“On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories” by Mark Seliger— We Are One

Seliger, Mark, photographer, “On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories”, Rizzoli, 2016.

We Are One

Amos Lassen

On Christopher Street there are limitless sexual orientations and gender identities and no end to potential. We have “transgender, transsexual, non-binary, genderqueer, femme, butch, cross-dresser, drag kings, drag queens, and many other identities that shift, adapt, and challenge our understanding of gender”. The gender binary seems to be gone with the wind. Christopher Street sits in the middle of New York City’s Greenwich Village and is considered by many as the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. When we reach the intersection of Christopher and Hudson Streets, we see that it has been renamed “Sylvia Rivera Way,” after the pioneering trans-activist who dared to challenge the police at Stonewall. New York’s annual LGBTQ pride parade ends on Christopher Street, where the revolution began at the Stonewall Inn.

Renowned photographer Mark Seliger is best known for his portraits of celebrities, musicians, and artists and he has lived in the West Village home for almost twenty years. His curiosity inspired him to shoot a handful of portraits in hopes of capturing the color, flamboyant characters, and theatre of a famous, but vanishing neighborhood and these portraits became his next book, “On Christopher Street”. Upon setting out with his camera, he found something of a street carnival— every night there were parades of people who, often, without saying a word, give a “visual discourse” about sexuality and just how widespread transgender people are today. With the new freedoms, it is as if they have been given license to leave their homes and come out of the shadows that they have had to live in for so long. Seliger brings seventy-four beautiful, black and white portraits that have never before been published. We also get their stories and we are reminded once again that, in reality, none of us are free until all of us are free. The very presence of this community emphasizes the need for safe places and spaces all of us can call home. As we see them, we think about them and realize we are all one big community and we no longer can stay silent and ignore them. We know fear and we know prejudice— we also know toleration which is just not good enough. They are redefining “what gender means to people who may be meeting even the idea of transgender for the first time in this book”. Seliger gives us “a unique slice of life in the neighborhood where the LGBT revolution started at the Stonewall Inn.” 

Ask yourself where you would you go if you just wanted to be yourself. Seliger, says in a brief statement that “he noticed the freedom of expression and gender identity” that was once everywhere in the neighborhood is disappearing from the area. Seliger wanted to capture it before it was gone and that is just what he did. His camera is his storyteller says, using his camera as storyteller.

“Christopher Street has ‘a dark side,’ with drugs, prostitution, and harassment. That means that for LGBTQ youth who comprise 40 percent of the nation’s street kids, it isn’t always safe…”

The snapshots we see may feel random but natural; some people are identified, some are not, and not all of them have something to say. Those that do relate stories that hit us hard and there maybe more to say but goes unsaid because of the difficulty to verbalize feelings and emotions.