There are only a dozen family photographs of me as a child. There are a handful of elementary school portraits and class pictures. My high school yearbook. Then I disappear from sight.
There are no pictures of me between 17 and 24; between when I came out and when I met Donna. I hid from the camera. I felt fat, ugly, and awkward. I didn’t want to be reminded of how bad I looked.
Donna came with her camera. She loves to take photographs.
I hated my childhood pictures. They were proof that I was a girl. There are no candid photographs. No happy, relaxed shots. I am posing. Stand up straight, look up at the camera, smile, don’t move.
My parents owned a camera but rarely used it. We were an unhappy family and the tension shows in our faces. Unhappy people do not want to document their lives. They are waiting for things to get better.
When Donna takes out the camera, my kid fears resurface.
My mother could not make me look happy. My eyes are anxious, my body is stiff. She is angry that this is the best I can do and it is not good enough. I am ruining the family portrait, a blemish that can not be covered up. She says she doesn’t know what is wrong with me. She is lying.
I am not the girl in the dress. I was somewhere else when that picture was taken.
I am in the photograph but I am also missing from it. The picture conveys one external moment of my childhood. It reveals nothing about what was going on inside. The pictures of me as a boy are all in my head. There is no physical evidence.
When my brother and I emptied out my mother’s apartment, the one we grew up in, we looked through a small file box of photographs. They were from before we were born, full of people whom we resemble but do not recognize. They look happy. There was a rift between my grandmother and her siblings, my mother and her cousins. They stopped speaking. No one would say why.
Donna is patient. She knows I hate having my picture taken. She humors me. She tries her best to capture me, but it is her view, not my view, that she is looking for. She gets me to laugh. Click. Click. Click.
Please don’t make me look like a girl. Please let me see myself in the picture.
Donna has taken hundreds of pictures of me. Most of them are unflattering. It is not her fault. She took this one recently at an anti-war demonstration. It almost does the trick. I do not feel betrayed by it.
Self consciousness, negative body image, and gender dysphoria. A toxic brew. I have days when I feel all right, and then I see myself from the wrong angle and I become a disconnected set of female body parts. It takes a lot of effort to pull myself back together. I keep reminding myself that I am more than my image, more than my body.
I have more pictures of Gracie than I have of myself. It isn’t so easy to take a good picture of her. Gracie doesn’t like it when I put the camera close to my face. She breaks her stay and comes toward me, hesitating, quizzical. It works best when I have an assistant to handle the camera – I can sweet talk her and wave a treat in the air while someone else takes as many pictures as possible. Gracie gets excited by the treats and ignores the camera. I wish it worked that way for me.
Note: Not all people who are butch, queer, genderqueer, and/or transgender have gender dysphoria or negative body image. I’d like to let go of it and become one them.
In thinking about this issue I came across two interesting posts – this one on overcoming hating being photographed and another on the difference between negative body image and dysphoria.
You look very handsome in that photo and this is a wonderful post.
Thanks. I am vain so I picked out the best photo. Trust me when I say that I have hundreds of pictures that are unflattering.
I trust you Jamie.
For an anti-war demonstrator, you look very agreeable in that photo, Jamie 🙂 I was surprised that you are a slim guy, in contrast to the way you speak of yourself.
We were waiting for the march to start, and there were all these sectarian left groups giving out flyers and newspapers as if it were still about Lenin vs. Trotsky. Donna was creating names of fake groups and their slogans and made me laugh. I’m not svelte – I’m 5’4 and 140 lbs so I am just within the “recommended” weight for my height. My jelly belly is hiding, and I’m wearing a binder.
I’d like to write a post about how long it takes for your head to wrap around physical changes – I’m so used to thinking of myself as heavy that I can’t quite wrap my brain around being 140 instead of 175 (or my highest weight of 190ish).
Poor Gracie, she looks like she wishes you would put away the camera. Again, another good post that many of us can identify with. Cheers.
Thanks. Gracie definitely wanted to go for the walk (which we did once I got a few headshots of her looking anxious). I have a lot of respect for professional pet photographers – I’ve seen them in action – it is hard to get a dog to sit and look happy while you fuss with lights and equipment.
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Thank you for sharing that photo with us. 🙂
Your welcome. I made a decision early on to not be completely anonymous, but I am vain in my own special way. I didn’t post all the ugly photos.
My thoughts echo anexactlinglife’s: You look like a happy boy in this photo. And for an anti-war demonstrator you look exceedingly approachable. 🙂
I know that feeling of Who is that person? that comes with seeing one’s self in photographs. I have struggled with weight and body image my entire life, and I literally don’t recognize myself in photographs. Especially photos of me when I was a starving student. The one time in my life I was thin, I had no idea what I looked like. My mother was showing me pictures once of a Christmas celebration from my late college years. I pointed to someone I didn’t recognize and said, “Who’s that?” She was appalled. The person I had pointed to was ME. I had no idea.
