Boys: American Trans Men
Contemplative, laughing, bearded: Soraya Zaman travels around America telling stories of transmasculine people.
Photographer Soraya Zaman is queer and non-binary. Their (Soraya asks to use the pronoun ‘they’ when addressing them) project American Boys is about trans men — people who were identified as female at birth, but who feel they are men.
Zaman traveled around 21 states to collect stories of transmasculine people who had to go through not being accepted by their families, religious stigma, and their own fears. In April 2019, the book about the participants of the project was published in the US.
Australian photographer, live in New York. Studied at the Australian Centre for Photography. Their non-commercial work is mostly focused on gender and sexuality.
— This project had a humble beginning back in the summer of 2016. I just wanted to take images that meant something and were personal to me. I was looking to explore expressions of trans-masculinity. But that quickly changed with each new person I met and photographed. It became apparent that honoring and sharing stories, validating and centering everyone in a positive and uplifting way, was necessary and important, especially in the now changing political climate. These are affirmative images of everyone featured that show a glimpse into their lives at a specific moment in time, their personality, honesty, humor, beauty, vulnerability, and strength.
The project title, American Boys, is an intentional call out to this nostalgic, internalized idea of American boyhood and the notion that masculinity belongs exclusively to cis men. It unpacks the belief that gender identity must align with one’s sex assigned at birth. I also hope it allows people to look and challenge the way they themselves perceive traditional binary gender roles.
I discovered everyone in this project through Instagram. I mostly sort out people who were using their online platform to express what was happening in their lives in an interesting way. To me they were natural storytellers with a willingness to share for good or bad. That resonated with me. I think for a lot of people, trans-masculine people in particular, social media is a tool used to find community beyond your physical surroundings. It’s a place to be visible, share stories, learn from other people’s experiences and to realize you are not alone.
I’m actually so indebted to Gabriel who is the first person I photographed.
I get a lot of people reach out to me over the @amerianboysproject Instagram page. People write asking to be included in the next iteration of the project, people write to me to say thank you for what I’m doing and how it has helped them and people they know. I’ve had parents reach out saying thank you and that this gives them comfort for their children who identify as trans. I also get people reach out telling me about representation that is missing, which I appreciate, there is always room to expand and grow and just shows there is so much more to be done.
In my mind, I always kind of wanted this work to be a book and take these stories and images out of an online platform but I had no idea what that would entail to bring to life and that it would take 4 years since starting to finally hold the book in my hands. It has been a lot of work and sacrifice, but I’m so grateful for the process and everyone I’ve met and everything I’ve learned. It’s been a real journey for me too. I’m actually so indebted to Gabriel who is the first person I photographed. His openness and willingness to be a part of this process at the time really set the foundation for every other shoot.
It’s been a real journey for me.
There are 29 people captured in this work and I will be the first to put up my hand and say that this cannot adequately represent an entire community. I also think since starting the initial book the visibility, conversation and representation of transmasculine folks had grown and changed in such a positive way. I would love the opportunity to continue this project and do a second book as there is still so much more to say. I just see this as the beginning. To this point the work has been entirely self-funded, so it would be great to get funding to continue.
I wouldn’t like to make a project about trans women. This work is personal to me because I am non-binary on the masculine spectrum. It is innate in me to understand the journey of the people in this work and I think that is what makes it so strong. I would love to lift up, consult and help anyone who identifies as a trans women or non-binary femme who would love to do an American Girls project. I think that would be great and the right person would have my 100% support.