What does it mean to not only identify as transgender, but to document your transition for the world to see?
This is the journey of one transgender man named Leo Sheng who used Instagram to share with the public his journey to becoming his authentic, realized self. By chronicling his transition, Sheng vulnerably and bravely opened himself up to the Instagram community in an incredible display of what it means -- to Sheng -- to be transgender.
In order to better understand his decision to document his transition through Instagram, The Huffington Post chatted with Sheng, a HuffPost Teen blogger, this week.
The Huffington Post: How do you self-identify? It depends on the environment I'm in, I guess. If I'm in an LGBTQQA space, I'm probably more comfortable in referring to myself as a transman. Generally, I identity as a straight guy. From the start of my transition, it's changed a lot how I refer to myself. But right now, I'm very much owning my identity as a transgender man, as well as a young man in general. I'm comfortable with either of those terms.
Why did you decide to document your transition through Instagram? It took me a while to post anything that dated back to be before my social transition. I wasn't very comfortable with showing pictures of my childhood, mostly because I was in very feminine clothing/presented as a girl and that's not who I was. That's wasn't something I wanted to be known for or as. But, seeing other folks who were brave enough to share their journeys and through some of my own self-reflection, I decided I wanted to own up to my past. For me, I started to get that ignoring it as I had been didn't make anything better or easier. I just decided to stop acting like that time never existed. If I wanted to document my transition, I felt I had to be completely honest. It always surprised me how different I looked, how much I've changed.
When I heard about "Transformation Tuesday," I started posting comparison photos of myself as a kid and myself as I am now, and it's always really funny. Another few hashtags I've seen are "Testosterone Thursday" and "Vitamin T," which I've used a couple of times to document my physical changes since starting hormones. @kierandmoloney has been a really awesome person to follow and watch his workout progress; he's definitely a big influence on why I post the comparison pictures I mentioned above.
Why do you think it's important for the public to see authentic representations of transgender experience such as this? I want people to realize that "transitioning" can mean something very different for everyone. Max from "The L Word" was my first exposition to transmen and the concept of transitioning. Eventually, I realized that some people embark on certain paths (surgeries, hormones, name changes, etc.) and some don't. Not all transmen are like Max. There's no general image or general reference for transgender-identified folks and there's no "one way" to be who you are. Through my own identity as a transman, and one of a race other than white, I really wanted to share my own experiences to show that everyone's on a different path. It's not an easy journey and I don't think it's ever really over. It can be emotionally draining, but it can also be really rewarding.
What are you trying to accomplish through this documentation? I think, like I mentioned before, I really just want to bring awareness to a particular identity and what it may mean for some people -- again, not all. I don't represent transmen, nor do I represent transmen of color. I represent myself. My personal goal, or hope, was and is to try and remove some of the stigma and break the stereotypes of what people think transmen are like. I hoped to show people, as other people have shown me, that it's ok to be true to who you are and to own your past. But, it's also ok if you don't want to share certain parts of your journey -- it's your journey to share. I want people to know that there's a community of folks who might be like them, that they aren't alone, and that they can be happy.
Head here to visit Sheng's Instagram.