Imagine being a young black Christian male in high school who lacks a comprehensive understanding of their identity. You get invited to a party by one of your friends for their LGBTQ club in your high school. You tell your parents about this, and they’re not pleased with you going to this.  “Gay people will stalk you and spread rumors about you,” your stepmom says to you. Meanwhile, your dad takes you to a play at Church, where they perform a Christmas show in the style of Tyler Perry's Madea. The irony of the situation is puzzling to you because you ask yourself in this household environment whether it was a loss of an opportunity to do something fun outside of school with friends while figuring yourself out or being scared of the outcome of going to the party based on your parent's homophobia.

When I was growing up, this was one example of my own experiences in my household whenever LGBTQ people were talked about in my house in Elk Grove, CA. My parents hold homophobic beliefs, yet they lack any comprehension of the subject, relying solely on the Bible and their convictions. When I was a preteen, I thought the queer community was a big joke, and it was even funnier if someone was black and queer. I was one of the kids who used the term “gay” as an insult and threw the F slur around my siblings, who pretty much did the same thing. I remember a car ride with one of my cousins telling me,“ If you come out as gay, I'm dropping out of college and beating you up!” (don't worry, he didn't drop out or beat me up). I was also disgusted by trans men getting pregnant and trying not to associate with anything being too girly, in fear of my family worrying about me. I made myself as manly as I could be by suppressing my feelings and being in a toxic positivity mindset, but that messed up my thinking going into adulthood.

2014 was a dark year for me. I wanted to end it all.

Around this time, I initiated an exploration of queer art from films and music. I found my love for the cult classic film But I'm A Cheerleader thanks to Tumblr. I learned about drag culture from Paris Is Burning and the queercore band Pansy Division, through the Stars Kill Rock compilation CD. Unrelated to that, I developed a crush on Kieran Culkin after watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World at my local movie theater (I watched that movie three times while it was there). What peaked for me was the directorial works of John Waters, the pope of filth himself. Female Trouble, Serial Mom, and Pecker are my personal favorites from him. His entire filmography is fucking beautiful, hilarious, and appealed to what I was looking for in queer media. His main star, Divine, who appeared in Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble, was a powerful actress. I was drawn to how campy he was and how that camp was used to make him look big and bold in personality. I had never seen queer people look like that before. At that time, queer people were more of the butt of the joke in some of the media I was consuming (i.e., Ace Ventura, if you know, you know). 

Over time, that just made me realize how my homophobia and transphobia were connected, because of what I was seeing around me. Some of the queer media that I did experience made me unconformable (especially those John Waters films) because even though I was progressive in my thinking, I still saw the LGBTQ community as something I had to live with begrudgingly. It was something that I wasn't allowed to bring up because of my ignorance, so it was something that I witnessed but didn’t participate in the conversation about that community. That thought made me want to drop my internal phobia, educate myself, and be around this community of people more. All through my years after college and starting to be out more photographing concerts, it made me think. About my sexuality, about seeing gender as a social construct, and learning more about the history of queer people and the issues they have to deal with (which are the same struggles as straight people). I’m still thankful for being around wonderful, talented, and loving people early in photographing the music scene within Sacramento and the Bay Area. It made me realize how something like this was missing from my life. I just wondered how it could be a part of me.

Me and John Waters

It would be an understatement of how much 2020 sucked. More importantly, working through a pandemic at a grocery store just really sucked, and dealing with this feeling of lonesomeness in my heart away from people that I admired. My day-to-day routine consists of waking up, going to work, being depressed while working, going home, playing video games (while drinking on most days), going to bed, waking up, and repeating that cycle. It felt like there wasn’t any end in sight, and seeing people care less and more enraged made me not confident in our society. I started to question myself as a hard worker, my government, the friendships that I made while photographing live music, my past, my future, and, of course, my sexuality. Up until that point, I got to meet, see, and talk to people who identified differently from their birth gender with different views on sex, sexuality, and gender roles. Some of those people I felt comfortable around, and how I yearn for the days of seeing lovely queer folks in one place before the pandemic. 

During that time, I just became more and more detached from my “male” self, being sick of my body hair and the feeling of throwing up when someone calls me “sir” or “young man.”  I was dissociating my own life to feel like the women I see every day (in real life and online), but I wasn’t ready to face that reality just yet. When I came out as pansexual in July 2021, it was exciting to discover this part of me and express my more feminine side whenever I photographed concerts (i.e., wigs and painted nails). I didn’t present more fem outside of concerts because I just had this fear over my head that I wasn’t allowed to do this and other people's opinions, including my parents. I just knew I had something inside me that was dying to get out, and it was telling me that “I was getting closer.” So I spoke to my therapist one day about what was going on and was told that I had gender dysphoria (big surprise!) and getting hit with that heart-draining feeling admitting that I was transgender. Hearing that made everything click for me, and for someone to see me as myself felt perfect. So I was left with two options in my mind: either this was something I could just wait out until it went away, or I could take the leap to get on HRT to achieve some sort of grasp on femininity.

My first day on HRT. You could tell how excited I am.

March 9, 2022, was my first day on HRT, and the overall experience in one year has been a whirlwind of emotions (stories for another time); it is exhilarating to see myself in a new light. Seeing all the changes within me and outside, yet still feeling like the same person. My goal, as I’m writing this, for the future in transitioning isn’t to become a woman but to become more comfortable in my body. Along this journey, I have given up on the idea of going from one gender checkmark to another. As long as I exist in this world, I want to express myself as much as possible without being boxed in by society.

When I looked back on my younger male self, being this queer and trans person made sense to me. I saw the person I wanted to become in the art that I created when I was in college and lived in the moment of bliss of being the opposite gender. I think about my life and how much pressure my family and society put on me. How I didn’t feel normal and broken compared to everyone else who seemed like they had it together. I just wanted to express myself in my own way, without the norms of society telling me what I needed to be happy. Gender dysphoria and people misgendering me still happen, I'm still single, and my self-doubts of not being queer enough are still there. All this behind me while as a black person living in a white heterosexual world that favors those in power and leaves marginalized groups to rot in America. Every day feels like a fight, but seeing myself in so many LGBTQ folks is what gives me the life to keep going forward in life.  

Cam, Cameren, and Molly (2013)

Despite everything
I’m happy being in this ever-changing body,
I’m happy being Cam Ann Evans.

The young black Christian male is gone, and only a beautiful black trans photographer exists.

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