In a landscape starved for unsensationalized images of trans folks, we've long been fans of Sawyer Devuyst's self-portrait project, Mine. Mine was created as a foil to the types of photo projects we generally see of transpeople - images that mostly focus on transition, or the victimization of transpeople. Sawyer's 3.5 years (and running) collection of daily self-portraits give the viewer a glimpse into the real, lived-in experiences of one trans person. His images run from joyous, to pensive, to wonderfully and refreshingly mundane. We caught up with Sawyer in his New York home - to do a shoot featuring our Jockmail packing underwear and talk about his ground-breaking project.
TELL US ABOUT THE BEGINNING OF MINE... WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO EMBARK ON THIS JOURNEY OF FINE ART SELF-PORTRAITURE?
As an actor, I saw that there were no accurate representations of how I felt in the media. The closest I’d gotten was in the web series Her Story, but even then, there were no transmasculine people. Around that same time, I had a fortuitous hangout with the actor Denis O’Hare in New Orleans, who stressed the importance of making your own work. I also watched a speech given by Jill Soloway, where she also stressed the importance of making my your own work. The one thing I could do at that time, with what I had, was photograph myself. And that was the start of Mine.
WHAT'S ONE THING YOU'VE TAKEN AWAY FROM YOUR WORK ON THIS PROJECT?
I’ve learned the value of staying true to yourself and true to your art. It’s so easy to be distracted, in good and bad ways.
HAS IT BEEN CHALLENGING AT ALL? EMOTIONALLY? PHYSICALLY?
Yes, it has been a challenge, both emotionally and physically. I didn’t look at myself naked until I was 22-years old. I was terrified of my body, what it looked like, what it felt like. I was told that I could never be a model because I, “didn’t have the body for it.” So now, seeing photographs of myself constantly, it’s a complete 360, and it’s taken a lot of work to get to where I am. Some days, I’m feeling really dysphoric about certain parts of my body, some days I just feel fluffy, some days I feel great and my mind and body are aligned. And photographing that daily journey is often an uncomfortable bit.
ARE THERE ANY MOMENTS THAT YOU ARE PARTICULARLY PROUD OF?
Everyone on this planet is a soul inside an intricate blob of muscle and bone and skin. Vehicles we use to get from point A to point B, to experience life in. Everyone’s experiences on this planet are different because we’re taught how to treat people based on their body. Based on their perceived gender, on how skinny or fat they are, on their skin color. It’s so important to acknowledge that, because no matter how much I say, “I’m more than my body!” there’s still going to be CoolGuy123 commenting on the size of a woman, cops murdering innocent black people going about their daily lives and getting away with it, the host of a morning radio show saying he’d kill a woman if he found out she was trans after sleeping with her, the President of the United States mocking a differently abled reporter on live TV.*
I’m proud that even through those uncomfortable bits, I still choose to share my journey, because I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. And feeling less alone in it has always made me feel better.
WHAT'S BEEN THE GENERAL RESPONSE TO THE PROJECT?
I’ve only heard positive responses! That they love seeing a reflection of themselves, that seeing an older trans guy thriving gives them hope for their own future, etc. I think my favorite was the parent of a young trans boy, saying that seeing my Instagram made her hopeful for her son, that he would be able to lead a happy and normal life. That meant a lot to me.
I SAW THAT THE PROJECT HAS MADE IT TO PRINT! TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT. HOW DID YOU MAKE THE SELECTIONS?
It’s hard! There are so many photographs at this point. I kind of go off intuition and what I’m feeling in that moment. I know which photos people resonate with, and I mix those with the everyday, unremarkable photos, so there’s a true vision of a day-to-day life of a transguy.
You can catch Sawyer at his upcoming exhibition at Phluid Project, at 894 Broadway in NYC, from June 2-10. There will be an opening reception on the 2nd, with a performance by Sawyer. He will have magazines for sale and there will be about 50 images on view.
You can also catch Sawyer on his website www.sawyerdevuyst.com which also contains much of his other modeling work.
Also, check out the TV show he's been working on- @poseonfx. It’s Ryan Murphys new show about the 1980’s ballroom scene and the Trump Era. There’s a record-breaking number of trans and GNC folks of color in the cast and in the crew. Sawyer has been working in the wardrobe department. It premieres June 3 on FX. Don’t miss it!
* Excerpt from Sawyer's August 2017 Interview with Milk.