Asher Kolieboi, being black, trans, and living in rural Ohio, is not what you usually think of when you think of the LGBT movement. Many will conjure images of gay urban enclaves in New York City, San Francisco, Austin, and the like; mostly white faces; mostly male. This is the exact kind of thing that Kolieboi is trying to combat with his audio/visual documentary photo project (Un)heard: Transmasculine People of Color Speak.
In this series Kolieboi seeks to empower transmaculine people of color to speak for themselves and document their histories. While the trans community has come a long way there are still substantial gains to be made in terms of visibility and awareness of the full spectrum of the trans community.
Kolieboi believes that one of these under-represented populations is transmasculine people of color. Transfeminine folk of color have been featured in reality programs like America's Next Top Model, I Want to Work for Diddy, and Rupaul's Drag Race (It should be noted that the drag queens who appear on Drag Race are not transgender, but are gender transgressive in the performance of drag), whereas transmasculine folk of color have yet to make similar marks in the media and general consciousness.
The closest thing to a media attention around a transmasculine person of color was "Pregnant Man" Thomas Beatie, who in 2008 generated a media storm around the disclosure that he would bring a baby to term while simultaneously living as and legally recognized as a man. Since then transmasculine folk have steadily received more and more coverage and visibility, most recently with Chaz Bono's TV special, Becoming Chaz, which premiered earlier this year and documented the experience of the child of legendary music and film star Cher, as he transitioned from Chastity to Chaz.
(Un)heard is one more step towards greater visibility and true representation for the transmasculine community of color. Kolieboi seeks to not simply produce images of transmasculine folk, but to truly engage and examine transmasc individuals as full people, not merely as bodies.
Kolieboi cites a desire to disrupt the "body centric" understanding of the trans experience, alluding to a more holistic approach to the examination of being trans. As an artist with a background in Women's and Gender Studies, Kolieboi is careful to approach his work mindful of transmisogyny (the phenomenon where transfeminine people's gender identity is deemed affected or unauthentic because of wider societal distaste for all presentations of femininity) and the challenging experience of gaining privilege which a transition into masculinity affords.
(Photos courtesy of Asher Kolieboi)