Christopher Street , New York - striking images of transgender life

Christopher Street , New York – striking images of transgender life

Tiq Milan is an award-winning writer, trans rights advocate and media consultant who lives between New York and Toronto. He recently delivered a TED talk with his wife on defining love and marriage which you can see here.

In “On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories,” published by Rizzoli, award-winning photographer Mark Seliger presents a series of portraits he took in the neighborhood.

Christopher Street is legendary. With a storied — and sometimes sordid — history, those few blocks between Seventh Avenue and the Christopher Street Pier are synonymous with old gay New York.

A short stretch in New York’s West Village, this was typically the first stop for gay transplants and the newly out; the runaways and the abandoned. The intersection at Hudson Street, renamed Sylvia Rivera Way after the famed transgender civil rights activist in 2005, is the heart of Christopher Street and the birthplace of the modern LGBT rights movement.

During my 14 years in New York City, I’ve created many memories on Christopher Street. It was the backdrop in the classic queer documentaries “Paris is Burning” and “The Aggressives,” both of which I’d watch obsessively, enamored with the narratives of queers of color, and knowing that these few blocks, although sometimes seedy, would offer me community and safety.

Finding freedom

By day, Christopher Street was a road of self-determination where a plethora of queer experiences and a spectrum of gender expressions could coexist, bound together by the common threads of identity, rejection, and reclamation.

“Unbothered” was a term I heard retorted after baseless criticisms and transphobic microaggressions. The trans girls were “unbothered” by the snickers and long stares of curious tourists and new, nervous neighbors slowly gentrifying the area.

On Christopher Street, they “paid it no mind” and “paid it dust,” crafting new language that reflected the crux of so many lives: resistance.

But at night, it held secrets. Some transwomen engaged in sex work to survive; homeless gay teens, left in the cold by the families who were meant to protect them, mixed with happy hour patrons at late night bar crawls.

When I arrived, it was mostly sex shops, bars and pizza joints lining the blocks. The first safe space I found was Chi Chiz, the last black gay bar New York, which closed in 2010. As bars shuttered across the Village amidst widespread gentrification, Chi Chiz became the base for many black and Latino queer New Yorkers.

This place was more than just a watering holes to catch a buzz. Gay bars in New York were where family was formed. After a long day of playing don’t-ask-don’t-tell, folks could put the limp back in their wrist without fear at the daily two-for-one happy hour.

These dark, smoky bars offered refuge for all of us who had to code switch at work or at home to avoid being berated or ridiculed. This is where you came to be yourself and find folks like you.

While Chelsea was rife with boutiques and over-priced gyms, on Christopher Street, it wasn’t rare to see bus drivers, corrections officers and UPS workers still in uniform, belly up at a bar, being free, gay and safe.

Brilliance and beauty

The Stonewall Inn on the east side of Seventh Avenue, the infamous site of the 1969 LGBT liberation riots, may be the monument, but Christopher Street is the movement.

It’s the space that the community has defiantly claimed as our piece of the city we love. The nightlife will always give you a glimpse of the underbelly, and the consequences after the party’s over have never been for the faint of heart. Yet, it is ours.

This is where we exist, love and live on our terms. This is where the masks come off.

“On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories” by award-winning photographer Mark Seliger, published by Rizzoli, is out now.

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Exotic revelations from explorers' secret sketchbooks

Exotic revelations from explorers’ secret sketchbooks

Written by Huw Lewis-JonesKari Herbert

Huw Lewis-Jones is a historian of exploration and photography. Kari Herbert is a travel writer and photojournalist. This is an edited excerpt. from their book “Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery & Adventure,” published by Thames & Hudson.

What really makes an “explorer?” You might conjure a mental image of a figure dressed in tweed or khaki, telescope under one arm, chart or rifle in another; and you’d be close to the truth for a typical kind of Victorian traveler in Africa.

But appearances, of course, are as varied as motives. Most nonetheless were driven to make contributions to knowledge.

That was usually the first justification, but it is well to be wary of this word “exploration.” James Cook spoke of making “voyages of discovery,” John Hanning Speke aimed for “geographical discoveries,” others talked of “journeys,” “travels,” even mere “wanderings.”

As men of science came to the fore, new species were valued as much as new territories. Yet, the more that was discovered it seemed the less we came to know.

The true nature of discovery

For those at home, filling in the blank spaces of foreign lands was true exploring, but foreign to whom? And what place in this narrative for those local guides and porters who made such discoveries possible?

What of those people who knew these lands before the Westerners came with their over-stuffed expeditions, and who had, in many cases, seen most of these wonders before?

Their histories are mostly lost to time. They left few records, scarce trace.

But by taking as inclusive a definition of exploration as possible we can broaden this story, at least a little. We can meet all manner of pioneers and travelers, but also artists, adventurers, missionaries, surveyors, scholars, geographers, whalers, mariners, geologists, biologists, fossil-hunters and engineers, diplomats and mercenaries, administrators and colonists, entrepreneurs and photographers, through to some modern-day travel writers.

All have captured something of their first sight of a land in a memorable or meaningful way — immediate and unmediated.

What unites everyone in this book is that they all, at some stage in their varied lives, took a risk; they chose to defy the conventional, to brave a difficult voyage, to leave the comforts of home and explore.

They all let the promise of the unimaginable lead them over the horizon and they were willing to embrace the unknown. And they all set down a record of what they’d seen for others following after them.

Layers of meaning

By opening the notebooks of others, we are able to join them on significant historic journeys. Notebooks clearly matter. They are invested with intricate practical and personal value, and many layers of meaning.

Yet we need not think too hard. In this simple celebration of travel told though special journals, we can also enjoy the pictures. Here is art for its own sake, images that speak of the thrill and the boredom of the field, and the joys and frustrations that are encountered.

There must always be room for the old-fashioned habit of writing on paper.

Next time you go on a journey, pack a little notebook in your rucksack alongside all that electronic gear, or better still, leave all that stuff at home.

Fill the pages of your notebooks with adventure and experience. Follow your curiosity. Just make sure you come home to share your story.

“Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery & Adventure” by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert, published by Thames & Hudson, is out now.

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