iO Tillett Wright is many things. Professionally, Wright is an author, photographer, television host, and LGTBQ+ spokesperson whose TED Talk on gender identity has amassed nearly 3 million views. Personally, Wright has lived as a girl, a boy, and—most comfortably—as an individual with no interest in abiding by either of those binaries.
Wright was raised in what he describes as “the polar opposite situation of most human beings on Earth.” His memoir, Darling Days (Ecco), recounts his unorthodox upbringing in the gritty, artistic enclave that was New York City’s Lower East Side during the 1980s. With complete autonomy from his artistically minded parents, Wright began living as a boy at the age of six. By puberty he’d reverted back to presenting female, mostly as an act of self-preservation.
It’s no surprise, then, that Wright found himself launching a photo project in 2010 called Self Evident Truths, in which he set out to photograph 10,000 people in all 50 states who identify as “anything other than 100% straight or 100% cisgender.” The project’s stated goal was to take all of these portraits to the National Mall and install them in front of the Washington Monument. To date, Wright has documented 9,675 people.
In the process of exploring and documenting the spectrum of gender identity and sexuality, Wright—who had up to that point considered himself a lesbian—underwent a change of his own. He found himself accepting his own transness, on his own terms. Wright says that there are binaries even in the queer community, but that a “new generation is coming to the fore,” one that allows people “to grow and evolve past their identifying markers.”
“There are millions of us, and we’re waiting to embrace you and hold you up as you really are.”
Personal revelations aside, traveling the country to spend time with his subjects also gave Wright the opportunity to witness firsthand what he describes as the power of “human resilience,” seeing how queer people survive in areas that aren’t as accepting as, say, New York City. (Or, if growing up, your godmother isn’t renowned photographer Nan Goldin.)
For those whose circumstances are not so forgiving, Wright offers a bit of hopeful advice. “I promise you,” he says, “if it’s not your biological family, there is a logical family for you out there. There are millions of us, and we’re waiting to embrace you and hold you up as you really are. Because you’re going to feel a fuck of a lot better as yourself.”