AMARI, Mount Dora, FL, 33yo. Meet Amari. Amari has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve met. He’s a family man and gave birth to two of his kids before transitioning. It was of equal importance to him to have his own babies as it was to transition.
THOMAS, Athens, GA 27yo. Thomas is strong willed and determined. We’ve spoken as length about a lot of the difficulties he’s encountered being trans and from a small southern town. From getting and holding down jobs to fair treatment from law enforcement, the struggles are real. Despite this, Thomas has fierce determination to continually rises above and channels a lot of his energies into his music and creative pursuits. He’s a beautiful soul both inside and out and has become a great friend.
RUFIO, Atlanta, GA 27yo. Rufio! What an amazing bundle of body building bear like brilliance! Rufio is so full of life and spirit. He’s also a staunch feminist, especially with his experience of white male privilege that came with passing.
“When I started to pass as a man and was stealth, I got white male privilege and I was pissed!” Rufio, 27, reveals in a quote accompanying his topless portrait in Soraya Zaman’s new book American Boys (Daylight). Appearing fully nude in the book after six years on testosterone, Rufio’s portrait fearlessly acknowledges the power that gender in all its complexity and nuance holds.
In a world where binaries are heavily enforced and rigidly policed, Zaman sees her subjects as they are, establishing a profound level of trust with her subjects who reveal their deep, inner selves in a series of portraits and personal quotes, which, when taken together offer a multi-faceted look at our ideas around masculinity in America today.
“I don’t think anyone on Earth is a man or a woman, it’s a reference point,” Elias, 28, says. “Language is a tool but we get so accustomed to using the tool that we start to think it’s dictum from God. It’s like first language existed and then we existed. But no, things exist and then we give them a name and in turn we get overly attached to their definition.”
It’s an insight that will give you pause, and a reminder that Western ideas about gender are not rooted in the history of the land that they vanquished. Aodhán, 30, says, “I identify as a trans man and also ‘Two Spirit’ within the Native American community. I come from the Cherokee. Before colonization, there were no labels for gender nonconforming indigenous people.”
Trans history is human history with ancient roots across Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. It is only with the advancement of “civilization” that the rights and recognition of trans people have been harmed. American Boys is a powerful portrait of people who refuse to be cowed, and in place of invisibility that live dynamic, open lives. Along with the subject’s quote, their age, period of time on testosterone, location, and social media handles are shared. It is an act of courage, strength, and vulnerability to be so public in a culture long rooted in oppression, erasure, and violence against trans people.
As recently as May 24, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department released a statement announcing a proposed rule that federal laws against sex discrimination in healthcare do not apply to people’s “gender identity.” The rule, which can be finalized in 60 days, is the third change this month alone sanctioning discrimination against trans people.
“Patriarchy is hard to overcome,” says Shane, 30, who began serving as a military policeman in 2006, attached to infantry united deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, as part of Operation Phantom Fury. Nine years on testosterone, Shane has been lobbying for the repeal of the trans military ban since 2008, and came out publicly in 2014.
“America wasn’t ready for their most visible trans soldier to be a trans feminine person, they just weren’t. America needed to see GI Joe,” Shane says, acknowledging the underlying bias that has informed American public thought and policy since its inception.
The people featured in American Boys offer the promise of a better world, one where a new generation of trans and cis youth can discover what humanity has always known: that the expression of gender, like sexuality, is a profound personal right that is criminal to regulate.
AODHÀN, Boise, ID, 30yo. Aodhán identifies as a trans man and also as “Two Spirit” within the Native American culture and comes from the Cherokee. He taught me that before colonization there was no labels for gender non-conforming indigenous people . The term “Two Spirit” is an umbrella term for all the different words (120+ documented words), each tribe came up with when colonists asked, “What are they?”. Aodhàn believes that within Cherokee tribe “Two Spirit” means “It’s not about me” and his role is to help the people. Often a two spirit person would take a vital role within the community because they where allowed to blend both the masculine and feminine roles in life, ceremony and art that are usually seperate. He put it so beautifully…. “Women are the moon and men are the sun, so the moon is feminine and the sun is masculine. The two spirit people are the sunrise and the sunset that brings these two together”. I love that.
RORY, San Diago, CA 24yo. Rory is a quintessential Californian with chill vibes, lives by the beach and rides his skateboard. When I met him, I admired his undeniable calm confidence and self assurance in who he is. He’s a take me as I am, or leave it kind of person.
JIMI, Richmond, VA, 27yo. Jimi is an empowered individual who is passionate about the equal rights of all people. He spoke to me at length about the acknowledgement of what it meant to be African American and Dominican and also coming out as trans man. He knew that being scared wasn’t the answer and he chooses to stand up and out as a proud trans man of color and live his truth regardless of race, gender, class, religious beliefs and anything else people use to divide.
ETHAN, Covington, LA, 20yo. From a small town in the south, I think Ethan is incredibly brave living visibly as a trans man in an environment where he stands alone. He does it with tenacity and a f*ck you attitude I can’t help but love.
JAIMIE, Montclair, NJ, 22yo. When I hung out with Jaimie, who btw is an incredible musician, he spoke to me about his experience of back handed compliments. People saying to him, “Wow, you’re so hot… for a trans guy! Even I’d have sex with you!” like he should be especially honored these people find him attractive. Plus where is HIS consent in all of this.
TEDDY, Kansas City, MO 26yo. Teddy has this charisma that just sweeps you up and carries you away on a whim. He’s witty and funny and views the world through a lens of cuteness that’s just so unique and cool. One of Teddy’s other charming qualities is his body confidence. He loves the skin he’s in and isn’t shy when it comes to showing it off. When we shot together he joked that he felt more comfortable in front of the camera naked then clothed. Love it!
All images: © Soraya Zaman, courtesy of Daylight Books