My own place

Transgender people talk about their safe space

Photography: Jip Merijn Meertens

I’m walking down the street and I look at the people I see. I’m torn between curiosity and anxiety. To transgender people, the outside world can feel like a jungle full of uncertainties. Sometimes I experience this strongly. As if I don’t really belong. I don’t identify with the distinction between ‘men’ and ‘women’ and the social norms that are linked to those classifications. Fortunately, I know where my safe space is – where I can find security and be myself.
Conversations with other trans people inspired me to make a photo series about their own safe space.

Park

Sammie (26): ‘When I’m restless or stressed, or have problems I don’t want to think of for a little while; I take a walk from my house through the park and the inner city.

The sunset, the illuminated historical buildings and the half deserted park catch my attention. By focusing on this, I can set my problems aside and unwind.’

Safe spaces - a walk through the park

Mirror

Rachel (34): ‘I can get really stuck in my head and think a lot about my gender identity. Every day, I take the time to observe myself in the mirror.

When I do this, I notice that the doubts about my gender disappear. I take a couple of deep breaths and with every breath the world outside of my gaze falls further away.

I see myself then; make contact with myself. I focus on my eyes, as they reveal the truth. What another sees in me is gone. What I think of myself is gone. What remains: that’s who I am.’

Safe space - mirror. when I see myself I make contact with myself

My chair

Max (31): ‘In my little corner, I disappear in the wonderful world of a good book and like to cuddle with my cats. They aren’t concerned about my looks, as long as I want to cuddle them. It’s a place where I am free to be myself, without having to concern myself with the effect it has on those around me.

Safe space - Reading in my favorite chair

It’s a place where I really come home. Since living here, I’ve developed so much love for myself that I only now realise what coming home means. I arrive now in a space that represents all aspects of my being and empowers who I am and will become. A place where I feel completely safe, familiar and free.’

With the balance ball

Jasse (29):‘Searching for balance. Stability. That is a recurring theme in my life.

Safe space - with my balance ball

As a twenty-nine year old with an innate bone growth disorder, chronic joint pain, autism and (gender) dysphoria I struggle with the image of myself; I have to balance life in my own unique way. In my quest for stability, I organise my rest and activities.

When things are hard for a moment, I change plans. Practicing that flexibility is hard with my autism. I’m idealistic and a perfectionist; I want to contribute something meaningful to society. Often what I want isn’t consistent of what I want or am capable of. I’m confronted with my body and my boundaries time and again.

Despite that wobbly balance I persist, looking for joy and connectedness. I’ve found my passion in dance. When I dance, I spin around and balance one leg in front of the other. I take steps. Happy and free. Man or woman, my limitations don’t matter for a moment. I am me.’

Beside the seaside

Jans (37):‘At home I never felt at home. Maybe because I felt estranged from my body. I like to be outside: at the bank of a river, or on the beach. Moving water has something calming about it, but also something unknowable. Nobody knows where water comes from. It’s not unthinkable that it came to earth through meteorites that smashed into the earth. So inexplicably strange, but still so perfectly normal.’

Safe space - by the sea

Upside-down

Jip (61):‘Being in movement is essential to me. When things are looking down, I prefer to crawl under my blankets. That’s my pitfall: if I don’t move, my blanket becomes like an engine that rusts up when it doesn’t turn for a long time. So I like to exercise regularly: outside, at the gym, or at home on my yoga mat.

Safe space - on my head

As a kid I’d come home after school, throw my bag and jacket in a corner and stand on my head or on my hands with my feet against the wall. Just as long until all the stress of the day had seeped away. These past few years I have pulled that habit out again and polished it up. I regularly stand upside-down and observe the world from another perspective. It’s very cathartic when investigating other, new perspectives.’

By the willows

Ash (24): ‘In my favourite place, grand old willows are growing along the path. Every time I visit, these willows stand out and I take my time to regard them. The beautiful thing about these trees is the way they grow. Some are almost horizontal and seem to be falling in the water; yet they keep growing despite the poor location they started from. I always relate this idea to myself. Whatever happens, wherever I am in my life and however hard my ‘growing conditions’ are, I will keep on growing and don’t give up hope.’

safe space - along the willows