Documenting Transition from Female to Male
By Clarissa Sligh
Philadelphia: Leeway Foundation, 2009. Edition of 1500.
7.75 x 5"; 160 pages. Printed offset. Perfect bound. Paper illustrated wrappers. Includes essays by Carla Williams, Jake in Transition from Female to Male series, or, Through the Mirror and What Clarissa Found There and Silvia Roncucci, Women in Transition: From Female to Male (translated from Italian). Signed by the author.
Clarissa Sligh: "When Deb asked me to photograph her transition from female to male I thought, 'If this chick is a man, then what in the hell am I?' This was 1996 in North Texas. Why would I, a black woman, volunteer to photograph a person who wanted to become a straight white man?
"Additionally I knew nothing about it. What was the disability of being a woman in a man’s body? At that time there was very little information about transitioning from female to male, which is why Deb wanted her process documented.
"Feeling conflicted, but curious, I finally agreed to photograph her. How did a woman go about constructing herself into a man? Photographs have a long history of use as evidence and that was how I saw my task – the gathering of evidence, to prove something physical had occurred. There was a Deb before. There would be a Jake afterwards.
"The oppressions related to race and gender appear in different disguises. But the only other thing I could relate such a radical change of personal identity to were blacks who passed as white. This historical background made me wary of the ethical and political violence inherent in 'speaking for others'. But as I photographed Deb becoming Jake, his passion and his suffering- both physically and emotionally drew us closer.
"What I learned photographing Jake changed the way I saw the world. Through Wrongly Bodied, I work to share his story and create a type of map that might help others understand his path. My goal was to take the experience of self out of that very narrow range of physicality into a broader, more complex conversation of how we construct ourselves within the confines and restrictions of the time and place in which we are born.
"Now, almost 20 years later, transitioning to the opposite gender from which one is born seems practically a common event. Yet the intensity of the process continues to bring up our worst fears and anxieties."