@contentPreview the Book
Starting in the early '90s, my work focused on female-to-male as well as male-to-female people who live full time in the gender in which they identify. I photographed the evolution of political activism, young gender variant people, and made portraits of individuals as their life circumstances changed. "The Gender Frontier", published in 2003, represents an amazing decade in the struggle against discrimination.
Since the publication of "The Gender Frontier" I have started exploring how gender variation is expressed in places where it is part of a traditional culture. Some examples are the Mahus in Hawaii, the Katoeys in Thailand, and Pacific Islanders and Maoris in New Zealand. I have also continued to work with people who do not, or choose not to fit conventional gender role presentations. Some identify as “gender queer”, “gender fluid”, or androgynous. Sometimes tattoos are the first step in body modification, paving the way to further transformations.
Archival inkjet prints, 20" x 24", are available for exhibition.
Cuba is a country transitioning from strict communism to a more relaxed form of it. At the same time, sexual minorities in this macho-inclined country are becoming more visible and less despised. I met Amanda, Nomi and Malu at the Las Vegas Club in Havana. I was moved and very grateful to them for their generosity for showing me their lives, without embarrassment or resentment for the difficulties they encounter. Instead, through sharing their time with me Amanda and Nomi offered me their Havana, and their community.
I have taken four more trips to Cuba since 2014 when "TransCuba" was published, and will take more over time, as I have continued my relationships there. Over the last few years, there's been tragedy as well as joy. Amanda never got to Florida to be with her family, and died of AIDS. She couldn't tolerate the "cocktail". Lady, who sits with Laura on the book's cover, died from silicone poisoning, injected to make her hips bigger. Malu was also very sick with AIDS but has recovered well. On a much happier note, I was invited to two conferences for transgender people and their allies, wonderfully organized by Malu, and at one of them, Malu got married! Although this marriage isn't legal in Cuba, it was treated by all involved as completely real. The 24 year old groom is handsome and kind.
Although most people in Myanmar and Thailand are Buddhists, there are areas in both countries where Spirit Mediums continue to perform the ancient, animist traditions and rituals that pre-date Buddhism.
Although there are differences in the traditions practiced by Spirit Mediums in Myanmar and Thailand, I have combined the images here, as my focus is on the visual mystery of Spirit Mediums when they are possessed, and when going about their daily lives. I am looking at them as human beings who have been part of their cultures for as long as Animism has existed.
In the past, most Spirit Mediums were women, but over time, more men have felt called as Spirit Mediums. Those that live as men, dress as women in colorful, flowing garments, wear make-up, headdresses , and ornate jewelry before, during, and after possession. They must adorn themselves as women for the Spirits. Others live as women fulltime. They would be identified as transgender in the west.
When Mediums are possessed by a particular Spirit, they fall into a trance, and dance for many hours, drinking, smoking, accepting money from the crowd of onlookers who may join in the dance. During festivals when not dancing, Mediums sit in their beautifully decorated tents with altars covered with offerings that may include fruit, flowers, cans of beer, soda, cash, small toys, and statues. People come into the tent to get advice from the Spirit that that Medium channels.