Rites of Passage: Documenting The Spectrum of Gender Expression

Photographer Mariette Pathy Allen is sharing 40 years worth of her intimate photographs exploring the spectrum of gender expression in her New York exhibition, Rites of Passage, 1978 – 2006.

Source: Museum of Sex

Few photographers have had a relationship with the trans community for as long as New York photographer Mariette Pathy Allen. For over 40 years, Allen has been, as the Museum of Sex puts it, “documenting the spectrum of gender expression.”

Over 100 of her photographs are on view in a new exhibition at the museum, Rites of Passage, 1978 – 2006, carefully selected works from thousands in the photographer’s catalogue of analogue portraits.

It’s clear that Allen has been a fixture within the community for decades, earning the trust and friendship of her subjects. There are candid shots of people and groups out, at home and participating in the activism and protests of their time.

Her photo book from 1989, Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them, collected some of her work, including drag queens getting ready for ‘80s Harlem drag balls and 90s lesbian couples. The book was innovative and significant in a time when trans individuals and communities had even less representation than they do today.

Allen, now 79 years old, told i-D:

“Life was difficult for them because people were in hiding. They were full of guilt and anxiety. Many of them felt they were the only one in the world who had those needs. They were suffering because they had to hide who they were. Crossdressers had it the hardest. If you say transgender, it was a person born in the wrong body. If it was crossdresser, it made no sense to people. They had the hardest time to justify themselves. They were treated as freaks and perverts. I felt it was my job to show them as lovable people, rather than freaks.”

Check out some of her amazing work below:

See “Mariette Pathy Allen: Rites of Passage, 1978-2006” until January 20, 2020 at the Museum of Sex, New York City.

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