Photo: Top surgery – 1 Week vs. 6 months


on being SEEN, not stared at: Call to South African trans communities to participate in fine art exhibition by Michael Meyersfeld #transgender #genderdiverse #gendernonconforming #photodocumentary #fineartphotography

Michael Meyersfeld

‘Germaine IX’, in series of IX, Michael Meyersfeld

on being SEEN, not stared at
A call to trans (transgender, gender non-conforming and gender-diverse) people living in South Africa to participate in photographic essay project & exhibition by award-winning South African photographer, Michael Meyersfeld

Michael Meyersfeld is an award-winning South African fine art photographer, and author of “Gaze” | Website – | Facebook – Michael Meyersfeld Photographer | Instagram – @michaelmeyersfeld

The Evolution of the Project:
Michael approached me to create portraits of me. “Panic” was an understatement. “Opportunity of a lifetime” turned out to be an understatement as well. I had never met Michael and only knew of his legendary status as a photographer. The final photographs (these are 4 from a series of 9) speak for themselves.

Michael Meyersfeld

‘Germaine I’, in series of IX, Michael Meyersfeld

Michael Meyersfeld

‘Germaine IV’, in series of IX, Michael Meyersfeld

Michael Meyersfeld

‘Germaine VIII’, in series of IX, Michael Meyersfeld

Michael Meyersfeld

‘Germaine IX’, in series of IX, Michael Meyersfeld

But I have tried to put the beyond words into words: my wildest expectations were beyond exceeded, and despite my huge anxiety, the humbling and affirming experience and resulting photographs left me with a feeling of being SEEN, NOT stared at. (I wrote a poem about this experience a few hours after the shoot, and have included it at the end).

I am a non-binary trans person who has photographically documented my own and other trans people’s journeys in order to create visibility. I am aware that this is not enough. It is my strong belief that cisgender people have the responsibility to educate other cis people in order to begin, more seriously, the process of accepting the trans communities. Because we in those communities cannot and should not have to bear the burden of creating a society that SEES us, unconditionally accepts us, not only listens to but hears us; thus opening the door wider for the basic human rights that we do not currently have access to.

I endorse this project and Michael 100%, without any reservations: his sincere respectfulness, sensitivity and awareness of his cisgender privilege were evident within the first 5 minutes of our interaction in person, and have continued to become even more evident the more I interact with him. I have thus agreed to Michael’s request to reach out to the trans communities to encourage participation in his project and exhibition. – Germaine S. Gabriel S. de Larch


Please continue reading, consider participating and please share widely.


Michael’s Inspiration Behind & Motivation for the Project & Exhibition:
CLGBTQIA+ Cisgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, and other genders and sexual orientations (+)
“(The working title of my proposed photographic essay).

“The idea was initiated by my wife Saranne’s Masters research, which explores the process of transition that parents go through when their child comes out as transgender. Her research was inspired by her own relationship with her two children who, as she puts it, “happen to be gay”. I became conscious of the thought that, within the complicated landscape of gender identity, gender expression, the fluid complexity of gender and sexual orientation, all of humankind just wants the same thing: to belong, to be loved, to be connected. And to be relevant (hence the pointed inclusion of C for Cisgender in the title, rather than A for Allies).

“So, the door has been opened by my wife, her research and my step-children. But because I am aware that I know significantly less about trans and gender issues and lived reality, I am cognisant of the sensitivities, and thus a bit nervous. So, very, very simply, I want to collaborate with people from the trans and gender-diverse communities in making a series of emotive images for a photographic exhibition that will not represent, but endeavour to encompass this complex landscape; woven together with an underlying narrative of voices speaking of belonging, love and the hope of connection.”
– Michael

How to Participate & How the Process will Work

1. Contact:
Michael directly – / 082 557 0666 (phone or SMS, not WhatsApp)

2. The Meeting:
a) Michael and Benson (Michael’s incredibly wonderful assistant) will set up a meeting with you at your home or safe space to
– get to know you as a person,
– discuss how you see yourself, and
– what you want the image of you to say about you.
b) He will then walk around your home or safe space with you and negotiate with you where he will set up the camera and lighting to get the best image of you based on the above discussion with you, but also based on his experience of the space that will make the best image.
c) He will discuss the project in more detail and answer any questions or concerns you have.
d) He will then set up a date and time convenient for you for the shoot.

3. The Shoot:
a) Will take place at your home or safe space.
b) Will not take more than two hours.
c) Based on the discussion at the meeting, but also based on how you feel the day of the shoot, you will show Michael your wardrobe options and he’ll negotiate with you based on his experience of what will work best in black and white photographs.
d) Benson will move any furniture that needs to be moved and set up the lighting, and will also put all this furniture back after the shoot.
e) Michael will go through the images with you right there and then and finalise 2–4 images that YOU are happy with.

4. The Photographs:
He will edit these finalised photographs and send them to you via email, SMS or WhatsApp and YOU will choose the final (only one) image to be used for the exhibition.

