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Kathleen Dreier | United States

Zoe was assigned male at birth. I first met Zoe in July 2015 when she still identified herself by her given name Dashiell (a.k.a. Dash). I was in downtown Tucson photographing the celebration that happened following the passing of the Marriage Equality Act. Drawn to this young androgynous person with a message drawn on her face, I asked the mother, Kirsten, if I could take her child’s picture. This is the first image I ever took of Zoe. I would later learn that Zoe had come out to her parents as to her identity just a few months before this image was taken.

Zoe is a 16-year old transgender female who is allowing me to document her transition. I anticipate this to be an ongoing project for many years to come.

Since the summer of 2016, I have been photographing and interviewing Zoe and her family as she navigates her trans-female journey. While there are tangible similar steps in the process of a transgender teenager to become their authentic self, each path is as individual as the person. The reality though is that there are very few complete explorations and sensitive documentations of a transgender teen’s evolution. In some instances online, for example, one might find before and after pictures of the person’s transition, or brief paragraphs about their supportive parents. But perhaps due to stigma or fear, there really isn’t thorough documentation of the full story that explains just how much effort it takes to transition as a teenager who is simultaneously figuring out all the other regular things about their young adult life. To make such a permanent physical change during a developmental time rift with “normal” emotional chaos is astounding for both the teen and their family and friends. Documenting Zoe’s process in a manner that is respectful and authentic is a start to understanding the complexity of and commitment to her unique trans-female journey as a teenager. By bearing witness to Zoe as she evolves as well as her family’s, it is hoped that compassion and understanding is fostered for all transgender youth and their loved ones.







I asked Zoe to describe why she thinks this project is of value to humanity and how the sharing of herself and her vulnerability will teach others about her unique trans-life experience. Zoe responded:

“1. Minorities don’t always have a voice and this is an opportunity to tell a story that often is not told, or misunderstood when it is.

2. The photo documentation process is not something many people have the opportunity to participate in.

3. I’m not very articulate with words, so this is a way to express myself artistically.

4. It is important to me that other trans people, other minorities, know that they are not alone. We have strength in numbers and our experience, our story is important and valid. We are valid, I am valid. Our community needs to raise visibility, and empower one another.

5. Sometimes I wonder if every gender is biologically invalid. I feel, factually it is, but our society convinces us that there are categories, and each person must fit into one or another.

6. If a person was born outside of a society without the concept of boy and girl, pink or blue, how would they naturally evolve? Without societal concepts and predisposed definitions and expectations, would anyone feel the need to “transition”? Would one express themselves freely without fear?

7. Society needs to break down the ingrained idea that gender is a binary system, that it isn’t so black and white, there is a fluidity. Does any one individual fit completely into their assigned gender?

8. Gender cannot be defined in one simple thought, one image alone.”

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