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Xanthe Hutchinson, trans creatives up north
Mikaelo Julius GomersalPhotography by Xanthe Hutchinson

Photos celebrating the north of England’s trans and non-binary communities

Xanthe Hutchinson’s new photography series extends trans and non-binary representation to reach beyond the confines of London

Although the visibility of trans and gender-nonconforming individuals in the media is improving with the rise of independent platforms by and for queer people, current mainstream media representation is still, more often than not, London-centric or solely offered to those with social capital. To combat, over five months, photographer Xanthe Hutchinson captured the strength and resilience of transgender and non-binary individuals in the north of England. 

“Coming from the north myself, having grown up in the heart of the place, I wanted to document the trans community in situ,” says Hutchinson. “The north is, in my opinion, quite unique. I think how it is perceived and the way it truly is, are completely at odds; the common misconception is that northerners are quite archaic and inflexible in our standpoint. However, we are an inclusive community that champions diversity and change. This sense of duality felt like a great way to underpin the disparity between perception and reality in the trans community.”

Manchester is considered the queer capital of the north, it was the birthplace of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in 1964, and according to Manchester.gov, the city has the largest LGBTQ+ community outside London. “The northern trans community is so resilient and tight-knit; without people like this trailblazing, I honestly don’t know where we would be as a society,” Xanthe explains over email.

It’s, of course, not the first time a photographer has shone a light on trans communities, but, it’s rare that media outlets have shared the voices and experiences of the people captured.

“I got to meet and talk to some amazing and talented people,” says Hutchinson. “I just wanted the chance to hear what people had to say because every conversation I had was educational and opened up my eyes to things that as, a cis white woman, simply would not previously have occurred to me; the constant weight of other people’s perceptions, the incessant justification of yourself to others.”

In the midst of Pride celebrations taking place across the world, we are pleased to premiere the photo series and catch up with eight people Hutchinson photographed to discover the significant issues young queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people experience today up north.

ICEBOY VIOLET/LUCIEN, RAPPER AND PERFORMANCE ARTIST, MANCHESTER

What’s happening in your area right now that everyone should know about?

Iceboy Violet: The queer scene in Manchester is beautiful and supportive and bursting at the seams with angels. The queer music scene, in particular, is incredible and we don’t care about what queer music is ‘supposed’ to be, it’s queer because we play it. It’s queer because of the way we play it. It’s queer because we own it. Folks like Rebecca Never Becky playing garage and house, Hardcore Harry, and DJ Soyboi playing music from the hardcore continuum and beyond, and, of course, my very own family boygirl who play anything and everything, and give no fucks about imaginary boundaries of genre or gender. Manchester is brimming with talent – you all just need to pay attention.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

Iceboy Violet: I want to travel; I want to play music to people all over the world. I want to meet and work with amazing artists and create beautiful things. I want to stop giving a fuck about what other people think. I want to be able to deal with the tides of mental health. I want to live in a big house alone and make music all day and wear expensive old gowns on some Kate Bush shit or something. I want to live long enough to see the death of gender hegemony.

CHARLIE ORION HUNTER, MEMORY COORDINATOR AND PHOTOGRAPHER, MANCHESTER

What do you do and why do you do it?

Charlie Orion Hunter: I’m a memory coordinator and photographer for a small north west-based children’s charity. I’m lucky enough to be able to capture special memories for life-limited kids through photo or film, and then present them and their family with an album or film reel to cherish. I enjoy being a creative, telling individual stories through the power of images is so powerful. When I’m not doing this, you’ll find me doing freelance photography, typically at weddings!

What’s the best thing about living up north?

Charlie Orion Hunter: I have to say, the best thing about living up north is the people. When I arrived in Manchester as a student, I was greeted with a warm welcome. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the most vibrant range of people, many of whom are now friends for life. Manchester has a great sense of community, and I’ve seen people step up and come together on many occasions, and I get a real sense of pride. If you’ve ever attended a vigil during the pride celebrations or on Trans Day of Remembrance, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

What are the most significant issues young LGBTQ+ people living in the north face today?

Charlie Orion Hunter: I’ve been medically transitioning for close to a decade. So I can speak from experience as someone that’s tried and failed to access a lot of services over the years in Manchester. The biggest issue in my eyes for young trans and non-binary people living in the north is the lack of gender identity clinics. Manchester, despite having a big trans community, doesn’t have a GIC (Gender Identity Clinic). Beyond this, the capacity of specialised trans care is limited, meaning that waiting times to access services can be years for those that cannot afford to access private healthcare.

Mental health services and sex and relationship education that are specific for LGBTQ+ youth needs to be improved and more readily available. Suicide stats for the community, particularly for the trans community, are alarmingly high; we need to be able to access good quality care in good time.

XAVIER ALEXANDER, BORN IN SHEFFIELD, LIVES IN MANCHESTER

What’s the best thing about living up north?

Xavier Alexander: The reason I moved to Manchester was that I needed to place myself in a brand new environment. I’d heard that Manchester was amazing for its art and culture, so I felt that it was definitely somewhere that I could draw inspiration and motivation in terms of my creative desire and self-development. Not only that but hearing about the world-renowned Canal Street and overall general acceptance within Manchester regarding the LGBTQ+ community. I knew that out of all of my options; this would be the place where I would feel not only the safest but the most comfortable for me to grow and develop as the person I am becoming today.

What are the most significant issues young LGBTQ+ people living in the north face today?

Xavier Alexander: I believe that the two most significant issues are feelings of isolation and lack of representation.

There is support available, but it can be hard to come by. As an LGBTQ+ individual, the amount of information on the support that is readily available can be quite limited; especially for TMOC (trans males of colour) not only in the north but across the UK. The trans community needs more UK-based role models, from all walks of life, to each tell their unique and powerful story. I see too often that stories stir towards one type of audience, and where I do not fault them. Their story is not my story, nor is it the next person’s. More voices need to be heard, and more representation needs to be out there. I would love to see more faces like mine in mainstream media tackling these sorts of issues.

Even though the early days of my journey begun in the world famous Canal Street, and do not get me wrong, I have met some amazing people there, and for that, I am grateful for all the happy memories it has given me. But deeper into my transition, I’ve found that it doesn’t necessarily represent and reflect me as an individual – this sometimes triggers the awkward feeling of isolation and being in limbo. At times I feel I fit in with neither the LGBTQ+ nor the cis community, so what then?

However, it’s a positive that a community in some form exists as strongly as it does – this allows room for progression/growth within the intersections of the LGBTQ+ community in hopes of creating a more inclusive environment within the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

JESS ROSE, CREATIVE AND STUDENT, MANCHESTER

What’s the best thing about living in Manchester?

Jess Rose: Having access to such a diverse queer scene. Growing up as a trans person in Manchester was a bumpy ride. Initially, I was rejected by many; I found it hard to fit in. There was no understanding or support for anyone who was ‘queer’. It was especially isolating knowing that there were people like me who I couldn’t access. Eventually, I started going to club nights like Cha Cha Boudoir at Cruz 101, where I met many open hearts, and minds who welcomed me.

If you’re planning a trip to Manchester, make sure to check out Bollox, Body Horror and especially Creatures of Catharsis, hosted by Beau Blonde and Grace Oni Smith at Jimmy’s Bar, Northern Quarter. It’s a loving, open-minded space for LGBTQ+ to be themselves and to celebrate their differences through all kinds of performance, music, and art.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

Jess Rose: I hope to further explore the different sides of my creativity by walking at more fashion shows, creating more makeup designs, and making more music. In the future, I’d like to start organising my events and making more safe and enjoyable spaces for people like myself.

GIGI HARI, MODEL AND ARTIST, PRESTON 

What’s the best thing about living up north?

Gigi Hari: Growing up in the north of England as a trans person was quite ‘character building’ I would say; there wasn’t much knowledge of queer culture or even much knowledge beyond white British culture, in my hometown at least. Which meant I didn’t really understand what it meant to be trans, I was very expressive with my ‘femme attributes’ at a very young age, but quickly learned to repress it because it created a lot of problems at home and in school. It wasn’t until I moved to Manchester for university that I began to explore my gender identity fully and figuring all of that out, but I realised that Manchester is the queer capital of the north. I would say that whole trans self-discovery experience wouldn’t have been as smooth as it was if I didn’t move there. And I think there was quite a lot of us queer people who had similar experiences and you can really feel a sense of community and care in the queer Manchester scene.

