Two years ago, New York City-based photographer Annie Tritt embarked on a new project photographing trans and non-binary youth. Transcending Self was born, and the Facebook and Instagram pages now have tens of thousands of fans around the world.
“I wanted to focus on what it means to live an authentic life; to know what it looked like and felt to be yourself wholly,” she told Queerty about her initial inspiration to begin the project.
Then something unexpected happened — what began as an outward exploration of identity turned inward. “I did not see how this project interacted with my own life until two years in. In a way, I was trying to make sense of my own life,” she said, adding that “I now see as a queer person who’s gender never fit neatly in a box how the messages I got as a young person are still affecting my life, and I am unpacking that now.”
And the community she’s building is affecting real, positive change.
“I believe the project chose me, as corny as that may seem. I put so much time into this project because it matters. Trans youth have a suicide attempt rate of close to 50%, yet when they are supported it drops to closer to that of their peers. This is based on fear. And preventable.”
We caught up with Annie to find out more about the project and her experience using Facebook and other social media to build community around it.
Included are some of her stunning photos — you can check out more here.
What do you think has changed, if anything, about the public’s understanding of gender in the time since you began the project?
Things have changed greatly. There is so much more understanding and acceptance, and for that, I am so grateful and optimistic. Transgender officials were elected around the county in this last election, there is more positive work in the media, but this year was the most deadly on record for transgender people, and that is not a coincidence. There is still much to do.
What’s the biggest change you’d like to see?
I’d like for people be able to be their true gender ideally as soon as they figure it out. I’d love for it to be a non-issue. I’d love for youth and adults to be able to use the bathroom of their gender ID without question and for there always be a gender-neutral bathroom.
Your photos are so intimate and vulnerable — do you find that folks are eager to share their personal stories or does it take some coaxing?
Thank you. That is what I want. I really do not coax anyone. What I think I do is build trust. I am just kind of an open book sometimes, and I believe that my vulnerability helps other feel safe too.
Also, I want to know; I am really interested, and that makes people comfortable too. I spend a lot of time with people and make sure that they are part of the process of creating the image.
It can be so isolating to grow up feeling different — what do you hope non-binary youth will take away from this project?
Yes, it can. I hope that these youth will learn that they are not alone. That while the world tells them to doubt themselves; they see it is the world that is wrong. That the stories are part of what gives them the self-love and courage to be who they are in the world. That they see their beauty as a gift maybe even learn to love themselves. That people are judged on the content of their character. That little children when they say that they are a boys are believed. That no small child is ever made to feel like their thoughts and feelings are wrong or invaluable, and moreover that they are embraced and loved for being who they are in public. That is a lot.
What has surprised you the most about meeting all these incredible young people?
I had no idea that this project would change my life. I am in awe of the compassion and creativity I have witnessed in almost every youth. I am wowed by their bravery and sureness of self.
And what about their families?
I have seen so much compassion. I See parents really listing to their kids. I see parents fighting for their children’s rights.
How did you decide to use Facebook to amplify your work, and what has it been like to get the instantaneous response that comes with a social media presence?
I set out to share the stories of this community at a time when the media was not talking about transgender people and even less about transgender children. I chose to use a Facebook Page and Instagram to ensure that the project was interactive, and with time has formed a positive, supportive and safe space where people ask questions, connect and function as “a community beyond the photos.”
It is great for the youth to see the positive response and love. And for everyone to be able to connect.
Tell us about your fundraising efforts — where do you hope to take Transcending Self?
So far I have paid largely for the project myself, investing a significant amount of my time and money
I have over 50 youth waiting to participate. I want to make the project as diverse as possible, regarding gender ID, race, location, class, religion and experience. This way everyone will see themselves reflected. This is key.
The final goal is a book, website and exhibitions. People can help with even the smallest donation.
In your mind, what makes a great portrait?
I wish I knew the answer to that. I think that there are so many great portraits and each person is different. For me, it is of course light and composition, but also a feeling. I want the viewer to feel a connection and caring for the person in the image. I want it to be like an invitation to connect and care about the person.