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.