Hayley to Harrison: In Transition
Harrison was still Hayley when we first met in a St. Louis high school in 2006. I remember how we enjoyed complaining about the trials of our graphic design class, his deadpan humor always on point–even at 8 AM. Years later, we had another chance encounter, where I learned that he was going to begin transitioning from female to male in just a few days. We arranged our first shoot just days after his “T–party,” which marked the celebration of his first Testosterone shot and the beginning of hormone replacement therapy.
Throughout the next year, we met multiple each times each month to document his changes and bi-weekly testosterone shots. After just a few photography sessions, I already felt an incredible bond with Harrison. Accompanying him on his journey felt like a gift. As time went on, we learned to read each other and the process became a visual conversation between photographer and subject—a unique collaboration between the two of us. Our shooting sessions became a form of art therapy to me and transcended the act of documenting his physical transformation.
The locations of our sessions changed each week. Different friends would passionately fight over who would administer his testosterone shots next, whether in a bar bathroom, alley, or a front porch. These unique places became a notable celebration towards a self-conception that has been ingrained in Harrison since his adolescence.
For many of our shoots, I would arrive early in the morning at Harrison’s door, sometimes before he even opened his eyes. It felt important for me to photograph his rituals, how they changed, and document his life as often as possible. Testosterone works very quickly, with physical changes apparent after only one month. With each session, I noticed his arms growing bigger, his face slimming, and hair slowly sprouting in new places. We rejoiced at the beginning signs of a mustache and shared breakfast while comparing muscle mass.
Witnessing the human body change, emotions fluctuate, and mentality begin to meld with one’s physical appearance is an amazing and beautiful process. It calls into question the definition of what a man or woman is or is supposed to be? How they fit into society with pre-determined roles, responsibilities, and expectations, and tests the gender boundaries society and culture places on individuals. Gender is not a rigid black and white construct— what is usually perceived as a male-female binary is actually an infinite and beautiful gradient.
"How do you view gender?":
"I view gender similar to how I view colors in a full spectrum. No two boxes can hold gender, it's all up for personal interpretation. I would identify myself in the wide category of gender as: a blue monkey, moose, mostly blue and shades of grey, ever changing, magical unicorn, narwhal, queer as a four leaf clover, mostly Harrison.
I began taking testosterone in June of 2011 to feel more like myself. Living as a woman pre-testosterone in others eyes was annoying, embarrassing, and frustrating. There's only so many times you can switch pronouns, and apologize before making things awkward for yourself, not for me.
Trying to explain myself, that it was ok, and that no one needed to apologize for my experience was just horrifying for the other person–all of these factors just made me dislike myself and how I physically appeared more than anything. Trying to explain how my body and voice didn't match up with my head is and was just too much for people to understand–I just ended up getting a confused and disgusted look.
The way the male community treated me was that of any other woman, which is annoying whether trans or not. I don't feel like people should be treated any special way because of their sex, and that hasn't changed for me. If anything, I advocate for gender equality more now than before.
Before I would try and explain the image of myself, now I really don't have to. My sex is still female, and I don't plan on changing that. However, in terms of gender, it is easier for people to identify me as male, which is more acceptable to me. In a perfect world (or Sweden), I wouldn't have people identify me as either pronoun, just Harrison would work fine.
Life led me to begin my transformation, but it's been a long and slow 22-year process. Coming out as transgendered to my friends wasn't shocking to them at all, as they all had watched me grow more into myself. People tend to do that in life, mine is just as different and as individual as anyone else."