The camera clicks as I run a hand across the nearly invisible scruff along my jawline. The photographer, Spencer Pablo, urges me to embrace how my slowly emerging beard makes me feel and let that show. My fingers trace the bristly texture, and I let the muscles of my face relax into the peace and contentment inside, quirking my lips just a bit with hard-won joy.
It’s been a long road.
I have been fat all of my life, and it has affected how other people perceive both my femininity and masculinity. For a long time, the self-hatred that so often coincides with having a body outside of society’s norms kept me from examining my gender.
A foray into the fat acceptance movement made me work on low-level, near-constant dissociation from my body—and only then did I realize that the dissonance I felt could not be attributed solely to insecurities about my size. Instead, it became clear, as I accepted my body in theory, that it still was not an ideal home for me, an individual outside the gender binary.
Years later, I have started the medical processes that make my body livable. I have gained and then lost and then gained weight again—all while still working to love myself as I am now, even if I have goals for parts of my body to change in the future.
As I took steps in my transition, I quickly learned that there were few resources for fat, masculine individuals. Local photographer Spencer Pablo’s Instagram page became a refuge where I saw a diverse range of men with different body types celebrated, included, and even desired. I wanted my own space on his Instagram, to be looked at with a lens honoring my body.
Visiting Pablo’s garage studio, I dreamt that he would be able to pull out traits in me I hoped—but wasn’t certain—existed. I was afraid my formerly solely feminine body would always be the one most appreciated by others, not the in-between body I adore. Stripped before the camera, there were no societal expectations or gendered clothing—merely my body. The resulting photos let me see myself as I am, taking up space I deserve under good lighting. I saw strength, vulnerability, self-acceptance, pride—and just a hint of stubble.
Fat and trans people are often haunted by the oversimple narratives of the “before and after” pictures. Typically those “before” pictures are shown in the worst light possible, as a reminder that this is a ﬂawed body. Meanwhile, the “after” photos suddenly have great lighting, makeup, and flattering poses. Most importantly, the facial expression is meant to communicate some newfound joy. The physical transformation must accompany an inner change from misery to peace. For trans people, this can be true to a point, but it still reduces a complex journey to tropes.
Pablo’s photos of me celebrated my fluctuating body during the journey. I am not divided into a before and after. There is not an easy narrative—I was photographed after some hormones and weight gain, before surgery and a complete second puberty. Instead, the photos honored my body as it is now: the place I make a home in, no matter how outside the norm it is.