Tag Archives: political

To Be Trans: Charlie and Roman

K: Hi friends! First, let’s tell the readers a little about yourself!

C: [I’m] Charlie Manzano (he/him), I like to make zines and watch the Great British Bake-off. I run the Young Adult Facial/Bodily Difference and Disfigurement Network, as well as co-run the Transgender Cancer Patient Project and the Sick and Disabled Zine And Craft Fair. Most of my work centers healthcare activism and community.

R: [I’m] Roman Ruddick (they/them),- I love to live and work with animals, eat yummy food, and make art! Most of my art during quarantine has been boba themed (current yummy obsession), but typically I enjoy making art and zines related to cancer, healthcare, and gender. I co-run the transgender cancer patient project and the sick and disabled zine and craft fair, and participate in other community art and health related activism.

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K: Thanks so much for these intros! I love hearing more about you both! Here are some questions for you… [first off], how did you two meet?

R: We met on Tumblr! Charlie started a “transgender cancer support” blog and [I] was his only follower. Embarrassing. lols.

K: What do you do for work and how are you involved with your community?

C/R: Neither of us are working right now due to COVID-19, but outside of work we are involved in community organizing. We run the Transgender Cancer Patient Project and just co-organized the Virtual Sick And Disabled Zine and Craft Fair!

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K: Tell me more about the TCPP and the Fair! How did you come up with the ideas and why are they important to you?
R: Charlie and I started the Transgender Cancer Patient Project because it was very apparent to us that cancer resources (and the healthcare system as a whole) were not created with trans people in mind, so we hoped to change that by creating resources and buliding community based on our own experiences as transgender cancer patients.
C:  The Transgender Cancer Patient Project was created by Roman and I in search of community and resources, as trans cancer patients ourselves. There wasn’t much out there for trans patients, especially created by us, which is why we felt that it was so important to bring this project into fruition.

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K: Have you ever heard of a story about a trans person facing discrimination in your state, or have you personally been discriminated against for your sexual orientation or gender identity?

C/R: I think that most trans people have faced discrimination in their life. It’s hard to keep count, or really narrow down to just one experience for me personally.
K: Describe your support system.
C: My support system is definitely my family, my partner, and my friends.
R: My support system is mostly Charlie and his family since I live with them and have gone through quite a bit with them.
K: Roman, would you be interested in expanding on your choice to live with Charlie’s family or the reason for/impact that has had on you?

Roman: I moved in with Charlie and his family after we were both accepted into SFSU last year. I was living in Oregon at the time, and since we had been dating for over a year and wanted to be closer to each other anyway, it just really worked out for me to come here for school. It’s been great to feel so easily accepted into the family.

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K: Are there any defining moments in your journey you’d like to share?
Roman: Not particularly, lots of ups and downs for sure!
Charlie: I think that we’re constantly learning and growing, and so it’s hard to point to specific moments which I think have mattered the most — they all have. Every time I meet someone through our project or support network, I have a new favorite moment, and a new favorite person I want to lift up.
K: How have your friends and family supported you in your journey?
Roman: This is a hard question to answer because life seems to change so drastically so often.
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K: What are some common misconceptions you’d like people to have a better understanding of in regarding trans folks?

Roman: Probably that there are more of us than they think there are. People that don’t know me very well will make comments about gender stereotypes or about trans people all the time, working off the assumption that there are none around, or that trans people are some kind of anomaly. But this isn’t true, trans people are everywhere.

K: Any advice on how to be a good ally to the trans community?
C/R: A lot of the work that we do is on creating environments that reflect different experiences, bodies, and identities. A big recommendation from us is to think critically about the steps being taken to make something more inclusive: are these steps exceptions to a rule that centers the exclusionary system in place, or are the rules being changed to include more people fundamentally? For example, making sure that trans people won’t be denied care at a “women’s health clinic” is good, but given the fact that not only women seek the services available there, how about changing the title of “women’s health clinic” to something gender neutral? To take it even further, questioning how and why these “gendered” services are separated in the first place, and how it impacts all people, can help us understand that these health spaces really can, and should, be re-imagined with every body in mind. Re-imagining systems for the purposes of inclusion, not just on a surface level, is something that we need more allies to be thinking about and advocating for.

