[NSFW] Gender Documentation: An Intimate Look at One Couple's Transition

 

by Danny Shneyderman
Photography by MaryV Benoit
 

MaryV’s art piece in-progress, Gender Documentation, is a collection of photographs, letters, and videos following Chella’s journey as they begin testosterone therapy and prepare for top surgery. Chella’s transition does not follow a traditional path—rather than identifying as FTM, Chella is genderqueer and identifies as non-binary femme. The fact that Chella and MaryV are in a romantic relationship makes this an even more intimate and personal look into both sides of any transition process.

Testosterone therapy is most often associated with FTM trans people. As the gender spectrum widens and more insurance companies practice informed consent, there is less red tape for trans people to have access to the hormones they need. As MaryV reminded me, gender identity and gender presentation are not always one in the same.
 

“Each day now, I get to see Chella become steps closer to feeling themself. It's so warm to see. I think watching them do this, be vocal about it, and be so strong, has made me fall more in love.”
 

MaryV’s love for Chella is palpable in Gender Documentation. It’s there, in every shot, every handwritten word:
 

“It starts today, angel. Your new body starts today.”
 

MaryV shoots using 35mm film and two different cameras. While she doesn’t follow a specific technique, her work speaks to her amazing eye and intuition:
 

“When I feel I'd like to photograph a moment, I photograph it.”
 

MaryV often photographs Chella in a raw, exposed manner. In one shot, Chella lies on their back naked, propped up on  their elbows. With their head  thrown back, their face disappears from the shot, totally avoidant of the camera. In another shot, Chella looks at the camera but covers part of their face with their hand. They are slouching over, their bare chest on view.

Both of these photographs grapple with gender dysphoria in different ways. The first is a clean dissociation of body and mind, and the second confronts dysphoria head on—while Chella’s face is half-covered, they still maintain steady eye-contact with the camera. Chella slouches over as if in an effort to hide their chest, but because they are naked, and under the loving gaze of their partner, they do not hide this part of themselves.

And Chella does not want to hide. Gender Documentation is also about community, and is just as much Chella’s project as it is MaryV’s. It was Chella who decided they wanted their transition to be public via Instagram, so they could record their journey for others with similar struggles. When MaryV asked Chella if she could take this process further and document Chella’s journey from her own eyes, Chella responded: “I’m ready.”

The first photograph in the series is a bathroom mirror picture, taken by MaryV with both herself and Chella in the shot. The two of them are getting ready—Chella fixing their hair, half-covering themself with a towel; MaryV wears in a white tank top, squinting while taking the shot.

“This photo is really special to me because it is the rawest form of us, it was the very beginning of this journey.”

MaryV includes herself in this photograph to show the relationship between the photographer and the subject, as two people simply in love. Her letters to Chella are the biggest part of her own involvement—they show her perspective of the process, layering the mediums of Gender Documentation.

Two photos in the series show Chella preparing for their first testosterone shot. The woman helping them prep is Chella’s own mother, who is also a doctor. So she, too, becomes a part of Gender Documentation, a project which is preoccupied with anti-loneliness, challenging the trope of the trans person who is unseen and unloved.

Once Gender Documentation feels complete, MaryV plans to have its letters and photographs displayed in a gallery, so everyone, including Chella, can see the beauty of their gender transition.

 

 
 

For updates, you can follow the story of MaryV (@maryvbenoit) and Chella (@chella.man) on Instagram.