Chicago, a struggling New York musician in his mid-30s, was born female but now embraces the trans label. Since he was a teenager, he has been searching for his place in a world that wants people to be strictly male or female.
As part of his gender transition, Chicago started taking testosterone injections in 2009. Around that time, photographer Raymond McCrea Jones began to document his journey.
“Chicago was really on board from the beginning because he sees this as a way to get his story out,” Jones said. “As you can imagine, growing up in Middle America in the Midwest, going to high school and struggling with your gender is not an easy thing.”
Chicago, who took his name from the city he was raised in, moved to New York about 10 years ago to pursue music. He performs as a solo artist under the moniker Princess Tiny and the Meats.
While working at The New York Times, Jones used his free time to photograph Chicago’s life on and off stage. He followed him around the city to performances, the health clinic and his Brooklyn apartment. Jones says the project forced him to challenge his own views on gender.
“There’s not always a black and white,” he said. “There’s not always a male or female. There are a lot of people out there who don’t feel like they’re either, and that’s OK. That’s what I took out of it.”
It’s hard to know how many individuals identify as transgender, a blanket term applied to people who defy conventional gender roles. Looking at various international studies, the estimates vary from one in 30,000 to one in 1,000.
Like many transgender men, Chicago binds his chest each morning to appear more masculine. He is also saving up for a mastectomy, a surgical procedure that would remove both of his breasts.
As a photojournalist, Jones was taught not to become attached to his subjects. He says he abandoned that approach long ago. He moved to Atlanta in 2011 but still keeps in touch with Chicago, who hopes his story can help people who are grappling with similar issues.
“My goal now is to develop relationships with every single person I photograph,” Jones said. “I feel like that’s what life’s all about for me. It’s getting to know these people and telling their stories.”
- Brett Roegiers, CNN