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K: Are there any causes that are particularly important to you that you’d like to shout out?C/R: Yes! Black Lives Matter! Black trans lives matter! Black cancer patient’s lives matter! Racial justice and representation is also severely lacking in healthcare and cancer spaces and we need to uplift Black and Black trans voices on these subjects whenever we can.
K: Anything else you’d like to add? 
C/R:  Check out our social media to learn more about what we do @transcancerzine!
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Maia and I met at Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp as kids and have always been sort of kindred spirits. We’re both loud, pretty opinionated, artsy fartsy, and have a deep love for the outdoors. Over the past few years, I’ve kept in contact with Maia via social media and have seen them grow into an outspoken advocate for the queer community. While I’ve known Maia was qeer for some time, I realized that I didn’t truly know what it meant to them and was curious to find out. There seemed to be A LOT of different terms and phrases associated with queer identity so I was very eager to dig a bit deeper and hear about Maia’s personal experience. I’m unendingly appreciative for the time they gave me when answering my (fairly novice) questions as well as the compassionate nature of their responses.
*Disclaimer: I started a portrait project a few years back titled “To Be Woman” but have recently realized how restrictive that is to my utimate goal of uplifting up a mutitude of human stories. I’m thrilled that Maia is the first gendervoid participant in my newly christened “To Be” series. 🙂
K: Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell everyone a little bit about you. 

M: [I’m] Maia Fernandez, they/them, queer (to be hyper-specific: Gendervoid quoriomantic demi/noeti/bisexual). 

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I am terrible at giving blurbs on myself, haha. I have an M.A. in Literature, combining my love of pop culture and spooky folklore with my mestizx heritage. I generally prefer being out in the forest, as opposed to my house in the city, and head out there as often as I can. During the stay in place order, most my free time is spent running D&D, playing video games, drawing, trying to learn mandolin, and running out to the forest.
K: When did you first become familiar with what it means to be gendervoid/nonbinary? 

M: I can’t speak toward what being nonbinary means for anyone but myself; the trans community is so wide and has so many differing experiences and perspectives that if you line up 100 people from the community, you’ll have 100 different explanations of gender.

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K: Can you talk me through your process of coming to understand your specific experience with gender?

M: Gender has always been rather tricky for me. I grew up a tomboy – as far back as I can remember, I didn’t like dresses, and preferred playing in the dirt and roughhousing. Of course, that doesn’t mean anything regarding gender identity, but it helps illustrate the train of thought. When I was 15, I went on a camping trip with a (gay, cis male) friend of mine. We spoke at length one evening about gender and how we know we’re our genders and what it feels like to be our genders. I realized, fairly quickly, that I have absolutely no idea what it means to be a woman. And not just because I was some precocious teenager; I never felt any sort of identification with being referred to by feminine pronouns.

It was this horrifying revelation; all I knew was male-female for genders, and if I didn’t identify as a woman, then clearly I must be a man. I called my mom in an absolute panic and she just shut it down. I didn’t know how to respond, so I hung up.

The idea of gender stayed in the back of my mind, but never resurfaced until my early 20s when I learned about nonbinary identities. Genderfluid didn’t fit, because my gender didn’t change or shift. Genderqueer fit the best for a while, until I read about agender identities on Tumblr (hey, the site has its benefits). I spent probably too long on https://lgbta.wikia.org/wiki/ looking at different gender identities, sexualities, and romantic attractions. I overloaded the hell out of my brain and slowly just came to recognize that I don’t know what my gender identity is because I don’t have one.

