Teen and Transgender Images

Laurie says:

I just discovered photographer Charlie White’s teen and transgender photos for Andrew Sullivan’s recent Faces of the Day blog. They were part of a show at the Hammer in LA which unfortunately closed on May 31st.

The portraits are distanced and deliberately constructed, with serious artifice and commercial quality polish. They’re also striking, and effectively make both their aesthetic and social change points. It’s powerful work that I’m not completely comfortable with, and definitely need to think more about.


Central to this new work is a group of five photographs titled Teen and Transgender Comparative Study, which parallels two puberties: one biological, the other chemical/surgical. Over the course of a year, White worked to identify teen and male-to-female transsexual subjects who, when viewed together, would create a visual bridge between female adolescence and male-to-female sexual transformation.


In the images in White’s series, both figures are blossoming into womanhood, though each along a different path. As observers, however, we have been taught to view the subjects in much the same way: with sheer terror. (Andrew Womak, The Morning News)

I love the concept of both of them blossoming into womanhood.

9 thoughts on “Teen and Transgender Images

  1. This is not a visual thing at all, but when my doctor made the MTF transition a few years ago, I found the voice change sounded oddly adolescent. When living as a man, he had a voice I found reassuring as a doctor (he didn’t sound like he was speaking with a Deliberate Voice of Authority, but it felt like he *could* if he wanted to. It sounded like he knew what he was talking about.) Then she had a female body, and didn’t want to sound masculine. Her voice cracked like a teenaged boy’s, and she sometimes seemed to be working to scale it up, to sound more feminine (the opposite of how women sometimes try to pitch their voices low and firm to be taken more seriously.) I felt terribly awkward about it, because I don’t *like* the way I hear “sounding like an adult man” as sounding more competent or reliable than “sounding like a woman.”

  2. I love this series. The viewer doesn’t need any information except for the title to completely understand the work, and Charlie White isn’t giving any kind of opinion about his subjects. Instead, he leaves gives the viewer the opportunity to think about women’s issues, trans issues, and puberty- and presents it in a way that the viewer has probably never considered.

  3. Adrian,

    I had a somewhat different experience. My body worker transitioned to male a while ago and I had to make some adjustments to the somewhat different way it felt.


    I think that the way he is equating teen and trans is certainly an opinion. And I think that we tend to equate his “distanced” presentation as “objective” which does present viewer with a path for reconsideration.

  4. Aiden and Laurie, my own experience with relating to transgender friends is limited to one person I got to know during the early and middle stages of her MTF transition at around age 40. When we had talked enough to be able to discuss it, I had to apologize for sometimes slipping up and using the earlier male name she had when I met her. She laughed and said, “It’s the voice, isn’t it? I’m working on it with my counselor.” She was right in that she had a “surfer dude” way of talking–which was appropriate to her lifelong passion for surfing. But when she presented in a skirt, makeup and perm, the voice didn’t go with the new look and sometimes I wasn’t fast enough to gearshift into the new name. She passed away suddenly before fully transitioning, but she was such a gentle, kind soul that most people who knew her would wish her well in whatever she wanted to do with her body and her life.

  5. I like the idea of drawing a visual parallel between these two different kinds of female adolescence. The overlap of physical experiences makes the comparison easy on many levels.

    I’m not sure what I think of the pre-selected comparisons. Do they tell a visual lie or a visual truth about similarities of appearance? Is the visual comparison intended to make us think about the other similarities or is the artist trying to show something distinctly visual?

    All the material I have seen surrounding these images describes the trans women as pre-operative. That is a completely meaningless category as far as facial transformation is concerned. Pre-operative could mean six weeks of hormone therapy or many years.

    Genital surgery status has little bearing on facial transformation. This language supports the trans narrative invented by cissexual (non transsexual) medical professionals in the 1960s and 70s, in which genital surgery is the be all and end all of transition. It erases trans women’s experience of living in the world and replaces their daily realities of living as women with a single question about what’s in their pants. Along with all the other problems inherent in this view, it tends to push many trans women towards surgery they might be happier without. There are no meaningful studies to indicate the chance of surgery resulting in the patient’s ability to orgasm. “Success” is still judged in the medical literature by the depth of available orifice for penetration by a penis. My feminism says that’s not the measure of what a woman is.

    (ok, sorry, I got distracted)

    I don’t know anything about Charlie White, but I’m not sure he really knows what he’s doing here either. Are trans women interesting to him as subject matter because they are exotic? Is the real parallel between trans women and adolescent girls that they are both heavily sexualized by our culture? Is this work meant to be about artifice and reality, with trans women as a symbol of artifice? Is this work simply about change? The power of hormones?

    For me, the seemingly clinical portrait format makes me wonder who the faux documentarian is and what he pretends to be documenting.

  6. This blog had images of the photos on it and then lost them. I just tried to reinsert them but there’s a word press connection problem. I’ll try to do it later.


    I agree with you with the issues you’ve raised. They clarify why I wasn’t comfortable about the images and why I needed to think more about them. I do think they have a social change value in themselves in spite of the exploitative elements. Sometimes the image gets away from the creator, although I’d need to know more about Charlie White to know if that’s true.

  7. I don’t know anything about Charlie White, but his work is not bad. To me, it appears to be the work of someone that explored a field of interest without think it through before he started on the project. Still, I have to commend Charlie for giving us another look at the many faces of transgendered people around us. Ours is a very difficult life, fraught with anxiety, fear, rejection, discrimination at every level (Ohio’s new gov., Nashville, etc. 12/11), violent abuse, a lack of medical treatment, and doubt about ourselves.

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