An Immersive Look into Trans Identity
Soraya Zaman’s work is about validation.
Specifically for the members of minority groups, seeing oneself represented accurately in pop culture is an important component of feeling connected to and seen as part of a larger community. As society’s relationship with gender and identity continues to shift, trans people are sharing their own narratives, carving out an authentic space for themselves within pop culture to tell the stories that desperately need to be told.
One person carving out this authentic space is photographer Soraya Zaman whose American Boys takes an immersive look into trans identity to genuinely depict the trans-masculine community across the United States. We chatted with Soraya about the importance of identity, what they want others to take away from the project and how society can create a balance for inclusivity.
JIMI, Richmond, VA, 27yo
SAM, Seattle, WA, 19yo
Tell us the why behind your latest project, American Boys Project?
It just started as a small project of wanting to take images that were meaningful and personal to me, exploring expression of transmasculine identity. But that quickly changed with each new person I met and photographed as it became about sharing and honoring everyone’s stories. Creating visibility is necessary and important, especially in the now changing political climate. These are affirmative images of everyone featured advocating for trans folx and I hope that they help inform and expand upon the understandings of gender identities outside of the binary, in a real and authentic way. The work is now a published book which is super exciting. The book features a portrait series and small essay for everyone featured in the work. It’s available for purchase here.
YVES, Bemidji, MN, 22yo
AODHÀN, Boise, ID, 30yo
How do you identify and why is identity important to you?
I’m qpoc, non-binary and I use they/them pronouns. Being seen in your identity is so important in terms of coming into your sense of self. Growing up queer and non-binary you just know that you are different and don’t fit into society’s heteronormative expectations and that can be so hard. For me, this was difficult because there really wasn’t an opportunity to explore my gender expression when I was younger. There was no clear defined language and representation to aspire to and it took me a long time to find and be confident in my identity. When I first heard ‘they/them’ pronouns, I was like… That’s a thing! I can choose that! It was liberating and felt right. It’s that feeling that drives this work, for younger people to not have to struggle to define their sense of self when it comes to gender.
“Being seen in your identity is so important in terms of coming into your sense of self.”
GABE, Brooklyn NY, 23yo
LAZARUS, Albuquerque, NM, 25yo
What do you want people to take away from the American Boys Project?
I hope the biggest take away from the book is the affirmative position and authentic representation of transmasculine identities, across the country. The project title is a direct challenge to the nostalgic notions of American Boyhood. To reimagine and question our internalized belief of what it actually means to be a boy or a girl and to understand that someone can be both or neither. I also hope that this work can live and be seen outside of the queer community and that straight cis people also take their time to engage with the work and learn about gender identity beyond society’s binary constructs.
AMARI, Mount Dora, FL, 33yo
DOMINIC, Houston, TX, 18yo
In what ways is media (social media, ads, etc.) lacking in its representation of the trans-masculine community and what measures need to be taken by society to create a balance for inclusivity?
I think the inclusivity of transmasculine folx is lacking in so many ways! When you reach beyond a model and talent level to consider all aspects of media and media creation, there is so little representation of masculine presenting trans and non-binary people. It is still ruled by cis heteronormativity. I think the first and most important measure is for everyone, especially cis people, to put in the work and re-educate themselves around gender. To actively acknowledge that gender is a social construct and perpetuating the idea of gender binaries is oppressive and toxic. I think if everyone could wrap their head consciously around that, that would be a good start to creating balance!