Text JF. Pierets Photos Courtesy of The Trans*Tapes
The Trans*Tapes is a series of six short portraits about transgender people in the Netherlands, made by three transmen; Bart Peters, Jonah Lamers and Chris Rijksen. Released in 2015, The Trans*Tapes focus on strength, positivity and human resilience and reveal a more layered image of what it can mean to be transgender. We spoke to Jonah Lamers, one of the three Transketeers.
Your collective is called The Transketeers. Tell me all about it.
We are a collective of three trans guys and started working together soon after I went to the first trans-pride in Amsterdam in 2014. Although I thought it was great that there was actually a trans-pride, I didn’t really recognize myself. I couldn’t quite identify with the target audience. So I made up my mind that if I wanted to change that, I had to make a contribution. I already knew Chris and Bart from earlier on, so I asked if they thought it would be interesting to work on a project together to create some trans visibility that we ourselves could identify with. This collaboration led to our first project; The Trans*Tapes, six portraits of transgender people here in The Netherlands. We liked working together very much so now we’re developing other projects as well and are becoming a “company” for trans and queer diversity and visibility.
What makes you guys different from the trans audience in the pride you talked about?
The majority of the audience was transwomen, male-to-female transgenders from an earlier generation. These women go through something completely different than for example what I went through. Most of them were born in an age where they had to hide their identity, they didn’t grow up with the internet where they could find all the information online. Their needs are very different to mine. I also met a lot of people who felt comfortable within the binary of male and female. While I don’t necessarily identify with the ‘man’ or ‘woman’ box. Let’s say I didn’t see a lot of diversity.
In the Trans*Tapes there is much less drama and sensation to be found than in what the media usually shows us. I guess that was a very important choice in the creating process?
We really tried to show the people in their strength and from a completely different perspective than what we usually get to see. And of course there are quite a few hurdles down the road – that comes with a social and/or medical transition – but we’re human as well, so there is also a lot of fun involved. A lot of exciting things happen if you go through this social and medical transition. When trans people are portrayed it’s usually all about surgery and hormones. We – on the contrary – ask how great it was to go swimming for the first time after the chest surgery. It’s a different approach.
Transmen often choose to live in anonymity after their transition. Why did you three choose to step up?
For me personally, it’s very important to start a dialogue about society’s fixed boxes. I am a sociologist and I’m very aware of the social constructiveness of the culture that we live in. Since I don’t completely identify with the boxes that are there, I chose to expand the subject and make it more visible. I completely understand if you identify – and feel comfortable with societal norms, if you choose to live in anonymity. I get that. However I do find it important to mention that not everybody shares that. I don’t necessarily want to be read as a man – in fact I am trans and not on testosterone so I’m often read as a butch lesbian. I find it problematic that trans people are also striving for the cis-gender beauty ideal, because a lot of us just don’t fit in there. So the Transketeers chose to step up and try to give a different angle to what it can mean to be transgender.
‘Even if you identify as straight, you can also be queer. You can have that same awareness. If people would empower themselves or find that agency, that would change so much.’
How do you identify? Or is that too much of a box to talk about?
It’s always difficult to say because of the limited amount of words that are available to us, yet a word that more or less fits is Genderqueer. Queer is almost an anti-identity, an anti-label and my definition of the word is that it’s an awareness of patterns of what is going on in society. When I was young I went through a very difficult time because I really wanted to be ‘normal’, but when I started to educate myself more, started to study about gender, and became more aware, I found that I could decorate my life and live how I wanted to live outside that heteronormative blueprint. Sometimes it’s very challenging, but I also find beauty in those challenges. That agency of not having to follow any paved ways, is something I would like everybody to experience. Even if you identify as straight, you can also be queer. You can have that same awareness. If people would empower themselves or find that agency, that would change so much.
Can I say you’re an activist?
Definitely. At the moment it’s not my intention to make radical work nor am I aiming for a revolution, rather we try to build a bridge, to have a dialogue with people who might not be very aware. I think that if you try to build bridges, you don’t necessarily have to relate to a radical approach. Let’s see how far we get with this dialogue. I’m an optimist. Sometimes you have to work through a lot of ignorance, yet I think it’s more productive to stay positive.
You also work with young people. What do they need to know?
I think they need an example. It’s something we talked about a lot when we started this project, because we wanted to make something that we wished we would have seen when we were younger and were asking questions. From that point of view we started to make the Trans-Tapes. To show that even if you are questioning your gender, you can be a successful human being. They need to see that you don’t have to follow a blueprint and they need to learn new words in order to be able to express themselves in a way that they feel comfortable with. So this is what we try to provide.
What would you say to someone inspired by your story?
I would urge them to speak up, to talk about it. We always jokingly say that sharing is caring, but I’m sure that the more you talk about these topics, the more good it’ll do you. And if you want, get in touch with us.
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