When I think about my body, my mind, and the labels attached to it, I never really felt that the concept of gender as a whole had any space. My body has always just felt like this weird, awkward meat sack powered by electric signals, and the idea of assigning an abstraction of gender somehow never clicked for me. My sexual and romantic identities are just as abstract, but those managed to wiggle their way in.

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It’s difficult, most days, because I don’t dress or look androgynous, in terms of identity or gender presentation. While androgyny has nothing to do in the grand scheme of things when it comes to being nonbinary, there’s still an implicit expectation that being nonbinary means you actively try to look like both/neither masculine or feminine, but are also thin/waifish, with little curves or contours, and have sharp/angular features. That “real” nonbinary people walk down the street and the average passerby can’t tell upon first blush if they’re a man or a woman. I’ve had close friends tell me that because I don’t actively work to look more masculine, they forget my pronouns. That it’s hard to remember my pronouns because I “just look so much like a girl.”

I never used to like dresses or makeup, and it wasn’t until about 8th grade that I stopped shopping in the boys’ section for clothes (cargo shorts are a blessing and I stand by that). As I got older and more secure in my identities, I started dressing more feminine. That, and when you’re in the throes of a horrific depression episode and the idea of wearing clothes is just a nightmare, the ability to throw on a dress and call it an outfit is a blessing.

But I don’t bind my chest, I’m not on T, and I have no intention of undergoing top or bottom surgery. On top of that, I’m fat and dress fairly feminine (I really have to emphasize how amazing dresses are for people with depression). I like my boobs, hard as it is to find bras that fit, and that doesn’t invalidate my lack of a gender. Deconstructing gender presentation expectations, gender norms, and the entire construct of gender removes the correlation of physical appearance with gender – as it ought to – and needs to happen. Strangers’ discomfort does not supersede my right to exist, freely and as myself.

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K: Have you personally been discriminated against for your sexual orientation or gender identity?

M: I think microaggressions like that – saying I look too much like a girl to remember my pronouns – are the more casual forms of discrimination I’ve faced. Granted, there are some people who openly admitted they’re going to have a hard time with they/them and nonbinary pronouns in general, and a select few are people where misgendering doesn’t bother me. Only a few, though, and they already know who they are. Otherwise, I expect people to use my proper pronouns because it, yanno, denotes basic respect and human decency.

Growing up in Placerville, homophobia was fairly common. Before Prop 8 in 2008, there were the Truth Trucks – giant, red trucks covered in signs and banners and what have you quoting the Bible and the infamous “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” slogan. They had loudspeakers attached to the roof of the truck, driving past schools and shouting their bigotry. I am not a passive person, and I have never known when to keep my mouth shut.

I dated a guy when I was 18 who kept telling me that I’m not actually bi because I hadn’t had sex with a woman in over a year, and was thus actually just bicurious. Mind you, this was around a year into our monogamous relationship. Logic.

More recently, aphobia – the belief that those on the asexual spectrum don’t have a place in the LGBTQIA+ community (despite the, you know. A) – is on the rise. I also recently figured out that I fall under the ace umbrella (demisexual) and the aromantic (it’s like asexual but with romantic attraction) umbrella (quoiromantic). The idea, I’ve seen, stems from asexuality being a relatively new term, compared to gay, lesbian, and bisexual. Historically, ace folk were lumped in with bisexuality because, reductively, no attraction to any gender is still equal attraction to any gender. I’d like to say that aphobia will gradually fade away and people will begin recognizing asexuality as part of the LGBTQIAA+ community, but seeing as people within the community are still transphobic and biphobic – to say the least – doesn’t offer much hope.

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K: What would you like cisgendered people to know about you or the queer community in general? Any advice on how to be a good ally to the LGBTQ+ community?

