CLOSE UP: Gemma Taylor – Not a “Girly Girl”

The classic beauty queen reaction. “I gave up the fight of being a boy four years ago – the toughest and the best thing I’ve ever done.” – Excerpt from Bea’s Miss Transgender 2017/18 acceptance speech. © Gemma Taylor

We are taking a Close Up look at some of the projects we are exhibiting in Everything I Ever Learnt at Cambridge University with Art at the ARB, sharing more of a behind the scenes insight, and the bigger picture.

Shutter Hub member Gemma Taylor is a documentary and charity photographer and writer based in Macclesfield, UK. She is particularly interested in long-term documentary projects, collaborating with individuals to share personal stories connected to a social or human rights issue.

“Scunny brought me back down to earth with a bump. I was back to ‘village life’ and funny looks,” says Bea. “One night, soon after I first came out, I was at a cashpoint. Someone came up, pulled my wig off and punched me in the head from behind.” © Gemma Taylor

I first met Bea the night before Miss Transgender UK, down in Brighton in November 2017. We’ve been working together since. The project title reflects Bea’s constant wrangle in ‘having’ to define herself against other people’s expectations of a model, a pageant queen, a transwoman, and a woman full stop.


“I’ve met someone! This little flame’s always sat there, then flick, it’s just gone off like a firework. We dated for six or seven months when I was Ben. I call her my MILF.” © Gemma Taylor

“When she came out I thought ‘well I’m not attracted to women, I don’t think that will be for me’. We weren’t together at the time so it seemed natural for me to think that way. I beat myself up about it because I think why did I think that I couldn’t love her now she’s female. She’s still the same person. I feel really guilty about that” – Donna. © Gemma Taylor

Many people, whether close family or strangers, think they know something about her, presume what she’s like, and have a view on how she should live her life. The original idea was to share Bea’s personal experiences to challenge stereotypes and tell her story from her point of view.


“Life is fucking good. Skint but good.” © Gemma Taylor

At Mum and Dad’s. “I’ve set up an LBGTQ support group, BeaYourself. It includes friends and family. Parents often get forgotten but they need support too.” © Gemma Taylor

We are all defined to some extent by people’s reactions towards us. What we didn’t know when we started working together was that one person’s feelings towards Bea were going to feature so prominently. Donna, who she’s now engaged to, came back into her life last year. Bea first went out with Donna when she was Ben and they reconnected after she won the pageant. Donna’s support bolsters Bea so that she has the strength to continue enjoying taking centre stage when the opportunity presents, as well as the knocks that come with it.


A preacher at Doncaster Pride urges gays to “repent” and “turn to Jesus”. © Gemma Taylor

“I’m a model, a pageant queen, a trans woman, but I’m not a ‘girly girl’.” © Gemma Taylor

Not all transgender people want to be an activist or “public figure” as Bea describes herself, but being thrust under the spotlight is not always a choice. If you’re called out in the ladies’ loos for having a deep voice, refused entrance to female changing rooms, thrown out of home, attacked in the street, and have work gigs cancelled all on account of simply being trans, a personal journey is no longer private anyway.


Bea suggests Donna borrows one of her dresses for an event. “I wouldn’t be seen dead in a ballgown! Undoing years of feminism,” Donna teases. © Gemma Taylor

“I don’t always want to Bea, Miss Transgender UK, I want to be Bea the woman.” © Gemma Taylor

Bea navigates other people’s take or journey, on her life, largely with warmth, patience and humour, but also some frustration and pain. At the end of it all, regardless of the number of opposing, and often fabricated views, she is still Bea, just Bea.


Seeing how many Christmas cards say Ben and how many say Bea. © Gemma Taylor

“Love you baby. You’re my rock, my world, my everything.” © Gemma Taylor

Find out about the BeaYourself support groups here.

You can visit Gemma’s website here.

To find out more about Gemma’s work, see her Shutter Hub portfolio here.



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