Amanda Searle celebrates trans children and the mums who love them

WORDS BY IAIN MCCALLUM, IMAGES BY AMANDA SEARLE

March 31 2019 is an important date in millions of diaries countrywide. In case you didn’t know, it happens to be Mother’s Day and this year it will be doubly special for another group of mums and kids as the great day is shared with another important occasion – Transgender Day Of Visibility.

We have heard a lot about transgender children and their supporters recently. We haven’t, however, heard very much from the children and families themselves so, in the name of promoting visibility, positivity and love on Mother’s Day and TDOV, a new exhibition of photographs, Transparent Love, is currently on show at BFI Southbank as part of the BFI Flare LGBTQI+ film festival.

Ten portraits, captured by the lens of leading fashion, style and arts photographer Amanda Searle, have caught the eye and imagination of hundreds of visitors and there is still a chance to view them.

The exhibition has been commissioned by All About Trans, a project which, since its inception in 2011, has been dedicated to building relationships between trans people and the media so that the public can learn more about their experiences. Nathalie McDermott, co-founder of All About Trans and Chief Executive of On Road, the charity behind the project says:

“Our experience of introducing trans people to journalists has been overwhelmingly positive, with a real enthusiasm and commitment from most journalists to learn more about this community and tell their stories. We were delighted to work with Amanda to mark TDOV and Mother’s Day in such a positive and creative way to share the experiences of these wonderful mothers and their trans children.”

Amanda Searle adds, “Working with these amazing mums and kids has been a whirlwind. It was my challenge to capture a moment that said something about the relationship between each of them, and tell a little of their story. It was a privilege to have been allowed into their lives. It has been a joy and on a personal level I have learned so much.”

The effect that the exhibition has had on the mums and children seems to have been a positive one. Here, some of the stars of the show share their thoughts on the creative experience and the importance of promoting visibility in new and creative ways:

Kelly & Billy

“I have been fearful of putting my family out there and under scrutiny but actually it feels incredibly empowering to be part of this project. We are proud to show who we are. My son told me when he could first speak, “I’m a boy” and we have been lucky to be surrounded with friends and family who have supported us all along the way. On a personal note, I wanted to take part in order to be part of something positive with Billy – he has been feeling increasingly distressed as his puberty has begun and I wanted to give him an experience to help him acknowledge and accept himself and to show him, he is not alone.”

Molly & Ned

“We loved being part of a project that was a pure and simple celebration of mums and their kids, who happen to be trans. It’s not a political campaign fraught with argument and point scoring, it’s just 10 straight up lovely pictures, taken by a talented photographer, who me and Ned had a great laugh with, pretending to be fashion models for a morning.”

Emily & Emma

“This project is really important to me and my daughter. Emily is very open and honest about who she is and from the moment we eventually let go of our fear and allowed her to socially transition she has never looked back and, in her words, she felt as if she had come out of the shadows and no longer had to hide. She has told me that she wants to change the world’s perception of trans children. One heart at a time, because she refuses to go back into the shadows. Projects like this enable my daughter to continue to be able to be who she truly is, which is something most parents and children take for granted. I truly hope that one day we will be able to feel the same.”

Jan & Jess

“Trans kids and adults are suffering such hatred out there but I think, on the whole, it’s from a relative minority of transphobic bigots. The wide majority of people out there, who are just living their lives with no real issue with trans, need to see and hear these positive stories, articles and most importantly, facts. Our kids deserve the chance to live just a normal life like anyone else, and it’s projects like this that will help educate and inform and allow that to happen.”

Lisa & Alex

“As a mum to Alex, my 16-year-old son, we’ve been through a rollercoaster of a journey over the past four years since he came out. I looked to role models for inspiration (which are few and far between) and my peers for support. We’ve been so well supported, that I feel we have a duty to stand as role models, not only for our beautiful kids, but for parents too. It’s incentives like the gorgeous photos Amanda Searle took for the exhibition that create positive media exposure in a hostile environment. By putting ourselves out there, I’ve had friends and business colleagues approach me for support, which can only help them to avoid the disinformation that’s out there.”

Oonagh & Izzy

“I thought that the photography exhibition was an amazing opportunity to make the most of the fact that, this year, Transgender Day Of Visibility is also on Mother’s Day. To have our picture taken was a great way to show that we are a normal mother and daughter and that the love we share is the most important thing about us. Our lives and our relationship as mother and daughter have not massively changed since Izzy socially transitioned. The main learning curve has been navigating the prejudice and assumptions that are in the media. We are lucky in that the majority of people we know are supportive. Our families and friends are all behind us and their support means that Izzy has grown in confidence. She has become the person she truly is and she knows that being herself is just fine.”

Kim & Kye

“It’s so refreshing to see our families finally being able to have their say in a project that is brimming over with love and acceptance. Most things I read always have an ‘edge’ to them, which seems to question whether the children or their parents really know what they are doing. TV interviews and news articles always have to pose a question or an opposite view and that gives bigots the space to elbow in. In my own experience there are very few haters out there, but they seem to be given an awful lot of airtime and attention. Being a parent of a trans child is hard enough without the media wading in all the time with their criticisms. We just want to live an ordinary life with our kids who KNOW who they are to their core, because they have had to live with who the AREN’T for such a long time.”

Catrina & Sam

“We are proud parents to Sam, aged six. We just want him to have a safe loving future and live without fear, negativity and just be himself. We are adults and we all need to stand together as parents, family and friends. We live in a world with so much diversity. What is so wrong with being transgender? Always love your child and let them express themselves and be happy.”

Gemma & Leo

“These sorts of positive projects are so important to help with the misconceptions around everything transgender. For me, the biggest misconception is that it’s a fad, or that a child ‘decides’ to be trans. Leo describes it as being left handed – he just simply is that, he didn’t choose to be. In fact, in one very tearful discussion between us he actually said to me, ‘Mum, do you think if this was a choice I’d be putting us all through this?’ It took and takes, massive courage to come out, to understand that you are different and to put yourself out there. The ridicule and spite he’s had to face, the funny looks and shouted abuse is hurtful. To me, he and kids like him are heroes – like suffragettes, or the first gay campaigners. They are blazing a trail so that in 50 years I hope everyone will have a much better understanding of these issues and be more supportive. I also feel strongly that there shouldn’t be this whole binary issue around gender – that kids should be free to experiment without being penalised or shamed. It may be that some of these kids aren’t transgender and are just experimenting with their identity – I think that’s ok too. But we make it so hard for them. I know I’m a hippy but shouldn’t we be free to be who we are, all of us, and be accepted for that?”

Ashlynn & Penni

See the Transparent Love exhibition at BFI Southbank as part of the BFI Flare LGBTQI+ film festival.

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