M: Honestly, the best way for people not part of a community to combat their implicit biases, microaggressions, and conscious or subconscious participation in oppression is to listen, not get reactionary / defensive, and understand that a person within that community probably has a better idea of what the experience is like. It’s like having a cis man tell a woman what it’s actually like to be a woman, yanno? Just…stop. No. I don’t need a cis person telling me how to look nonbinary, just like I don’t need someone who isn’t bi or demisexual to tell me what those terms actually mean, just like I don’t need someone who isn’t mestizx or Mexican telling me how to be Mexican.

Another part of that is humility. Nobody is perfect and everyone has hurt someone else, intentionally or not. What’s important is to accept with grace that someone trusts you and your relationship with them enough to tell you that you’ve hurt them. It’s a huge display of vulnerability on the hurt party, and overcoming the kneejerk reaction to deny, get defensive, and shut them down shows not only extreme emotional maturation, but strengthens the relationship. It’s something I had to work really hard to do, both because I hate the idea of hurting people, and I hate the idea that I can be problematic. But both are true and both still happen. The important part is to accept the criticism and grow from it. Acknowledge the hurt you’ve done, apologize, and consciously work to not repeat it.

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K: Describe your support system. Are there any causes that are particularly important to you that you’d like to shout out?

I’m really lucky and grateful that I’ve never had to hide who I am from my mom, and that I never felt I would lose my home / stability / life for being queer. I recognize that isn’t a privilege a lot of people have, and I try to exude the same love and compassion toward them that mom’s always shown me (even if she doesn’t understand everything I’m saying). She’s one of my best friends, and an absolute pillar when it comes to my support system. I have a pretty large support system, if I really think about it, and I also recognize how lucky I am for that, too. Not only do I have my 2 boyfriends and other partner, but I have a hefty handful of friends who are there for me when I need them – just as I am for them. I think stabilizing a support system and really solidifying those bonds and relationships are crucial during the pandemic, even if it’s with people you can’t regularly see in person. Having these systems are doubly important for the LGBTQIAA+ community, those who are mentally ill, and PoC – especially Black folk.

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Which, with the current affairs of the world, all I can really say is Black Lives Matter. Support your local Black community, the BLM movement at large https://blacklivesmatter.com/, and look into organizations in your area that offer aid for protesters. The officers who murdered Breonna Taylor need to be arrested and charged for their crimes. My fellow trans folk need protection now that the Trump administration decreed we do not deserve access to healthcare. Indigenous tribes are being ravaged with coronavirus deaths and received no aid. Our system is inherently designed to kill and hinder, and it is our collective responsibility to fight and enact change and equity. We are all allies to one another, and we need to work together.

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Big thanks to my studio assistant, Maxine, for keeping everyone happy!

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Kate & Maia: 2020

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Torrie: WARRIOR STORY

THIS IS TORRIE.

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I met Torrie a few years back at a wedding I was shooting. We hit it off during our time together on the day and stayed in contact on social media over the years, encouraging one another as friends from a distance and watching one another grow and flourish. After a time of mostly online friendship, we managed to carve out time to get together over wine and chat. We got to know one another well and build our friendship into something tangible and strong. With that build up came understanding. With that understanding came trust. With trust came the development of a project that Torrie and I feel wildly passionate about working on together and sharing through Katherine Elyse Photography.

The story presented here is all Torrie’s. As her friend and photographer, I hope the images act as a vessel for her to share her experience in a way that is safe and accurate. I’m using her words, taken directly from an interview my good friend David N. Sachs conducted the day of her shoot, with a few back end tweaks by Torrie to round everything out.

THIS IS HER BATTLE STORY.

“This is the story of my journey into loving myself and body acceptance, into feeling comfortable in my own skin.”

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“In 2005, I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Cervical Cancer. Before that, I had had a number of different cervical changes related to HPV, which is pretty common nowadays. But in 2005, it was less common and all I knew about HPV was that it was one letter off from HIV- which meant that it had no cure and that it was sexually transmitted- and that it could either cause warts or cervical cancer. And the warts never came.

I had HPV prior to the cancer diagnosis. I actually found out that I had HPV from a clinical trial at the hospital when I was 12 years old– after I had been sexually assaulted.”

