Photographer Willeke Duijvekam has always been attracted to photographing subjects whose lives deviate from the standard norms of society. In 2006, Duijvekam met subjects Mandy and Eva, 11- and 13-year-old boys who wanted to live their lives as females.
For the next six years, Duijvekam followed both girls around, documenting all aspects of their lives, both casual and personal, with her camera. Through the project, Duijvekam wished to learn more about gender dysphoria. Her ultimate goal was to show that although the girls were experiencing a rather extreme change in their lives, they were still two “remarkably normal girls.”
Duijvekam feels her project differs from that of other documentaries about transgender people because of the time she spent working with the girls. When first starting out with the project, the photographer explained that the girls still saw her as part of the outside world, and made frequent visible efforts to “prove” their femininity. However, once comfort was gained over time, Duijvekam was able to capture more candid, genuine moments of how they were living their lives.
“I think because I followed Mandy and Eva for so long, my eyes were able to penetrate far below the surface. When you begin to photograph you see the outside first.”
For many, gender dysphoria is an entirely unknown concept. It is difficult, for some nearly impossible, to be able to empathize with someone who believes that they are meant to identify with a different gender. Generalizations form from lack of knowledge of the condition, which is why it is important for someone experiencing the transformation to share the basic process of what it means to change your gender.
Duijvekam chose to leave out from her documentary photos from more dramatic events such as one of the girl’s gender confirmation, feeling that it was a particularly emotional event for her and her family. Instead, Duijvekam’s work focuses on showing the “everyday struggle of two teenagers.” In doing so, Duijvekam creates a parallel between these girls and other teens who are not changing their gender, but may be experiencing some other kind of stressful or life-altering event, proving that although not everyone is going through the same things, everyone is almost always going through something.
“I was guided by my fascination with the perplexing split between body and mind. But also by the courage of the young people who refuse to allow society’s expectations to dictate their lives.”
Because the process is undoubtedly different for everybody undergoing a change in his or her gender, the way the occurrence is perceived varies greatly. For example, the film “Ma Vie en Rose” portrays family members and those close to Ludovic generally reacting negatively to his wish to be a female. Support is attempted, but for the most part, his desire to no longer be a boy is frowned upon. This perception conflicts that of what Mandy and Eva experienced throughout their transformation. According to Duijvekam, Mandy’s and Eva’s parents supported their children by allowing them the space they needed to find their happiness. While this may not be the case for others, their parents exemplify how simple it is to be respectful of what your loved ones want, rather than critical.
This project provides a clear and straightforward look into the lives of two boys who made the active change to make themselves happy. It exhibits the idea that although gender transformation can seem complex, it really is just another procedure certain human beings choose to undergo in order to find gratification and fulfillment in their lives.
Duijvekam also presents her photos from the documentary in a book that delves deeper into Mandy and Eva’s story: