender. In this case study it will be demonstrated that whether or not the person changes gender, if they do not project an expected binary gender presentation they still experience difficulties in society. Building on this issue, I shall argue that photography may provide a safe way of providing visibility for non-binary identified people.
Robert was born female but he self-identifies as trans. The term trans is currently used in the female-to-male transsexual community but has not yet been incorporated into the wider social language. Robert describes his gender identity as "something in the middle…in-between a man and a woman." (Robert: 28.05.03) Robert explains:
I’m not really a man, but I’m not a woman… I’m trans. So in some ways I’m not really transsexual either… I’m neither a man nor a woman, but I’m male as opposed to female. (Robert: 28.05.03)
Figure 3. Robert (Photo by Sara Davidmann)
When Robert talks about being trans it is evident that he is comfortable with his gender identity and the perspective that this gives him. Robert relates:
There’s a lovely saying that one door closes and another door opens but it’s hell in the hallway...that’s something I think a lot about being trans, you’re in the hallway, a trans life is the one in the hallway... These doors open and shut but at the end of the day you can only open a door into the male world on one side and the female world on the other side and you’ve joined society on either side. But if you stay in the hallway, which I believe is much more freeing because you’re not bound by either side, it’s infinitely harder because you’re not bound by either side and you’re not belonging to either side. The hallway I think is a wonderful place. Hallways can have windows and they can have wonderful views. (Robert: 28.05.03)
Robert initially began to clarify his gender identity in conversation with a therapist at the age of twenty-three. The therapist was encouraging him to be proud of his body and proud of being female. Robert replied: “Yes, but I’m not a man.” (Robert: 18.07.01) This surprised both Robert and the therapist and led Robert to think about why he had responded in such a way. Consequently he began to explore his feelings towards his body and gender identity. At that time Robert was going to call himself by the name of Bod, which was short for A Body, as he believed it implied neither a female nor a male status. After a visit to a second therapist who specialised in transgender and transsexual issues, Robert realised that he thought of Bod as male.
Following this realisation Robert started to bind his chest and shortly afterwards began to change his body to bring it into alignment with his gender identity. He has had a bi-lateral mastectomy and he has testosterone injections every two weeks. The testosterone maintains the male aspects of Robert's appearance, such as the facial and body hair, muscle strength, and distribution of fat. Robert is now predominantly male in appearance, however, he has no desire to have male genitalia. He explains: "I don't ever see myself in my mind as having a penis and I never have done." He has said that when he first heard the word transsexual he knew that he "fitted in there somewhere" but at the same time he thought that he could not be a transsexual person because he did not want male genitalia. Robert talks about his body as it is now as being "complete" (Robert: 24.10.03). He said:
A lot of what I’ve learnt about life has been through growing up with contradiction and misrepresentation. And what does it mean to be misrepresented or misunderstood? And how do you make yourself then understood? … And in some ways to have a penis now would be another misunderstanding and it would be another misrepresentation. (Robert: 28.05.03)
Robert is happy with the physical manifestation of his gender identity as it is shown in Figure 3. The photograph emphasises the body through the doubling of its image and highlights the trans reality of occupying more than one position in relation to the binary genders. The picture echoes Robert’s acceptance of his physicality and presents a very different perspective to Halberstam’s reading of the transsexual body as a “map of loss and longing that tinges all transsexual attempts to ‘come home’ to the body.” Rather than residing in the transsexual body, as Halbersatm suggests, I would argue that it is through the normative gaze that the transgender body becomes “a paradigm for the impossibility of bodily comfort.” (Halberstam 2005: 111) Representations of the non-binary transsexual body have the potential, through such a gaze, to constitute an intervention that challenges the viewer’s own bodily experience, body image, and belief in the binary sex/gender systems.
Whilst Robert is completely at ease with his body he publicly presents a male appearance and interacts in society as a male. Through Kitty's experiences it was demonstrated how difficult it is for someone to interact in public spaces, if having changed gender, their appearance does not fit the expected look of the binary gender categories. Robert's account presents a further perspective on this issue. In other words, if a person's appearance does not fit expected gender presentations, whether or not the person has changed their gender, interacting in society becomes difficult. Before masculinising his appearance Robert experienced many disturbing incidents because of how he looked. He received abuse in public spaces and stares when he used public toilets. He explains people's reactions by saying that he did not appear feminine and his body language did not conform to stereotypically feminine ideals. On leaving school Robert was given a place at a prestigious music college and trained as a viola player. However, he was once sacked from an orchestra because he looked “ridiculous in a skirt” (Robert: 18.07.01). The issue of having an appearance that can be construed as androgynous before taking opposite sex hormones and consequently having difficulties interacting in society is a pattern that emerged in the research with female-to-male transsexual people although not with male-to-female people.
Since taking testosterone and having chest surgery Robert's life has changed dramatically. He now teaches music at several London schools and he is able to confidently interact with others in everyday life. Although Robert expresses frustration that his trans identity needs to be hidden he is grateful that he is now able to be employed and “appear[s] to blend in” (Robert: 28.05.03).
In everyday interactions Robert is, of course, clothed and his body is hidden. Robert's body may be perceived by others to be physically ambiguous in relation to the norms of the two-sexes/two-genders system, however, as I have suggested, Robert views his body as being complete. When we were looking at some of the photographs produced as a part of this study he asserted:
For some having a penis is a sign of completion, completeness with breasts and everything else, and for other people not having a penis and having a flat chest is absolutely fine. It’s just where you put your boundaries, where you put your borders. (Robert: 24.10.03)
Robert's claim emphasises the right of the individual to determine the boundaries or borders of their own gender identity and also the physical manifestation of that identity. Whilst Robert's gender identification and his corresponding bodily changes may represent a minority identity, he is not alone. The development of new terms for gender identities beyond female and male that are currently emerging in the transgender subcultural communities have come about owing to the increasing numbers of people who do not wholly identify within the binaries. However, in mainstream society only two sexes and two genders are recognised. Thus I would suggest that there is a dysfunctional dialogue in operation between personal gender identities and socially recognised categories.
For Robert, the photographs we produce provide a way of standing up and asserting his trans identity. The pictures serve as both a personal affirmation and a political statement. Robert explains:
The only way you’re going to know is if I stand up and say I’m trans, and that’s why I do it, because I can appear to blend in. If I don’t stand up then what about those people who don’t have the choice to blend. You’re implying there’s something wrong with being trans if you hide…I’m enjoying the opportunity to stand up and celebrate the body and celebrate the differences in the body…I’m trying to show an alternative way …I think the photos are very important. (Robert: 28.05.03)
This case study describes, through Robert's experiences, a second atypical gender identity where the genitalia do not constitute the defining feature of the identity. Robert's account demonstrates that whether or not the person has changed gender, if the individual does not fit the expected look of the female/male categories they encounter difficulties in the public domain. In these instances passing as one or other of the socially sanctioned polarised genders may be the only way for the person to successfully interact and lead a satisfactory existence in society.
Discussion and Concluding Remarks
The findings of my research contest the widely held belief in the two-sexes/two-genders system, founded on the assumption that gender follows biology. Transsexual experiences provide evidence that this is not necessarily the case, that gender is independent of chromosomal or anatomical criteria, and that gender is not necessarily contained within the binary categories.
This paper offers an alternative perspective to the medical and popular view that the cure for transsexuality is the exchange of a male body for a female one, or vice versa. In other words, I have aspired to present an alternative to the notion of being born in the wrong body, which has come to symbolise the transsexual condition and configures around the genitalia as the signifier of female-ness or male-ness (Stone 1991: 297; Cromwell 1999: 105). The case studies show that the ways in which transsexual people experience their bodies, and in particular the sexed/gendered parts of the body, are intrinsically more complex. For some transsexual people the genitalia they were born with are indeed abhorrent to them. However, for those who self-identify beyond the binary gender categories, the genitalia at birth may constitute an important part of their gender identities.
The experiences of non-binary identified transsexual people offer a new understanding of transsexuality as well as of gender, as atypical gender identities contribute a further dimension to the category of the transsexual. The fact that atypically gendered people are unable to openly express their gender identities is an indication of the dysfunctional dialogue that exists between the social sphere and non-binary identified people. As it does not allow for expressions beyond the female/male boundaries, the gender dichotomy becomes an inhibiting, restricting force in the lives of atypically gendered people. In light of the gender differences that were revealed through my research I would suggest that the widely accepted model of transsexuality is too homogenised and does not accurately reflect transsexual people's lived experiences.
It is possible that if there was more widespread knowledge of the realities of transsexual experiences, thus deconstructing the current concept of the transsexual, that this might contribute to the erosion of the female/male binaries. After all, the transsexual person who transitions from one socially sanctioned polarity of gender to the other does not present as significant a challenge to the two-sexes/two-genders system as the person who identifies beyond the binaries. Despite this, the existence of the binary-identified transsexual person still serves to undermine the notion that the sex and gender dichotomies are natural by underlining the fact that female and male are cultural categories that are accomplished and achieved by all.
The inquiry revealed that images from the surrounding visual sphere constitute a specific form of focus in cross-gender self-visualisation. In other words, identifying with images of others forms a part of the negotiation process that facilitates the externalisation and projection of the self. This was demonstrated through all but one of the participants' accounts.
It is possible that the participants in my study are exceptionally visually aware or that they have developed a heightened visual sensitivity owing to the need to change their appearance from one gender presentation to another. The broader significance of cross-gender images would benefit from further research, possibly in the form of a detailed survey carried out with a large number of transsexual people at different stages in their lives. A comparison could be drawn between the results and those of a similar survey undertaken with non-transsexual people in order to ascertain similarities and differences.
I have been concerned to demonstrate that the politics of transsexual visibility is a complex issue. This is because of the policing of gender that takes place in public spaces that contributes towards maintaining and reinforcing polarised gender presentations. Although changes have been made to recognise transsexual people legally and they now have a voicein the debates surrounding treatment and legal matters, everyday life for the transsexual person remains problematic. The accounts of transsexual people demonstrate that despite the increased public awareness of transsexuality, in order to lead a satisfactory social existence it is still necessary to pass as a biological female or male. If displaying atypical gender presentations results in being treated badly in society then it is extremely difficult for transsexual and non-binary identified people to gain visibility without adversely affecting their lives. Taking this into account I would suggest that photography may offer a method for providing visibility without endangering the individual.
Judith Butler asserts that we see through the categories of female and male and that seeing the body that cannot be read as that of either a woman or a man questions the binary categories and puts "the reality of gender into crisis." (1990: xxii) Whilst Anne Fausto-Sterling claims that the body can be viewed as "a system that simultaneously produces and is produced by social meanings." (2000: 23) Developing the premise that the visual is key to the perception and projection of gender in society, pictures of the atypically gendered body have the potential to de-stabilise the concept of the binary gender system. Building on this argument, I would suggest that photographs of private atypical visualisations of gender taken into the public realm constitute an intervention that facilitates a questioning of pre-conceptions of gender and the body, contests the boundaries of the binaries, and presents a challenge to the gender system.
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