In the new book Trans New York, published by Apollo Publishers on June 2, photographer Peter Bussian spotlights, through portraits, the transgender community living throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
Bussian photographed approximately 60 different trans New Yorkers across the gender spectrum, from trans women and men to non-binary people, across the 50 photos included in Trans New York. The trans people photographed for the book are of different ages, come from different backgrounds, and express themselves in unique ways—quite literally showing a different picture of transgender people and the transgender community as a whole than many people have in their heads.
“The point of the book was just to humanize transgender people, not to put anybody on a pedestal, not to demean people or sexualize people, or all those things that have been traditionally done to the trans community,” Bussian tells Publishers Weekly. “I just wanted to approach them like regular people who deserve to have their stories told.”
From all of the trans people’s voices and photos in Trans New York springs a fountain of truth that those within the trans community have often had to yell to get people to hear: trans people, like all LGBTQ people, are not a monolith, but rather millions of distinct voices coming together in chorus. “It’s amazing, I think people have more preconceived ideas about trans people than maybe anybody else, and one of the biggest surprises to me was all the people I know who are very progressive who are still uncomfortable with trans people,” Bussian says. “That reminded me why I had to do this project.”
The book will see a first print run of 10,000 copies. Marketing plans include virtual event hosted by PFLAG on June 16 and traditional publicity with pitches to the national LBGTQ press, New York local press, the national photo press, and more.
Throughout the book, Bussian introduces readers and viewers to trans people from all walks of life—people who have survived incarceration, people who have experienced incest and sexual assault, people who are Hasidic, Afghani, migrants and immigrants, women of color, Black people, and more. In addition to the photos, the book includes short questions and answers, as well as some essays, from trans people who are well-known in the public eye, like Mr. Trans New York USA 2020, as well as people who you’d never know if you walked down the street, and people of all ages and presentations. Those who have known they’re trans their whole lives are featured, as are those who only recently realized who they are, in an effort to show that there is no one way to be transgender, and there is no right way—which Bussian says is the point.
Sasha Rodriguez Kolodkin, a 24-year-old from Bushwick, Brooklyn, who is featured in the book, came out “a few years before trans identity entered our national conversation,” which made her process “both easier and harder.” When Rodriguez Kolodkin first came out, one of her major concerns was aesthetics. “As a transsexual woman who is (somewhat) in the public eye, I recognize the fact that how I look affects many things about me,” she says. However, as a trans woman who understands that trans people are often judged by how well they can pass as cisgender, Rodriguez Kolodkin adds, “I want to make it clear: this is not something we are obligated to aspire to and looking good takes work. However, it is work I am proud to be doing. I am vain, and my vanity is a political act.”
Next to each trans person’s portrait are several questions Bussian asked them during photo shoots, including: “What makes you as a person unique?” This question, framed in this way, Bussian explains, gives trans people the opportunity to create and take agency over their own narrative, and to value and affirm themselves without being required to answer that they might be unique specifically because they are trans.
Another trans person featured in the book, Abby C. Stein, explained that one of the most common questions she gets from people when she speaks at events is “If you could’ve been born as a cisgender girl, would you choose that?” But her answer is no. In that vein, Trans New York answers the same question for people who might be curious about trans’ people’s thoughts and feelings about themselves, letting them express their successes, joys, insecurities, and worries about their own identities—ultimately allowing trans people to simply exist as themselves out in the open rather than hide, be idolized, or demeaned.
If a picture says a thousand words, 50 pictures of trans people along with their written experiences tell a story in a uniquely hopeful way, asking readers to see the humanity and complexity of the trans community and all of the different people within it. “A lot of the trans people I spoke to for the book said, ‘We don't need to be understood. But we need to be accepted and respected.’ That’s what I want people to understand from this book, just that we owe each other that much, to accept and respect each other and who we say we are,” Bussian said.
“I want Trans New York to be a book for the general audience, because I want it to educate people about what they think they know and understand,” he adds. “I hope it inspires everybody to live an authentic life. But more than that, it's also meant to be a book about people who actually realize who they are and know who they were put on earth to be. There's a joy that comes from just doing that. So I hope that joy comes out, and that it inspires trans people and non-trans people to do what they need for themselves to find joy.”