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“As a religious kid, having a sexually transmitted disease is a good way to be looked down upon, no matter how you got it. Especially when you are 12 years old. I had to start making up stories about my life and my body so that I felt accepted in my own skin and so that I wouldn’t be shunned from the community.

It didn’t really work.

I was still shunned from my community and felt a lot of shame about who I was and felt mostly like it was my fault that I had been assaulted.”

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“I was diagnosed with cancer at 19. I had just gotten married and I felt like I earned it- that it was my fault that I had cancer and, therefore, really just needed to do anything that I was told. I didn’t ask any questions about what was supposed to happen to me or if I had a choice in anything concerning my care. And so over a period of three years I was led through my care without having asked any questions at all. I didn’t have time.

At the end of that three years I had had seven surgeries that completely mangled my body (especially my sexual organs) and ruined my marriage with my husband because I couldn’t have kids, which was an important thing to him.  And, let’s face it: being young and married to someone with cancer is really scary. I didn’t know that I couldn’t have kids until after treatment ended because I didn’t stop to ask any questions; I didn’t care about myself or about my body enough to actually do something about it to take control or to even feel like I had a choice in my decisions.”

“I started out having an unhealthy relationship with myself in relation to others before I actually even knew who I was or what I wanted. I spent 20 years believing that it was my fault and that I was being punished for something that was outside of my control.”

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“But I have a different relationship with my body and myself because I had cervical cancer.”

“I learned more about myself in the process of having cancer than anything that I had gone through beforehand. I learned that I wanted to give back to the healthcare system to help make sure that people, especially people going through an illness, know what their choices are, and are educated about how to sit across the table from a doctor who they often feel has more power and knowledge than they do. I was really interested in figuring out how we do that, how we slow down the process of decision making in healthcare. I ended up going to school for public health, focusing specifically on people who are vulnerable- poor populations, minorities, people who don’t have a lot of education or power. Because I went through this process of needing to understand my resources more than anybody else. I wanted to give power to other people and a voice to other people.”

“When you are cancer free for 5 years, you are supposed to have a party, and I was not going to have cancer againuntil I did.” 

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And this was a completely different situation than last time. The tumor was outside my body, and it was going to change the way that the outside of my body appeared; and I didn’t have the ability to control how I shared it. Also, it was close to my clitoris, and I really liked my clitoris. I didn’t find that out until my late 20’s, in between my two bouts of cancer. I had discovered this magical thing that could give me sexual pleasure and made me feel powerful, and now it was just going to be taken away from me.”

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This time, though, I wasn’t going to just be led through my treatment without asking any questions.

I was almost immediately offered a complete vulvectomy, which is basically “we’re just going to remove everything on the outside, including your clitoris.” I made sure to ask that question. But my oncologist had already scheduled the surgery for me, without even asking if I wanted it or not.

So immediately this became a different situation then my first bout with cancer. During my first bout, it was a big deal but I was at least pretty confident that I was going to live. This time, it was a later stage of cancer and a lot more serious, so I knew that I needed to make some decisions. But I was ill-equipped to make them.”

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“I still didn’t really like myself, and I still held this view that I deserved it or I was being punished for somehow not figuring out how to get out of that situation from when I was 12. I had to learn that my body was worth fighting for. That my dignity was worth fighting for.

So I had a consultation with a social worker in palliative care who asked me what my goals were in life. What mattered to me. She told me that I actually had a very good prognosis. I was likely to live through this circumstance. And so we started talking about what was important to me in life going forward.

And I had three goals:

The first goal was that I wanted to maintain sexual function. I knew that I couldn’t have children and so having sex was really important to me. I had just learned about my clitoris. I was going to keep my relationship with it.”

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“The second is that I’m a cyclist, so I wanted to be able to cycle. It’s the place where I clear my mind. With that surgery, I actually wouldn’t have been able to ride a bicycle ever again.”

