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Transgender Troops Share Their Stories, in Photos

Aaron Wixson, a Marine field artillery radar operator in Oceanside, California, transitioned from female to male in 2016. His biggest challenge was getting everybody to change the pronouns they used for him. “Some of them said, ‘We’ve been calling you “her” for so long.’” © Jeff Sheng for Smithsonian Magazine

In June 2016, then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the United States would be lifting a ban on transgender people serving openly in the armed forces. “We’re talking about talented Americans who are serving with distinction or who want the opportunity to serve,” Carter said at the time. “We can’t allow barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications to prevent us from recruiting and retaining those who can best accomplish the mission.”

The next summer, President Donald Trump tweeted his intention to maintain the ban. In particular, he raised concerns about the medical costs involved in gender transitions. In March 2018, the executive branch barred transgender people from enlisting. The courts initially blocked the orders, but an appeals court reversed that decision. The Supreme Court ruled on January 22 that Trump’s restrictions could go into effect while the matter is making its way up through the legal system.*

With the fate of the ban still uncertain, we sent our photographer to meet five openly transgender members of the U.S. military. All but one of them told us they had full support from their superiors and other members of their units during their transitions. It’s unclear how typical their experiences were. In a survey included in this issue [of Smithsonian Magazine], only 39 percent of military personnel said they supported transgender people serving openly. But the people featured in this story said they were able to build on existing relationships to earn acceptance. “The younger men, especially, were like, ‘OK, cool, you seemed like one of the guys already,’” says Army National Guard member Adrian Rodriguez, who transitioned from female to male two years ago. “They were kind of expecting it.”

Read the rest of Jennie Rothenberg Gritz’s article on Jeff Sheng’s photographs over at Smithsonian Magazine.

The Life and Love of a Young Transgender Couple in Berlin

“It is hard to open your wounds to a complete stranger,” photographer Adelaide Ivánova says, “Especially when this stranger has a camera pointed to your face.” When she met Michael and Kai, two twenty-something transgender men living in Berlin, she didn’t photograph them at first. “I didn’t feel I had the right, in a way,” she remembers. The mutual trust came with time.

A Deeply Human Look at the Lives of Transgender Youth

“All my friends say ‘Oh, I started my period.’ or ‘I’m a B cup now.’ It’s hard for them to understand that that doesn’t happen to us and that we can’t give birth. Not that we necessarily want to, but we do want to feel the same.” – Lilly, 12-year-old transgender female, North Central California

“I know very well that I’m male, and yet I’m treated like a young child, as though I don’t know my own mind, when I’ve never been so sure of anything. I think it’s unfair to expect transgender children to live in the wrong body. My whole life is blighted by it. It never leaves. I’m always confronted by it because I have to live in a body that is not mine. ” – Zak, 13-year-old transgender male, Isle of Wight, England

Photographer Annie Tritt embarked on Transcending Self, a collection of portraits and interviews with transgender and gender expansive children, teenagers, and young adults around the world, more than two years ago. She spent the first year learning and absorbing information. She’d seen the inaccuracies and potentially hurtful stories the press had made in handling the subject in the past, and she wanted instead to give voice directly to the transgender youth.

“This is not my story,” she says, “It is theirs.”

A Powerful Look Inside Indonesia’s Transgender Community

Nur, 48, after make up. Indonesian transgender people are known as waria, a term which is a combination of two Indonesian words: “wanita,” which means woman, and “pria,” which means man. © Fulvio Bugani

Kirana and her snake. © Fulvio Bugani

All of the Muslim transgender women included in photojournalist Fulvio Bugani’s Waria series trusted him to tell their stories. They all gave him their written consent for the photographs, despite the fact that some of them had not felt comfortable enough to come out to their families.

Bugani met a community of waria, as transgender women are known in Indonesia, through Shinta Ratri, an activist and founder of the Pondok Pesantren Waria Al-Fatah, a madrasa in Yogyakarta. She opened the school as a safe-haven for Muslim transgender women to pray and learn without fear of violence or discrimination.

A Look at the Lives of Transgender Women in Indonesia

A young transgender puts make up on in his bedroom at Mami Joyce's house.

A young transgender woman puts make up on in her bedroom at Mami Joyce’s house.

Mami Joyce takes a cigarette break halfway through the make up process.

Mami Joyce takes a cigarette break halfway through the make up process.

In the heart of Jakarta’s bustling business district, says Italian-born photographer Giorgio Taraschi, Mami Joyce and her girls make their home. Taking in those as young as eighteen, the human rights activist has built a safe haven for transgender women—or “waria,” as they are often called in Indonesia—to call their own.

This Transgender Man Steals the Show in New Period Underwear Ad

Thinx

Suddenly, periods are in vogue. What was taboo two years ago is now openly discussed; feminine hygiene products are getting better and they’re being shared more widely with women in developing countries where the stigma is pervasive. Chances are you’ve heard about Thinx period panties, an alternative to pads, tampons, and menstrual cups. The press coverage has been tremendous; journalists have sampled different styles; celebrities have endorses the brand. Thanks in part to Thinx, having your period is no longer shameful; it’s cool.

Photos Capture a Community of Transgender Women Living in Paris in the 1950s and 60s

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Belinda, 1967

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Nana, 1959

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Carla & Zizou, Brasserie Graff, 1963

In December of 1959, Paris’s Place Pigalle was overtaken by the annual carnival, the squares bustling with snake charmers, feral animals held in cages, strippers, and throngs of ecstatic visitors carrying cotton candy. In the midst of it all, the women of Place Blanche lingered hither and thither. It was with these women—a great many of them transgender—and in that era that Swedish photographer Christer Strömholm (1918-2002) found his home-away-from home. He stayed there for nine years from 1959-1958, and in 1983, he told their story with his classic monograph Les amies de Place Blanche (The Friends From Place Blache), now a collector’s item.

‘Transgender World’: Photographer Alessandro Vincenczi’s Document of a Marginalized Community in Mumbai

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On a hot afternoon in June 2008, Italian photographer Alessandro Vincenzi jumped in to a black and yellow taxi, headed to a deserted parking lot meant for trucks. It was his last day in Mumbai. Normally accompanied by his local fixer, Anil, who was unavailable on this particular day, Vincenzi decided to spend the rest of his day wandering with his camera. After about 40 minutes in the taxi, Vincenzi reached the park and saw an old and abandoned warehouse; he asked the driver to wait outside while he went into the building.

Before and After Photos of Gender Reassignment Give Voice to Transgender Individuals in Cuba

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Arshenal

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For Reassign, photographer Claudia Gonzalez traces the complex journey traversed by transgender individuals living in Cuba. By presenting her subjects in a collection of arresting diptychs, one representing the phase proceeding the gender reassignment process and the other following it, she resoundingly affirms the identities that have so often been denied throughout the country’s tumultuous history.

Photographer Beautifully Documents 6 Years in the Life of Two Transgender Teenagers

'Mandy' _ The stories of Mandy and Eva-1

'Eva' _ The stories of Mandy and Eva-2

For Mandy and Eva, Amsterdam-based photographer Willeke Duijvekam chronicles the lives of two transgender girls throughout the duration of their adolescence. Though both were assigned to the male sex at birth, each identifies as female and navigates the world as any girl their age, encountering the complexities and joys of teenage girlhood in their own ways and on their own terms. Duijvekam traces their lives for six years, evolving from girls to young women right before her eyes.

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