Body Alchemy

Body Alchemy: Transsexual Portraits
Photographs by Loren Cameron

Review by Nancy Nangeroni

From it’s striking cover, Body Alchemy grabs you and won’t let go until you’ve delved into the mysteries revealed by beautiful photographs and succinct text presented in a tastefully artful setting. This is, quite simply, a gorgeous book, on a subject so unconventional it boggles the mind. Caught within it’s pages, held lovingly and presented honestly, without undue trappings, are the boldest of a new generation of transsexual men. These are people born into “female” bodies, who are living as men at least some of the time, and changing their bodies to suit their desires. Just as bodybuilders sculpt their bodies to fit their personal aesthetic, so too do transsexuals mold their bodies around an ideal, though for these folks the ideal is not about muscle or fitness, but rather gender.

Photographer Loren Cameron also serves as a subject for about one third of the book. He is obviously a man who works out, and his body as photographed is about as pleasing as I can imagine, for that of a man. His animal-like tattoos create an effect like that of a caged beast, virile and potent. On the cover, he is posed in what I took at first to be a “muscle man” pose, but which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a shot of him injecting himself with a syringe in the upper buttock. What at first appeared a pose, becomes instead a riveting testimony to both suffering and strength. It also establishes a level of tension that heightens the subject matter.

Loren makes a fascinating subject. In some of the shots he seems fierce, projecting determination and anger. He admits to the anger that rises so easily as a result of the testosterone injections, of more frequent fights, of the struggle to contain the beast within. He writes engagingly of his relationships and feelings, and left me wanting more. He avoids self-indulgence, instead showing the many faces of a whole, healthy person.

A short section in the middle of the books shows transsexual male genitals and chests. The images are frank and informative. If you’ve ever wondered what the genitals of a TS man might look like, there’s no better source.

The remainder of the book presents portraits of other transsexual men in their native environment, whether that’s the gym or a police cruiser or construction site. Depicted is a diverse cross-section of the men’s community, with text that varies from snippet to short essay. If there were any preconceptions or presumptions about what transsexual men must be like, this book should dispel most of those. These men come from all walks of life and inhabit all sizes and shapes, from svelte surfer boy to mountain of muscle body builder, Anglo and Latino and Afro and Asian.

A section of the book is devoted to Loren and his partner Kayt. She writes of also being FTM identified, of a relationship of two likes. We see the two of them, first gentle and loving, then fiercely competitive, then again loving, this time intimately. Finally, the book concludes with an amusing view of the two of them in bed, watching TV, underscoring our common humanity.

What I liked best about this book, aside from Loren’s engaging narratives, is it’s purity of spirit. It makes no statement of needs and demands no action of the reader. It simply presents for your exploration another world, one of diversity and love, respect for self and others. It’s message of understanding and compassion is delivered innocuously, inoffensively, shunning entreaty for respect for the reader and their ability to see what is plainly visible.

This is probably the most important book on female to maleness since Stone Butch Blues. In some ways, it parallels Mariette Pathy Allen’s Transformations of 1990, whose intimate photographs of crossdressing men and male to female transsexuals – unprecedented in honesty and comprehensiveness – helped liberate a community. Body Alchemy is of the same mettle, but comes at a time when transgenderism is out of the closet and growing in popularity. It is daring and beautifully presented, and seems destined to capture transgender hearts everywhere.

– Nancy Nangeroni 12/7/96