Photographer documents the beauty of difference across the LGBT spectrum

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HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular series, where ask interesting people to describe their passions.

Tonight, we hear from artist iO Tillett Wright, whose photography projects have sparked a dialogue on gender identification and sexuality.

iO’s memoir, “Darling Days,” was released this week by Ecco.

IO TILLETT WRIGHT, Author, “Darling Days”: My earliest memory of wanting to be a boy was when I was — had my fifth birthday party, and I had this lacy blue dress.

The second I got home, I was just like, get this thing off of me. And I ripped it off. And I, like, put on warrior paint and I went up to the roof, and I, like, took a piss standing up. That was my, like, ownership of it.

These kids were like, are you a boy or a girl? And I was like, why does that matter? I can play better than you. And they didn’t let me play.

And I went to my dad and I was like, hey, I’m a boy now. And he was like, OK. My mom’s attitude was, yes, as long as you can get acting roles as a boy, I don’t care.

My mom put me into child acting. I only played boys until I was 17. And then I played a couple girls. And that’s was when people started to tell me that I was too unique. And it was like, if one more person tells me I’m too unique, out of here. And I did. I quit.

I miss acting. But do you cast me as a boy? Do you cast me as a girl? Do you cast me as the gay girl? Do you cast me as the trans kid? Oh.

QUESTION: You have got incredible range.

IO TILLETT WRIGHT: I have got incredible range.

For the last six years, I have done this project where I have been photographing 10,000 people who identify as anywhere on the LGBT spectrum in all 50 states. And if you look into the eyes of a person that you discriminate against or you think is so different than you that they deserve less rights than you, it becomes almost impossible to deny their humanity.

The complicated part of that is, I’m not trying to say we are all the same. What I’m trying to say is, we are all completely different, and that’s the beauty of it.

I had set out to photograph gay people and trans people. And what I had found was that people from older generations identified super strongly with labels because they’d had to fight for them. But younger people were more like, well, yes, like I loved a guy, and now I love a girl, and maybe I’m more boyish tomorrow.

They’re more fluid on a spectrum of things. I think that the most dignified gift you can give them as a human, as part of their family or their family of friends, is the right to change.

I’m iO Tillett Wright. And this is my Brief But Spectacular take on expanding one’s circle of normalcy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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