I BELIEVE Project: Rylie
Rylie is a sweet, bright-eyed 14-year-old girl who was selected as an I BELIVE Project recipients for 2016 because of her courage to be her true self.
I started the I BELIEVE Project in 2014 as my way of giving back to the women in my community—women who have faced a life-changing challenge (such as breast cancer) and shown how resilient they are in spirit. The ultimate goal of the Project is for each recipient to feel beautiful and feminine—something far too many women do NOT experience.
So, what is Rylie’s story? Rylie was born physically male but has always identified herself as female. At the age of 13—an age where we’re all trying to figure out who we are as individuals—she shared with her parents who she felt she truly was.
During Rylie’s session, which I shot in Wisconsin (my husband and I were in town for a family reunion), her mother couldn’t help but shed a few happy tears. She told my team she had not seen Rylie THIS happy in a very long time. That only a year ago, Rylie was considering suicide because she was depressed not being able to be the real her. It wasn’t until she had her family’s support that things started to turn for the better for her.
But I don’t want this blog post to focus on Rylie’s male-to-female transformation. Instead, I ask that you take a moment and let her confidence sink in. To be 13-14 and to know, ‘This is who I am and I want to be open with my story,’ makes her, in my opinion, one of the most confident women I’ve photographed to date.
The story I want you to focus on is that she had the courage to transform in a world that is still learning how to accept and appreciate the uniqueness of transgender individuals.
And I want to give praise to her parents, Mary and Brian, and Rylie’s younger sister, Abby, who have embraced Rylie—smiling, laughing, crying, growing right along side her. The family found support by reaching out to the Transgender Community Support and Advocacy group, Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, where they could voice their concerns, fears, hopes, dreams, and joy with other families experiencing the same. (If you are local to this chapter and wish to join the group, please email them email@example.com.)
Rylie’s extended family—the very same family I’m a member of—have welcomed Rylie with open arms. A truly lucky girl to have the support she does.
I’d like to think I’ve given this child a boost of confidence and a lesson in posing to achieve a feminine shape (which is no different than what I do with a female-born woman). I’d like to think in 10, 20, 30 years from now, she’ll pull these portraits out and be proud of who she was in 2016. I’d like to think that her story will bring strength to others who are finding out who they are.
I am honored I am able to be a prologue to the story she is writing.
You’ll find Rylie’s reveal movie at the end of this post.
A big thank you to Rachael Lubach, co-owner of City Limits Hair Studio located in Kiel, Wisconsin for gifting her talents of hair and makeup. And a huge thank you to my assistant for the day, Dana Schmidt, for securing the studio space and just in general being awesome.
OK, Rylie. Go out there and shine.
Until next time,
Shannon © Copyright 2016 Shannon Hemauer, All rights Reserved. Written For: Shannon Hemauer Photography