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“The third was that I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and not feel mangled. It had nothing to do with the relationship that I had with somebody else or having sex with somebody else and not wanting them to look at me in a different light. It had everything to do with being able to look in the mirror myself and feel like a whole person.”

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“It was really empowering to make the decision to do what was best for my body. For me. It’s only been recently that I can say that I never needed to be forgiven for something that happened to me that wasn’t my fault. I’ve learned a lot about the fact that the mindset being carried on throughout my life kept me, in a lot of ways, the same age I was when I was assaulted.

And I feel like the moment that I let go of all of the shame that I had about my body, about things that happened to me, I realized that I’m not a girl, I’m a warrior.

I realized that I don’t need to be pushed around, that I have no interest in being pushed around and that I deserve everything that I want. I’m learning that I’m worth loving. That i’m worth fighting for. And I want to help others, especially those going through the healthcare system, believe the same.”

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All images are copyright of Katherine Elyse Photography. Images are owned by Katherine Elyse Cohen of Katherine Elyse Photography. For image use requests, please email katherineelysephotography@gmail.com

To Be Woman – Part 3

As time goes on and I continue this project I feel an ever stronger urger to continue sharing stories of women who fight and overcome. There is so much strength that comes from listening to others. Stories that feel so personal to the teller sometimes make a profound impact on the most unlikely listener. Stories preserve our past and help us create a stronger, smarter, kinder future. As we push forward into uncertain waters, I hope we can all take the time to listen and share with one another in the hopes of creating a more connected and respectful world.

Please view the previous installments of the project here:

To Be Woman

To Be Woman: Part 2

If you’re interested in becoming a part of this project and sharing your story, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me personally HERE.

MARIAH C.

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To be a woman is to be mocked by the man behind the counter at Calumet Photographic:

He made fun of me, laughing at me, telling me I was “mixing two alcohols” by purchasing film chemistry & cf cards.

I shall not be moved by sexism

To be a woman is to be sexually harassed by the man who owns the photo studio down the street:

He put his hands all over my shoulders, neck, stomach, back, while he told me he treats photography as sexual foreplay & only photographs women he wants to fuck; then he asked to photograph me.

I shall not be moved by patriarchy

To be a woman is to be abashed by the promoter who puts on Erotic Art Events:

He asked me to lie & advertise false sales, I was to only bring in female models for “the patrons delight”, no male models, then he ran his hand down my thigh, & patted my ass.

I shall not be moved by chauvinism

To be a woman is to promote the idea that my work is amazing, phenomenal & groundbreaking though, when the exact same work is presented by a man, it is be merely mediocre.

I shall not be moved when Forbes states that my photography profession is “ruled” by women.

Women only represent 50% in number & average less than 17K annually.

http://fortune.com/2013/03/11/5-professions-ruled-by-women
To be a woman is to break the glass ceiling, only to be sliced open as is shatters.

JENNIFER C.

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I have been called River Diva. I have been called Last Chance Hollywood Cuddlenick. I have been called bitch and every other demeaning name under the sun. I have been told I don’t belong on the river, never mind that I have achieved numerous certifications and have many years of experience. I will never be hired at certain companies in Canada, Switzerland and Italy, all for the single reason that they don’t hire women. I have heard the disappointment in a customer’s voice when they realize they “have gotten the girl guide.” I prove them wrong every single time. However, I shouldn’t have to. Me being a female guide isn’t the problem. The outdated notion of what a woman “should be” or “can do” is the problem. I am exactly where I should be – doing what I love. I have been called Adventure Barbie, but make no mistake, I am no Barbie Doll.

TO BE WOMAN

This project is about women; women who have felt hopeless; women who have gained strength; women whose stories deserve to be heard and appreciated. In a time when progress can sometimes feel like it’s falling by the wayside, these women remind me that there is still so much good worth sharing and working towards. There is so much strength and so much power to be found in their lives, in their words, and in their souls.

