Issue 8: Skin Extract, Transmasculinities, by Finn Jackson Ballard & Liz Rosenfeld

Image by Liz Rosenfeld


Photograph by Liz Rosenfeld

‘While photographing the calendar subjects, I was also preparing for my long-awaited chest surgery. In fact, I left Berlin the very morning after the calendar launch party, and was in hospital by that evening, pre-surgical lines drawn upon my shaven chest by the doctor who would perform the operation. I had been occupied with the project, of course, but had also documented something of the simultaneous excitement, anxiety and tinge of melancholy that the upcoming event inspired in me (‘8 weeks before chest sur- gery, August 2010’). Upon the sudden cessation of all that energy involved in the calendar preparation, I felt a curious calm which certainly helped me to deal with the nerves of surgery, going under anaesthetic for the first time, and making an irreversible decision – although I had no qualms about my decision to have the operation. My partner, Liz, accompanied me to hospital, and during the night before my surgery photographed me preparing for the next morning (‘Finn the night before surgery’ by Liz Rosenfeld). I am very glad that she took this series of pictures and that we have them now for posterity, and I think that they capture the mood of that moment perfectly. Liz photographed my reflection, which I think was not only a documentary method but also a way for us to abstract the situation through a further layer of distance. This was the first time that Liz had seen my chest bereft of layers of clothing or of surgical vests – ‘binders’ which flatten the chest – and I suppose that I was not ready then to face her or the camera. We also ended up inadvertently referencing one of our mutual favourite artists, Nan Goldin, who often photographed her subjects in mirrors, although I don’t think she usually appeared in the resultant images. I took more photos than ever before in my post-surgical delirium and delight (‘One week after chest surgery, October 2010’) and indeed I was delighted when one of those ended up in an article featuring contemporary photographers with the title ‘Children of Nan Goldin.’ It seemed that I had come a long way: being open about my own transgenderism, achieving the surgery I had wanted for many years, and then being able to stand on the fringes of the world occupied by the (queer) artists whom I most admired.

Portrait of Finn Jackson Ballard, 2013, by Liz Rosenfeld, in which they discuss Ballard’s featured Transmasculinities photo calendar project.

Although the world’s awareness of transmen is increasing constantly, with the fame of Buck Angel, Chaz Bono, Balian Buschbaum and others, I suppose that many of us still have a drive simply to be represented and to increase visibility of all the multifarious ways that we configure (and often reconfigure) our gender identity. That’s also why my favourite self-portrait is the one of me doing up a tie and wearing pink lacy underwear at the same time (‘Getting Dressed’). I guess it’s a rather standard image of gender ambiguity, or simply of cross-dressing, but I think that the fact that I am trans does imbue it with something of an extra dimension. I also think that it is important, although not essential, that the photographer of individuals such as those who participated in the calendar project is also trans or at least sufficiently cognitive of queer identity to feel aligned with their subjects. Often, the identity of trans people be- comes the purview of others. I don’t mean only in terms of visual representation, which often relies on the discourse of fetish – as in earlier manifestations of trans pornography (a genre in which genderqueer, queer and trans directors and producers are now increasingly establishing themselves, representing their own community) – or that of a strange and even supposedly-threatening ambiguity (images over which the readers of gossip magazines are invited to pore, trying to discern the gender identity of their subjects). I mean also in terms of discourse. Trans people’s autonomy over their bodies is often compromised by their promotion as some sort of curiosity to whom it is deemed acceptable to pose intimate questions without asking for permission, and thereby to determine their identity even in contrast to their own wishes.

I think here of trans*people, myself included, who have been told that they are not ‘really’ or ‘sufficiently’ trans because they do not desire to have certain surgeries, identify themselves in accordance with certain preconceived gender norms, etc. I was also advised by my doctor, several years ago now, that I should simply take testosterone for as long as was necessary to ‘pass’ unquestioningly as male (preferably whilst becoming a temporary recluse) and then to re-emerge as a new self, not mentioning my past, once this process was over. This phenomenon is often referred to as ‘going stealth’ and in some cases it is simply a survival mechanism. But I didn’t want to avoid having to explain to the world my identity. I wanted to make myself visible within that world as a transman. To be not only in front of but also behind the lens will perhaps be our best chance of deconstructing these notions and showing ourselves to the world exactly as we are.’

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