5. Important Ethical Issues to Ensure Your Safety & Comfort at All Times:
a) You will be asked to sign a Model Release Form (standard practice) and Michael will ONLY use the photograph as agreed to in the form.
b) Any other or future use of the photograph as part of this or another project/exhibition will be discussed with you and only used if you agree to the use of the photograph.
c) You are free to pull out of the project at any point, even after signing the release form.


If you are interested, please contact Michael directly – or 082 557 0666 (phone call or SMS, not WhatsApp), or please share widely.
Thank you! – Germaine and Michael


The Poem: My Response to & Feelings After Michael’s Shoot with Me

on being SEEN, not stared at –12 May 2017
My within-hours response to the portrait session with MMM (Mr Michael Meyersfeld);
2 months and 2 days after my re-birthday – top surgery anniversary; 
3 days before my 40th re-birthday

I just want you two,
my favourite Meyersfelds –
The Kindness of Strangers epitomised –
& All The World,
to know: 

  1. the relief…
    of the lifting of the burden off my chest
    of my chest being seen
    (of ME being SEEN)
    by someone other than me
    (through cupped hands that continue to less haltingly lower themselves),
    a handful of friends,
    The Medical Industry,
    The Psychiatric Industry,
    their respective Entourages

  2. the relief…
    of letting go of [my] body
    claiming it as mine,
    at the same time,
    through the process of being shot –
    which was & is part of the lifelong process
    of being me,
    me being Human,
    human Being beyond trans

  3. the relief…
    by the process to come
    (without ever arriving)
    of entering THESE images of [me]
    into the ether

  4. the relief…
    because images can be & mostly are mis-re-presentations
    of trans body
    as trans Freak,

THESE images,
THESE re-presentations are
a clear & dangerous presence,
a backlit sign
of the co-creation of a
mutually-respectful dialogue
– a present –
that will crack open
the Diatribe on Otherness &
germinate in its chasm a
Dialogue(s) of Celebrating Difference*

the em-body-ment
and dis-embody-ment
of being human being)

  1. the relief…
    in the act of letting go of &
    em-body-ing the confidence
    (formerly known as CON-fidence)
    beneath the layers of Dis-Ease;
    leaving in its wake an
    in the midst of the storm
    that is my life…

  2. this relief…
    has manifested itself already…
    I just now…
    not “just”,
    nourished my body
    for the first time in months;
    for the first time

I just now…
not “just”,
cooked for my self;
solid food,
rather than fast-breaking lunch protein shake
stretched fo(u)r hours
chains of cigarette smoke –

a solidsubstantialness
I feel,
not just take to do notes about
in therapy or on my blog;
a nourishing of my self
that substantial-ly em-body-s
a nourishing of all of my self,
all of my selves;

a nourishing of my self
emboldened & unleashed by this being seen today…

an emboldened unleashing
because the knowing that was there
I am less
no longer “just”
a violated body,
a violated by
The Gaze
trans (no)body
has been affirmed, confirmed, heard, seen

I am my body, and not

I am so much more

I am beyond/across/trans gender

I contain multitudes

I am more than the sum of my parts

I am legion

I am an onion

I am beautiful

Thank YOU, MMM,
thank you to Benson, mfwethu wami,
for enabling & holding the space;
thank you Dearest Annie (Saranne),
my sib from another crib,
for The Introductions,
on so many levels; &
thank you to my self(ves)
for being vulnerablybravelypresent;
above all,
thank you Art as Story-Teller
for Beauty: Human Connection in an Inhuman(e) World.

 – Germaine S. Gabriel S. de Larch



To the many “how are you feeling?”s: (now that I have more spoons and words)

Deer/Dear in the blinding Light and light of day. Self-portrait. Made with iPhone 6.

Feeling much love and gratitude and remembering what makes life worth living. Holding onto that.


Tara didn’t admit me. Dealing with the justifiable anger of yet another failure of the healthcare system for those with mental health issues, especially those in crisis; while at the same time coming to terms with life on life’s terms; what I can and can’t control. Surviving and warrioring.

Don’t have the spoons or words for more than this, because the answers to “how are you?” are reserved right now for my mental healthcare team, my closest loved ones, and my self.

And because that is so draining, amidst the bureaucratic and bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy battles, much of my time is, out of necessity, spent not thinking about how I am. Just being, while trying not to think too much about being, which is a battle in itself for me as a world-class practitioner of over-thinking, a world-class athlete in self-flagellation.

So thank you for the thoughts, messages, space you’ve given me, overwhelming (literally) love. But this is all I can manage.

