Take a Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes
For years I’ve intermittently worked on a personal photography project of homeless people. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the downtrodden and being transgender, I realize we have a lot in common which gives me a sense of solidarity. People don’t understand us. We introduce discomfort into the ideals that make people comfortable. Our existence makes people question themselves. We want visibility.
My personal journey has enabled me to radiate even more compassion toward human beings who suffer, hidden in the shadows of a society so prone to judgement.
As I sit on this street corner and watch the homeless going about their daily survival, panhandling under the streetlights, I think:
I see how they look at you.
But even more often, I see how they don’t.
Passersby look away, pretending they don’t see you. Commuters suddenly get caught up on their phones, only looking down, or inch their car forward, strategically placing themselves out of view. They avoid eye contact as if that will save them from the discomfort, annoyance, or guilt, they feel in your presence. The light turns green and another group of forward-lookers, safe and secluded behind closed windows and locked doors, pulls up, stops, and pretends not to see you.
You were just like them – had a job and a family. There was a time when you were somebody’s innocent child and I wonder what your laugh sounded like when you were deep in play. People with homes are all just one step away from being you. What’s worse than the dirt that cakes your face, the trembling in your stomach and the sour taste in your mouth that never goes away, the thought of another night on the hard concrete, as strangers watch you sleep, is perhaps the unrelenting, nagging thought that you have ceased to be anybody at all.
Drivers divert their gaze and your shadow is personification of a human being rendered invisible. You’re just an unfinished story that everyone has stopped thinking about.
That group of forward-lookers speeds off in relief at the first instance of a green light. The next group of forward-lookers pulls up, stops, and pretends not to see you. Then suddenly as if you crossed over to an alternate life, someone looks up at you, compassionately meets your eyes, and smiles. And in that moment, you exist. And maybe, even, you are somebody.
Sometimes people don’t understand our existence. Sometimes people don’t want to hear us. We challenge the status quo and untidy their tidy ideals. Capturing a moment of emotion through photography sometimes tells the best story. I don’t consider myself that different from the people I photograph. Whether someone is transgender, gay, homeless, black or white doesn’t erase the fact we all yearn to matter. We all just want to be accepted and you can see it in a person’s eyes.
Don’t look away.