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When I first met Tanner, I never thought I would be telling this part of his story one day. I don’t think Tanner, as a trans man, ever thought this would be part of his story, either.
I began photographing the L.G.B.T.Q. community around five years ago. I was mesmerized by the atmosphere cultivated in gay bars. I loved the celebration of gender fluidity and how some of the people saw gender norms as rough guidelines instead of inherent rules. That’s when I met David and Tanner, who both performed in drag.
I was interested in exploring stories within the transgender community and wanted to work with Tanner, but it wasn’t yet the right time.
Three years later, in August 2016, Tanner announced on Facebook that he and David were expecting a child, and that he, Tanner, would be giving birth to that child. “No this is not a joke,” he wrote. “I am still a man and I will be the best FATHER I can be for my child.”
The bravery of Tanner’s announcement really moved me, and I knew then that I wanted to tell this chapter of his story. I reached out with my congratulations — a few texts and calls. No reply. Finally, I left a three-minute voice mail as a last-ditch effort.
He texted me back right away and told me he was on board.
From the beginning Tanner, David and I had a lot of conversations about what publishing their story would mean for them. If they let me into their lives, they would be exposing themselves to the world.
I remember showing them hateful comments about an issue of National Geographic devoted to gender. I told them to expect homophobic remarks, and that people would say that their family was unnatural and that their child (whom they would soon learn was a girl and name Paetyn) would be harmed because of them.
They chose to let me document their lives anyway, in the belief that sharing their story would help to educate others.
Naturally, there were some hurdles along the way. I wanted to show how Tanner’s body was changing with the pregnancy, but it was tough for him to let me do this, especially to expose his chest in front of me when he still had breasts. And he didn’t want me to photograph him having morning sickness. Sometimes the story became too overwhelming for the couple, and we took a step back and worked through it together. It was important for me to respect their privacy.
Above all, I didn’t want this story to just be about the fact that Tanner was pregnant. I wanted audiences to see a family. I wanted to show that David, Tanner and Paetyn’s story possessed as many similarities to other families’ stories as it did differences. When I showed the photo editor Matt McCann the work, he understood my vision for it.
A few months later, the reporter Denise Grady and I headed to their home, where we spent hours talking with David and Tanner and playing with Paetyn. Like me, Denise immediately became protective, wanting to make sure the family wasn’t exploited in any way.
That was an important moment for me. I had become so close to their story that I was no longer sure others would relate to it and see their bravery. Denise did.
The morning the piece was published, I was a little tense. I was thrilled the story was out in the world, but I was also filled with questions. Would people understand it? Did we do enough to protect them? Most importantly, what would David and Tanner think?
It wasn’t until I heard from them that day that I allowed myself to really take it all in. We spoke on the phone, cried happy tears and reflected on the time we spent together.
David, Tanner and I grew throughout this process. I got to watch their relationship evolve and their love for each other deepen. I witnessed their hardships and the turmoil in their lives. I saw Tanner transform as his belly grew. I saw him and David become parents to their little girl. I watched as they joyfully celebrated her early milestones.
I hope one day Paetyn sees the story and realizes how brave her dads are and how incredible their odyssey has been.
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Source : Nytimes