My goal in documenting women was to expose a shared experience of prevailing determination. I was not disappointed. Hearing their stories was such a powerful experience for me as an individual. I got a firsthand glimpse into the lives and experiences of those who stand to lose so many rights. I heard stories about the fear that develops from encounters with racism, sexism, self-loathing, transphobia, and sexual assault. It was emotional to hear what these women were saying. It was educational to have them highlight the importance of appreciating the intersectional aspects of each of their individual stories. And as we all know, after a storm the sun does shine again. I listened as the clouds of their past led to the beautiful blossoming of stories about compassion, might, inner strength, and self-assurance. I saw a fire in their eyes as they spoke about the wishes and goals they had for our future world. I heard women who at one point felt broken describe to me their plans for a future where we are all valued and supported. I heard about the actions they’ve been taking to better our world and was inspired all over again to give back to those who support us. I promised myself for the millionth time over that I would take a stand laws, people, or organizations that threaten us. I felt that common thread of purpose, hope, and promise tie us all tightly together and pull me forward.

Take the time to listen to women. I hope this small sampling of stories will open doors into conversations that may never have happened, but so desperately need to. I will not be deterred by those who aim to silence me. We will not be silenced.

#women #woman #femenism #respect #thefutureisintersectional #femenistfuture #fucktrump

KATHRYN D.

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I will not be deterred by those who remain silent in the face of injustice.

The happiest day of my life was the day after I gave birth to my son. After fifty-two hours of labor, I felt superhuman. I was completely unprepared for how much I loved him; I was like Dorothy stepping into Technicolor Oz from black-and-white Kansas.

I thought that he would look exactly like me, but he is a fair-haired, hazel eyed, tiny tornado of joy. He is a mélange of American natives and European immigrants, all love and laughter and curiosity. I can’t imagine contaminating him by teaching him to hate or to fear those who are different than him.

I thought I would be raising my son in a more progressive country than the one I was raised in. But I’m not. I was raised with the belief that ignoring bigotry took away its power. To deny it attention would ensure that it would starve and die. That’s not true. I am disheartened, but I am not afraid. Those who find excuses to treat other men and women as less than human are always on the wrong side of history.

I want my son to be able to say that I spoke out against inequality and that I taught him to do the same.

Bhawana K.

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I will not be deterred by pressures to conform.

I was born in Oakland while my Indian immigrant parents were students at UC Berkeley. I grew up in a Hindu family and am proud of my heritage. I converted to Islam the summer after college.

Because of my headscarf, so much of my interaction with people is burdened with having to dispel misconceptions about who they think I am or what I should be (foreign, conservative, quiet, meek, obedient…). It’s as if I’m asked to prove, every day, that I am normal. I reject the idea that I must act, believe or look a certain way to be accepted as an authentic American.

I also consider myself an Orthodox Muslim, and find myself pushing back against prejudice or patriarchy that stems from cultural practices falsely disguised as religious principles. I believe my faith encourages critical and rational discourse and I enthusiastically engage in it.

As a citizen, Muslim and human, it is my duty to improve my society in whatever way possible. This includes not only speaking out against, but also challenging practices or beliefs that prevent social progress or justice. I don’t think we have to continue to do things simply because they’ve always been done that way before.

Nicole B.

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I will not be deterred by my vulnerability.

Three years ago, I was hit by a car. Now 23 screws, 6 plates, and a rod hold my leg together and, in the coming decades, I will likely need a hip replacement. One year ago, I learned that I have a congenital defect where my aorta expands each time my heart beats. If it expands too far, I’ll need open heart surgery or else I’ll die. Without the Affordable Care Act and its protection for people with pre-existing conditions, people like me face futures dominated by insurmountable debt. Insurance provides assurance.

I would love to have this become an ongoing project and I would be honored to work with anyone willing to share their story with me. If you’re interested in sharing and being photographed, please email Kate at katherineelysephotography@gmail.com and we can set up a time to chat.