What are the most significant issues young LGBTQ+ people living in the north face today?

Gigi Hari: One of the biggest issues young LGBTQ+IA+ people in the north face is the rise of anti-queer propaganda in smaller towns and less culturally diverse areas, that rippled from around the time of Trump’s presidency starting, which I think impacted all queer people in Western countries. Queerness and gender identity, in particular, have been a hot topic in recent years, and it’s created louder voices from both supporters and those who are currently, and wish to continue discriminating gender diverse people. A trans-exclusionary campaign even made its way into the Manchester gay village, which thankfully had a huge backlash from the queer Manchester community and allies, as an inclusivity campaign and new policies in bars were used to counteract it. I moved to London at the start of 2019 for work, so I can’t speak for the recent times, but the same thing creating difficulties is the same thing that is creating positive reactions and stronger ties between marginalised communities and their allies. Sounds cheesy, but love always trumps hate (no pun intended.) 

LAURIE WILLIAMS, CREATIVE, MANCHESTER

What do you do and why do you do it?

Laurie Williams: I was a drag queen for seven years but have recently stopped in order to give my creativity to other projects, such as the musical Eta Carina I’ve been working on with artists Karl Olsen and Clare McNulty. I guess through creativity you can express those less tangible parts of this experience, and hopefully connect with others on a deeper level.

What was it like growing up as a member of the trans and gender non-conforming community in the north?

Laurie Williams: Growing up I was very introverted, and discovering the queer community in Manchester allowed me to question the shame I had for my femininity, but to also meet loads of other individuals sharing similar experiences of their gender, and of their mental health. I guess that’s why I love it here; the connections go beyond the nightlife and the friends that I have made here have allowed me to accept my trans identity without the shame that was socialised into me around my femininity from my youth. So I guess ‘growing up’ from the 90s to the 10s in the north I was just blind to possibility.

What’s happening in your area right now that everyone should know about?

Laurie Williams: I think everyone should know about the services and information available at the LGBT Foundation – we are so lucky to have such a supportive community centre. The staff are so friendly and no matter what your needs are, they are guaranteed to be able to help or at least point you in the right direction.

ROW SEWARD, FASHION DESIGNER AND POET, MANCHESTER

What do you do and why do you do it?

Row Seward: I’m a fashion designer and ‘part-time’ poet. I use fashion as my creative outlet because I believe our image is one of the most powerful visual messages we have. A person makes a judgment based on a person’s image almost instantly, even if we aren’t aware of it. So, I want to control this and to create a discussion about the things I hold dear to my heart and experiences. Poetry is something new to me; however, it becomes a way of creating an outlet for trauma and my mental health.  

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

Row Seward: My hopes for the future is for accurate, diverse representation of the community in all aspects of life. I want better education for people, especially in schools. I feel like life could have been a lot smoother for me if I had the vocabulary to discuss how I was feeling. My hopes for my future is just to carry on creating and making the ‘things’ I never want to stop creating, whether that be fashion, art, or poetry, I want to be able to have discussions about queer struggles through my work.

MIKAELO JULIUS GOMERSAL, RECEPTIONIST AND PAINTER, LEEDS

What’s the best thing about living up north?

Mikaelo Julius Gomersal: The people. Being up north has let me meet some of the kindest and most diverse groups of people. It has events for everything and everyone. From nights like Love Muscle that foster an LGBTQ+ friendly space full of self-expression and respect, to the multiple open art shows hosted by local artists that explore gender and the experiences of those finding themselves. I have been allowed to be myself here, dress how I want, and live happily. I am a boy who ‘dresses like a girl’ but no one has ever made me feel as though I’m less of a man for that. I can wear what I want and still be seen as myself. I am comfortable here enduring this feeling which is taken for granted by many. I may not be from Leeds, but it has become my home.

What’s happening in your area right now that everyone should know about?

Mikaelo Julius Gomersal: Race Zine. It’s a magazine that started up in Leeds and encompasses the queer community that isn’t just white people. It is something that is trying to empower everyone. I would also say the support groups such as Mesmac are doing – they are a massive help to the entire LGBTQ+ community, and do a lot more than they are credited for. Lastly the Chemic Pub; it’s a safe space I have found in Leeds which is trans-friendly and, for those who may struggle in social situations – comforting.