Shape shifting has been part of the lives of human beings since known history and is a common theme in mythology and folklore. It continues in the form of science fiction and fantasy, and can be found in every medium. Changing physical appearance is magic! For people who are gender non-conforming, the magic of shape shifting varies in importance from the sexy pleasure of changing clothes to play a different character, to the profound need for body and soul to present as one.

This photo essay offers a variety of interpretations of gender identity and expression. The images show people at a particular time in their lives. I could have photographed the same person at a different time, and might have taken a picture in which that person’s appearance was unrecognizably different. Unlike most of us who are permanently attached to the gender of our birth, transgender people are fluid, whether they transform themselves a few times a year for a special occasion, or permanently change their external shape to match the person who lives inside.

In creating this essay, my intention is to offer portraits of people who are part of the ongoing history of the world as well as beacons of the future. I believe that as we evolve, we will gradually let go of the concept that we must fit into a category representing either female or male. Instead of that, we will see ourselves as part of a continuum of identities and self-expression. We might even experience the feeling of liberation that can come from gender fluidity. Rather than interpreting change as confusion, we could see it as the catalyst for our ongoing search for the essence of a human being.

–Mariette Pathy Allen

Mariette Pathy Allen

Mariette Pathy Allen lives in New York City. She has a MFA in painting from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1988 Mariette won a New York State Council on the Arts grant, and in 1989, Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them, was published by E.P. Dutton. Her second book, The Gender Frontier, published by Kehrer, won a 2004 Lambda Literary Award. Ms. Allen was a consultant and still photographer on five films, Southern Comfort won the 2001 Sundance documentary award.
    Her photographs have been included in a number of national and international exhibitions and are part of the permanent collections of the Corcoran Gallery, the George Eastman House, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, among others.