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Trans Masculine People Share What it Means to be an American Boy

In the Salty spirit of passing the mic, we're hearing directly from people of trans masculine experiences what is means to be an American Boy.

Introduction written by Claire Fitzsimmons

Photos by Soraya Zaman

What does is mean to be an American Boy?

This question served as the driving force behind Soraya Zaman’s “American Boy,” a portrait series celebrating transmasculine people from big cities and small towns across the USA.

“It is important for trans and non binary people to see themselves represented in mainstream media in a way that doesn’t feel tokenistic,” says Zaman. “The world perversely only recognizes two genders, so it’s also important that these rigid binary ideologies are broken down. If we can all grasp the concept that gender is a social construct, especially cis people (straight or otherwise) and put into practice an acceptance and understanding of more fluid identities and expressions within everyday life, we can help create a more inclusive and accepting world that is free from toxic displays of gender and patriarchy.”

The beauty of “American Boy” lies in its commitment to sharing real people’s images and perspective, honoring their stories, and validating and centering everyone in an affirmative way. These portraits give a glimpse into each person’s life at a specific moment in time — their personality, honesty, humor, beauty, vulnerability, and strength.

In the Salty spirit of passing the mic, we’re hearing directly from people of trans masculine experiences what it means to be an American Boy.

Aohdàn by Soraya Zaman.

Aohdàn: America only recognizes English and Saxon definitions of boys. Imagine a world where people thought about the 567 original and different definitions that were here before Saxon/English of what it means to be men/boys to people whose men decorated their war shirts with quilled flowers and wore their hair long……. because from flowers comes war paint, and long hair was about connecting to everything around you.

Justin by Soraya Zaman.

Justin: When I first hear the term American boy, I don’t think of my self. I think of white cis straight men, but I am just as deserving of this title as they are. I want to be proud of my country and I want to be proud of my gender. However, the history of both is scarred with violence and oppression towards others. I am a part of the narrative that will change this. What it means to be an American is changing. What it means to be a boy is changing. You are looking at the new definition of an American boy.

You are looking at the new definition of an American boy.

Sam by Soraya Zaman.

Sam: I think it’s incredibly difficult to think about what it means to be an “American boy” because in theory, it’s what I’ve been striving for my entire life. But there’s a lot of complexity and ambiguity in what defines an “American boy,” with where we position ourselves on definitions and notions of masculinity, femininity, mannerisms, presentations, sensitivity, and even our favorite colors of blue vs. pink. But in simplest ways to me, I think to be an “American boy” means to be rooted in believing, accepting, loving, caring, and nurturing my self-identity and knowing to do unto others the same, so that as a community full of various complex identities, we can learn to grow and thrive together.

Teddy by Soraya Zaman.

Teddy: When I hear the phrase “American Boy,” I always initially think of that song “America’s Boy” by Broadcast. The song critiques and plays on the same hyperbolic Imperialist American masculinity that I think Soraya is pushing against by naming this project “American Boys.” If I had to choose I’m probably closer to the “American Boy” by Estelle side of the spectrum – pretty much just because I like to dance around to it sometimes. American masculinity is riddled with paradox and impossibility. Despite being literally an American and boy(-ish), outside of the context of this project I’ve never identified as an American Boy. In part because the mythology is kind of repulsive to me and part because good old “American Boys” don’t allow me to identify as such (especially in the context of the contemporary American political regime).

American masculinity is riddled with paradox and impossibility.

Chella by Soraya Zaman.

Chella: An “American Boy” can be absolutely anyone with any characteristics. If that individual connects to and claims the word “boy,” their identity is valid. Respect this. It costs nothing, and it is all we ask.

An “American Boy” can be absolutely anyone with any characteristics. If that individual connects to and claims the word “boy,” their identity is valid. Respect this. It costs nothing, and it is all we ask.

Lazarus by Soraya Zaman.

Lazarus: When I was a kid and any group was divided by the illusion of two genders, I panicked. Eventually folks let me go with the boys, my mother was quick to say the sing-song “boy toy” at fast food windows, and my clothes all came from the less frilly section of children’s clothing stores. Still, the word never fit quite right. As a Black American, I am constantly aware of being the descendant of stolen bodies on stolen land, and know that there are people that don’t want me here – one way I’ve seen that is seeing the Black men in my life called “boy” in attempts to take away their power. I think most people hear “American Boy” and picture the white, cornfed, cold, cisgender heterosexual boys I clasped hands with in Midwestern church basements. I slip in the gaps and holes of both words, and gladly shake the foundations of what we think these categories are. As queer ancestor Walt Whitman says, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Steve by Soraya Zaman.

Steve: An American Boy to me is an individual who is courageous and not afraid to express themselves. Trans or not, gender to me is how one expresses themselves. I feel as in today’s society, most people would say an American Boy is usually cis, hard working, born male, and waves an American flag on their front porch because they’re proud of their country. To me, the narrow mindedness of some individuals is appalling. It’s like they refuse to see things besides from how they want to see them or how they were taught to see them. Whether one was born male at birth or not, if they identify as male, they are male. No question about it. Or if they’re gender fluid, non-binary, female, whatever it is they may identify as, they are all valid.

I feel as in today’s society, most people would say an American Boy is usually cis, hard working, born male, and waves an American flag on their front porch because they’re proud of their country.

Emmett by Soraya Zaman.

Emmett: Me. I am an American Boy. I’m just a guy who likes walking around in his house shirtless, enjoys singing in the shower, and eats chicken nuggets for dinner. Oh and I’m missing a Y chromosome. Still a dude though.


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About the Photographer: With a camera as their singular companion, Zaman traveled to Cairo, Mongolia, Syria and beyond. Upon realizing their lens could help them find the power in their own complex identity, the Australian-born creative moved to New York and began working for various brands as a fashion photographer.

Four years ago, Zaman decided to dig a little deeper and investigate something highly personal to them: gender expression and the experience of being trans/non-binary. “There was shared commonality in a lot of the stories that I would hear about trans* people growing up, and there was also a lack of transmasculine representation in media,” they say now.

The self-funded project “American Boys” — which brought Zaman to 21 different cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Hollywood, and Seattle was recently released as a book.

Zaman showcases a range of transmasculine experiences, and penned personal reflections on their experiences, which ultimately puts humanity and tenderness front and center. It was also important to Zaman to highlight and support people who didn’t necessarily live in cities like New York or Los Angeles, or other cities considered “queer hubs.”

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