This past summer, my dear friend Arlo reached out to me and shared his self-discovery that he is a trans man. A few months later, he asked me to document his transition. I was honored.
Arlo and I have been friends since college and have a deep understanding of each other as people and each other's artistic practices. Documenting his transition is the natural next step in our friendship. For this project, we are collaborating; I'm photographing him and he is writing reflective responses to my images. You may see an excerpt of one of his passages below.
"There had always been this deep nagging feeling inside of me that something was wrong. It was like life was a simulation with a very specific rule book and I had been given the rules to another game entirely. I never understood just why I felt this way only that I did and it was awful. Everyday felt like a race I was slipping further and further behind in.
Once the pandemic hit I like many other people was forced from routine and stuck at home. At first it was rather awful but I suddenly found myself with more time to think and really be inside my own head. That was when I first realized that my name was a problem. I had backed a video game on kick starter that I was interested in. When they asked me what name they should credit I had no response. I didn’t identify with my birth name. I felt uncomfortable. It felt like my name had been internally associated with some form of trouble.
I was anxious and distraught at the thought of using my birth name but equally distraught about using anything else. This was disturbing to me and did not feel normal. I spoke to a friend about the matter and he revealed to me that what I was feeling was not nameless. It was dysphoria. As a transman he was no stranger to dysphoria and he began to tell me about his own experiences.
It hit me like a punch to the gut. Everything he was describing, all of it, was my life growing up and even now. I was distraught. He was explaining my life in perfect detail as if he had been there with me growing up. My internal thoughts and feelings played back to me in a process that can only be considered intimate.
It whispered a horrifying truth: I had been trans all along and had tried to convince myself otherwise as a form of protection. That protection had now been stripped back and laid bare. I was exposed. Everything I had told myself, all those carefully crafted excuses came unraveled as lies."
At first I felt a great sense of grief in my confusion. I kept questioning myself and trying to make excuses. When I first told myself “I’m a boy.” and gave myself permission to be transgender I felt an enormous amount of relief. It was as if a great weight had been taken off of me. I was metaphorically wrapping myself in a warm blanket." - Jenna Petrone.