Being in front of a camera is traumatic for me. What I see in the mirror and what I see in a photo never match up, and while I’ve come to grips with the former, the latter continues to be an obstacle. I’ve been known to cry when someone shows me a picture of myself.
Part of it is just that I’m not photogenic. Looking good and looking good on camera are two different things. Intellectually, I can wrap my head around that. But it can still be hard on the heart.
Sorry this is such a long comment. Basically, I just took the long way around to say… In my own way, I get it. And I applaud you for putting your photo in this post. I think you look fantastic. 🙂
Any picture of me where I try to look serious I end up looking like I am dead but with my eyes open. If Donna doesn’t get me to laugh it is a disaster (and even when I’m laughing, most of them are terrible). The one I posted was a lucky shot.
I know what you are saying about mirrors vs. photos, I’m still not great with a full length mirror (home, gym, dressing room, locker room) but I am OK with a chest/shoulders up mirror. One day I’ll get there.
Half my childhood pics I look butch, or could pass for a boy. My senior pic I am clearly “female” but in a guy’s pose. My grad pic I hate, I wore the girls’ white rather the boys’ red.
Both graduations I was the only girl in class who wore pants. Senior year yes was all Velcro under that outfit, but good enough when I look back.
I burned every pic taken of me after I just gave birth at the hospital, tho.
I think it is common for transgender people to hate any photo that makes them look like the gender they were assigned at birth, and I know of more than a few who destroyed all of their pre-transition pictures.
My issue is that there are no pictures that represent for me what my childhood was like (the boy’s life) and therefore I have no visual history of my inner life. Just pictures of an awkward girl (which is part of my history, but only a part).
I agree with anexactinglife, you look so slim… My manager has photo-olism. At every occasion, our team has to pose and I always have to stand in front as I’m short (5’2″ – barely) and stocky – and when I see the results, my dysphoria and negative self-image soar.
I responded to anexactinglife that I am currenty 5’4 and 140lbs – so I am not skinny by any measure, the camera liked me in that shot. I’ve got a jelly belly. I recently (over the last two years) lost 35lbs, and I’m still adjusting to trying to see myself as not being overweight – and I am struggling to not put the weight back on (stress, stress, stress, and a glass of wine…).
I think it is common for transgender folk to have a distorted view of how they look (particularly hips and breasts) – some combination of dysphoria and negative body image.
Have your eyes adjusted yet to your top surgery in the mirror and in your head?
Uhm, nope. My mind still expects to see what it used to glimpse for 40 odd years, so it tells me the reflection from the mirror cannot possibly be true. I will have to co-author that post of yours about how long it takes for your head to adjust to body changes. Negative body image and dysphoria is deep-rooted in my mind. The journey is by no means over for me.
Gracie is a lovely pup and you look happy, and not at all heavy, in your picture. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks. Gracie is a great dog (most of the time) and keeps me happy. Donna knows how to make me crack-up, and the camera helped make me look thinner than I am (5’4 and 140lbs).
There were some horrible unflattering pictures in the same set (from the same demonstration) but I didn’t want to post them (vanity).
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I really enjoyed reading about this side of you. Maybe because I can relate. While I’m happy to be butch, I too feel like I’m the most unphotogenic person alive. I can only imagine how unnerving it would be to look in the mirror and glimpse a body that belongs on someone else.
I’m happy to have a face to put behind the words now, also!
Thanks. Hopefully Julie will take some decent pictures of you. I actually don’t have any good pictures of me with Donna because she has to be the photographer…
I concur with everyone else here. It’s a great photo of you and Gracie is a beautiful dog. I think it’s natural to pick the best picture to show people and not really vanity. Everyone has vanity and wants to show their best side to the world. If all you did was post pics of yourself on here then we might think you have vanity issues. Personally, I think most of us out here have confidence issues…body confidence, image confidence, etc. It’s a good pic, you look good and healthy and happy. I’m glad to see that side of you and appreciate you sharing it.
Thanks. I find Tumblr unappealing because of all the emphasis on selfies and the relentless bravado of those transitioning in their late teens/early twenties. One of the hardest things I did when I started the blog was to put a picture of me and Gracie on my About page – I didn’t want to alienate anyone who could tell that I was middle age – but it was good because it helped keep me honest about who I am and where I am coming from.
I just subscribed to follow your blog. The title got me only because there is a dog in it… then I understood the whole of it. I think it is wonderful that you share your fears and thoughts so freely and am looking forward to read more of you. And Gracie, of course. She is a cutie. I believe, my dog Paul would love her 😉 If you like, see more of Paul at http://sonnenpuzzleteilchen.wordpress.com/category/gekrault/ .
Best regards, Sunny