The safe environment, comfort and support from the attendees at the Erotic Literary Salon offer people an opportunity to share their sexual memoirs in public. Sexual identity, cross dressing and fetishes are just a few of the topics shared at the Salon.
Mariette Pathy Allen has taken photos of the transgendered community for over 35 years. The following are excerpts from an article by David Rosenberg.
Kay, ex–Green Beret Mariette Pathy Allen
Mariette Pathy Allen’s 35-year journey documenting the transgendered community had a serendipitous beginning.
In 1978, Allen and her husband went on a trip to New Orleans and happened to stay in the same inn as a group of cross-dressers. One morning after breakfast, the group began taking pictures by the swimming pool, and Allen, already with her camera equipment, gently asked if she could take a few shots as well.
“I lifted the camera to my eye looking at these people and one person standing opposite me looked back at me and I felt I was looking into a soul, not a man, not a woman, but the essence of a human being, and I thought, I have to have this person in my life,” Allen recalled.
That person, Vicki West, ended up living about 20 blocks from Allen in Manhattan and started introducing Allen to parties, friends, and conferences of people involved in the cross-dressing community.
“I found it beyond fascinating,” Allen said. “I discovered I had something I could contribute. When I started doing portraits of transgendered people, no one was doing it and I had to figure out what would be the most helpful way of doing it, what would be the meaning of it?”
Elayne with son, Ryan Mariette Pathy Allen
That meaning turned out to help “de-freakify” the community to outsiders and to help the people she photographed feel less stigmatized. While Allen initially began documenting people who considered themselves to be cross-dressers, her work, as well as the evolution of the trans community has expanded to those who identify as gender queer, gender fluid, intersex, and other terms under the umbrella of “transgendered”—“it’s a long alphabet,” Allen said with a laugh.
In 1990, Allen published her first book,Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them, a collection of images and interviews of what was then a taboo topic. Allen didn’t necessarily see the book as one that belonged to her, but she said she saw herself as a conduit for people who were aching to have their stories told, many of whom passed around copies, signing them as if it were a yearbook.
“It did a huge amount of good for the people themselves, and I’m still getting thanked years later,” Allen said. “It saved marriages; it was the book they showed their children or parents; it was their way of accessing their coming out. It may have helped people stay in this world. … It was very moving to me.”
When Allen was taking pictures during that time, many of her subjects didn’t know how to behave in front of the camera.
“I was often the first person who was positive and gave them permission and encouraged them [to be who they were],” Allen said.