I will be on social media for a day or two more to share a project I believe passionately and life-affirmingly in, but then I need to focus on being. A being that has shared my journey publicly enough, effected change and shifts in world views enough on that publicly visible grand scale. I’m allowing myself, with much difficulty, to let go of what of myself I owe you, and focusing, with much difficulty, on what I owe myself. 💚🌻

I don’t even know how to title this, but “I’m being psych-hospitalised again” will have to do

I go for my Tara* interview tomorrow at 9am.
(Tara H. Moross Psychiatric Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa)
My psychiatrist says I need to be admitted. It’s been 27 days since my Sandton admission for my nervous breakdown and I’ve tried FUCKING HARD to … I don’t know, live life and be ok, while being a person in huge financial trouble in the midst of an almost 6-month long mental health crisis. Her words: “Germaine, you’ve been in crisis since mid-January, on medications (benzos) meant for a period of up to 8 weeks to stabilise you, and you’re still on them because you need to be on them. And we need to get you stable enough to get off them. The help in the form of Tara is there. Take it.”
It’s so, so difficult, this whole thing. Because it’s difficult to admit to myself and others that I DO need more help. Since my psych admission in March, I’ve been asking for more help, I’ve been finding beauty in negative spaces every day, I’ve had moments of happiness and pure joy every day, because I noticed them, and held onto them in their fleeting-ness. I spent my re-birth-days month doing this, coming back from my social media hiatus to accept the love and beauty that is the HUGE support I have online.
And I came back to celebrate my birthday and heal by sharing the beauty that I find in the negative. Because it’s always there.

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(All images made my me, with the exception of Lily in the guitar case, made by 88Kilos of Sunshine, and obviously the memes are not mine).
I’ve been pushing myself to be functional, accepting work with ridiculous deadlines to feel the fear and do it anyway, and prove to myself that I can be and become functional by just doing it, this thing called life.
It’s difficult to experience, feel, know and admit that this has not been enough. It has been enough in prior years. But not now. Curveballs have a hive mind, and they’ve been coming my way at the same time from all angles – fights with medical aid to get the treatment and medication I need; fights with banks; fights with people not treating me as I would them; fights with myself not treating me as I would treat others. Fighting with the knowing that life is never wholly beautiful or wholly terrible, but a combination of both, all the time. Fighting with the knowing that it’s ok to be ok and not ok at the same time. To quote Sense8:
– “Are you ok?”
– “Sometimes.”
(And many other Sense8 quotes, especially from Sun, and to misquote her:
Not feeling and not wanting to feel, is to feel death.
Feeling the rage, love, desire and sadness, is to feel life.
I put all those emotions into my fist, and I fight
So I’ve been fighting. But I’m drowning, not waving.
So I’m letting go (trying to) of the sense that I’ve failed, and being ok with (trying to) asking for and accepting more help. I’m fighting the internalised stigma that human beings don’t need professional help to be human; the internalised stigma that a handful of pills as opposed to two pills is a failure; the internalised stigma that made me forget that I have Borderline Personality Disorder; the internalised transphobia that has me worrying that people think that this is all due to “you made a mistake and regret it”. The internalised stigma that being a complex human being means you’re confused.
All internalised stigmas and phobias that resulted in me self-caring for a version of me that doesn’t exist – a version of me that doesn’t struggle hugely with stress and life and the overwhelmingness of Beauty and Horror; a self-care that was therefore not enough. Because I am beautifully and horrifyingly complex; because I am very sensitive to the Beauty and Horror of life, in and around me. And this self-care for this self includes asking for and accepting help that is hugely frowned upon and stigmatised in this society. A society that doesn’t want to accept that being ok and not ok at the same time is not a failure; it’s being human.
So fuck the external stigma. Fuck the internalised stigma. I need help and I’m asking for it and accepting it. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Logistics: Tara is a medium- to long-term psychiatric hospital. I’ll be admitted for anything between a month and three months – an unknown timeframe that makes accepting this help more difficult. I’ll be admitted at a date to be determined, another unknown. But my psychiatrist says they’ll admit me within the week, latest next week, because of the unrelenting stress that I face and my increasing inability to function in the face of it.

And I’ve been here before. This space and this place.
I was first admitted to Tara exactly 20 years ago. My third admission was exactly 10 years ago. I am reminded of  T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets:
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Symbolism is never lost on me, because I never cease from exploration, an exploration always through the medium of beauty in all its forms. And I am determined to see this as a coming full circle where I’ll re-remember how to self-care for me, how to love me, and not the me that I’ve allowed the stigma to draw, write and photograph myself as.
Not that any of those drawings, writings and photographs were and are not me. They were and are parts of me. But I am more than the sum of my parts. And I’m letting go (trying to) of the need to make visible to others all those parts in order to be seen for all that I am, and not just a trans person, a mentally ill person, a visible trans person documenting my journey publicly to make others’ journeys less painful than mine has been, a person documenting my journey in a fearfully beautiful world to heal myself and the world at the same time, a photographer, a blogger, a … on and on.
So my month of limited return to social media is at an end. I’ve done the celebrating. I’ve done the visible it’s ok to not be ok. It’s now time to be ok to not be ok and re-remember how to help others help me to heal in private.
I do, and have been through my limited social media contact, miss you. I love you all, and not in an empty, end of a phone call to a loved one way. I SEE you all (Namaste, Sawubona). I don’t Hello you, because that means nothing. I just need to focus on SEEing me and loving me in a not empty way.
An apt way to end this off, Cat Stevens: