Soraya Zaman, a queer photographer, has produced a book that has captured the essence of the trans community. I spoke to them about the book and its influence on the trans* community, as well as wider representation of the trans* community in media. Please visit their Instagram to follow their amazing book and any updates to follow. The book is now available to purchase on Amazon:
Why did you decide that transmasculine people would be your subject matter? Do you feel that there is a lack of media representation for this community?
It started as a personal project. I wanted to explore expressions of transmasculinity as it is something relatable to me and my identity. I identify as non-binary and use they/them pronouns and a lot of the stories that everyone shared with me are in some ways, my story too. It didn’t start as a project to rectify the inadequacies of representation, but it did quickly change in nature, with each new person I met and photographed. It became apparent that honouring and sharing stories, validating and centring everyone in an affirmative way was really important and that the lack of authentic representation you highlight, needed to be addressed. It became my motivation to do the best job I could with the resources I had.
Are there any plans to take this project further? As a photography series now turned book, could there be a short film in the works?
Actually, in my mind, I always wanted this work to be a book and take these stories out of online platforms and give them more permanency. I launched the Instagram while I was looking for a publisher because I was getting a lot of rejection and disinterest around the work. I could see that publishing houses were blind to the trans* community and its allies, so I started @americanboysproject Instagram to shed light on this. I’m so proud of the Instagram page and what is has become. It sits rightfully on its own and also simultaneously connected to the book. I would absolutely LOVE to shoot a second book, there are definitely more stories out there that need sharing and I’m looking for funding so I can do this. I’d also like to do a documentary. I’ve started to run Instagram story takeovers, giving the platform to people featured for the day and some have chosen to take this opportunity to discuss how their lives and identity has shifted and changed since we met. I think this is so great and just adds another level of expansion to the whole story which would be valuable to explore in a documentary series.
What is the main reaction that you wish to stimulate with the audience?
The project is an intentional call out to this nostalgic, internalized idea of American boyhood and the notion that masculinity belongs exclusively to cis men. I hope that it helps people to unpack the belief that gender identity must align with one’s sex assigned at birth. I also hope it allows people to look and challenge the way they themselves perceive traditional binary gender roles. It’s also about an affirmative centring of trans-masculine identity. I hope that people take the time to not only look at the images but also read the essays too. There are 29 people captured in this work and I will be the first to put up my hand and say that this cannot adequately represent a richly diverse community. But I do hope, that if people can’t ‘see’ themselves in any of the images, then perhaps you can find shared experience in some of the stories. I want people to know that they are not alone in their journey, we are all in this together forging the best possible lives for ourselves all across the country and globe and there is power in that.
In your opinion, is the world becoming a better place for trans* people? How do you feel this project reflects this?
Gosh, this is really hard question. I think that it is, and it isn’t. The trans* community’s civil and political rights are under threat here and across the globe. Trans* people are discriminated against, experience transphobia and have acts of violence committed against them on a daily basis, especially trans women and femmes of colour and most of the violence that happens, goes without any recognition or justice. It comes in the form of extreme hatred and violence and also in more subtle forms of minimization and indifference. Concurrently to this, the trans* community and our allies are speaking up and out against these dehumanizing injustices in a more organized way and are choosing to be visible and proud of their identity. The paradigm is slowly shifting on a grass roots level and it’s the queer and trans* community that is forcing this shift. American Boys and the recognition it is receiving is a testament to that.
Do you see yourself as an activist? And do you think activism is important today?
I am an artist and I think any artist’s work that leans into documenting people and the world around them to inform, expand and question one’s perceptions and understandings, is a form of activism. I think activism is important today, it has been critical throughout history and will continue to be important and necessary into the future.
What advice would you give to any budding queer photographer? Are there any struggles particular to you that you feel other queer artists face, and any tips to overcome them?
I think anyone wishing to undertake a series or a project, the best work is a reflection and an exploration of what is personal to you, your identity and how you see the world. Our identity gives a valuable perspective because we sit outside of the dominant heteronormative landscape. So, what are the questions you have or what can you see that perhaps the world at large is not seeing.
When it comes to working commercially, remember that we are also more than just our identity, although I am a queer, non-binary photographer and I put that into everything I do, I also try to not let that be a limitation. We all need to challenge the industry to be inclusive on every level and push for representation not only in front of the camera but across all aspects of the industry from photographers, design teams, stylists, glam crews, art directors, producers, editors, writers and so on. The photography industry and all industries for that matter, needs to higher queer, trans and non-binary people because of our identity but also higher us because we are the best person for the job. Higher us because being gender inclusive is so necessary and adds incredible value and perspective to any project. That is what true inclusivity looks like.
Follow Soraya on Instagram to discover more about the book. And I thank them for taking the time to answer my questions! Honestly, I am such a fan of this art, and I feel more people should get involved! Share your queer/trans art with the community!