"I'm not a woman and I'm not a man. I am simply myself."
Transgender in Panama.
Transgender in Israel.
"We are all human beings. We all have feelings and lives."
"When they call me 'Omeggid,' I say 'Thank you,' because it is what defines me."
"On the islands [Kuna Yala], people don't like us to look like women. That's why I left. My parents loved me, but wanted me to look like a man."
Debora, 36 & daughter, Bernibeth
"I want to show that Omeggid are people, like everyone else. That is one reason I am working so hard to raise my daughter and be respected."
"I feel the same yearnings as other omeggid, but I prefer a male appearance. This allows me to work freely."
"Discrimination? Well, I've been told that I'm good for nothing...the other side of my family tried to force me to dress like a man."
"People need to know that Omeggid exist, and understand that we are here to stay."
Debora, 36, and her partner, Bernardo
"One day I hope to marry my compañero, when Panama allows it."
"I knew I wanted to be a woman when I was five years-old."
“My motive in life is to come as you are….The most powerful experience in life is to know who you are; to connect with yourself.”
“Why do I feel so alone? I’m not 100% part of life….It’s not really about being a trans person, it’s just about being a person.”
“I don’t identify myself as a man. I present myself as ‘Guli’. I just let it be.”
“Ever since I was a small child, I felt I was a boy. The world treated me like a girl, but I knew I wasn’t.”
“Being a trans sexual lesbian woman brings many difficulties, and also many strengthing experiences. We just need time and we'll flourish"
“My friends always treated me like a boy, and I always played basketball on boys’ teams. When I turned eleven, I was told I’d have to start playing with the girls. It was like a punch to my head.”
“I came out as a man at sixteen, but I was drafted into the army as a female. When I took the oath it was as a man….I felt very proud.”
"By being totally 'out,' being trans no longer defines me. Doing what I was born to do and called to do is much bigger than just being trans; however, I do lend a spiritual voice to the trans experience."
I went off to Israel in order to photograph transgender people. I did the same travelling to Panama to meet Omeggid, members of the indigenous, Kuna community who consider themselves to be women, despite being born male.
I learned that in these markedly different cultures, striking similarities exist.
“This is a very strict gender society,” one Israeli told me, defiantly adding, “And here’s what I want people to know: I’m here and queer.” A Kuna said nearly the identical thing half a world away: “In the machismo culture of my country I encounter much disrespect. People need to know Omeggid exist, and understand we are here to stay.”
Others in both cultures expressed comparable sentiments:
“The most powerful experience in the world is to know who you are…to connect with yourself.”
“We are all human beings. We all have feelings and lives.”
“It’s not about being a trans person, it’s just about being a person.”
Regarding the portraits, each person received three versions: an instant copy made during our session, a digitized copy sent via email, and a physical print. While most liked their picture, one expressed significant disappointment in the image, indicating that because I didn’t allow a smile, “it doesn't capture who I am.”
Given the deep complexity of being human, let alone being transgender, I found this complaint to be particularly ironic. It brought to mind the quote by Richard Avedon, “There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”
Here then are accurate photographs of transgender individuals in two distinct societies. None of them, however, portray the truth.