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Montreal Musician Lucas Charlie Rose Explains the Politics of Appearing in Trans Photo Series

"Listening to trans people is the number one thing you can do to make sure you're not exploiting them."

Lucas Charlie Rose is a Montreal-based recording artist and a trans-rights advocate.

His new song, "This is What Trans Looks Like," successfully crowdfunded the production of an upcoming video Rose hopes will help dispel some of the myths surrounding trans people.

Some of Rose's own transition was documented by photographer Yannick Fornacciari in his latest series, Exposed.

VICE chatted with him about his participation in the project.


VICE: How did you get involved in this?
Lucas Charlie Rose: I was interested because I think bringing visibility to the trans community is always something I want to be a part of. It's something that's lacking right now and so when someone says they want to bring visibility to trans people, I say yes.

How did it unfold?
Yannick came over one day to take pictures of me in my house. We did two shoots, I think they were three or four months apart. The whole time it was Yannick taking pictures of me while we spoke about trans issues, while he learned more about it. In the months between the photoshoots, my appearance kind of changed, and you can see it, he captured it perfectly.

Yannick says he learned so much from this photo series. How was it like, to work with him?
I do a lot of shoots with different people, especially now because trans issues are trending because of Caitlyn Jenner. A lot of photographers have come to me and asked to take pictures of me. But most of them, I don't feel comfortable with because they don't really listen, they just talk over me. I remember what was different about Yannick is that he was actually listening to me and learning. It's refreshing to [take pictures] with someone that's listening and that doesn't just take advantage of us because we're so used to that happening.

What do you want people to take away from these photos?
I think that people should just look at how diverse everybody in the pictures are, that we don't all look like Caitlyn Jenner, we don't all fit one narrative. It's like being a trans person—there's so many ways to be a trans person, there's so many different experiences to have and we're really not all the same. And even though we have points in common and experiences in common, everybody is different, and in the end, we're kind of like everybody else, just facing different challenges.


You say some photographers seem to want to exploit trans people because it's "trendy" right now. What do you think people need to do to give visibility to trans people without being exploitative?
I think that first of all, listening to trans people is the number one thing you can do to make sure you're not exploiting them. For example, the movie Stonewall, or other movies that are coming out soon about trans issues, there's not a single trans person involved. If you are talking about trans issues but trans people still don't have jobs, and you're still not listening to us or you don't allow us to call you out when you say something inappropriate…

The main difference between people who want to exploit trans people, and people who don't is that people who want to exploit, if you tell them what they're doing isn't right, or that what they said is offensive, they'll get defensive right away. They'll start being like, "Oh, well, you need my help because I'm an ally." That's how most people react and that's how you know they're really just looking to get a good reputation amongst their friends or online or make money off us.

I'm a music producer and recording artist. But in my community—I'm a trans man of color—I can count the trans men of color who make music on the fingers of my hands. There's really not a lot of us. So people exploit us all the time because there's not a lot of us, People hire us to bring some trans representation to their events or to their photoshoots. But at the end, either we don't get paid or we don't get any exposure from it or we don't benefit from it whatsoever. Basically, it's just people talking over us and using our face as a token.


Yannick says he learned a lot about the challenges trans people face. What are the issues that don't get talked about enough?
I think people talk a lot about the challenges that trans people face, the violence, discrimination in the workplace. But I think when people talk about that they don't understand what that actually means. They don't understand how much energy it takes to be openly trans nowadays and why a lot of people are not openly trans. When people talk about the challenges of the trans community, they tend to use statistics, and they tend to use numbers. But number and stats, when it comes to trans people, are hard to trust because a lot of people are not openly trans. The numbers are usually a lot higher.

I think people are trying really hard to understand what it's like to be trans, but the way you can truly help trans people is to realize that you cannot understand what being trans is like unless you actually are a trans. Which is not a bad thing. You know, a white person will never understand what it's like being a black person or a man will not understand what it's like to be a woman. You can't understand and it's OK. But if you think you understand, that's when you start talking over trans people. If you admit that you will never understand, that's when you start letting trans people talk for themselves.

We talk about the struggle of trans people, but it's not the right people talking about it.


For these pictures, you let Yannick into some very private moments. How did it feel to lay all that bare?
Personally, I'm really open about anything trans-issue related online, in my music, and in my work in general. It wasn't the first time that I was open and intimate with a photographer. I feel like it's something that I have to do in order to make people relate to me. I feel when people hear trans people they are like, oh I can't relate, because that's an experience that I don't have.

But if you see pictures like that that are so intimate, that are so close, you can capture the emotions in our faces, you can actually relate to what we're going through on a daily basis. We have emotions like every human being out there. As a trans person, when you talk about yourself, if always feels that you're opening up a lot more than most people. Because people are expecting you to talk about your body, things that are really personal and really intimate. That's also something I really liked about the project. It brought that intimacy without violating anything.

The pictures, when you're looking at them, you're not intruding on anything. It's a moment that people decided to share. Usually when I see trans photoshoots, I actually feel like I should not be looking at it, because next to the photo you have a big talk about the person's body, their genitals, and you're like 'Oh, I don't know you like that.'

That's what's great about this photoshoot is that he was really respectful and he didn't ask any questions that were too hard to answer or too personal.

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