Transilient: Basil Soper Gives Back by Sharing Trans People’s Beauty and Humanity
After months of living in New York City, Basil Soper, a trans man in his early thirties, returned to his southern roots. Right now, he’s devoting his time to self-care, eating grits and sunbathing in South Carolina with his chosen family, before hitting the road again next week.
Basil is the executive director of Transilient, a traveling photography and storytelling project. Founded in May 2016, Transilient tours the country, collecting photos and interviews of trans people. The goal is capturing trans people’s humanity, showing how trans narratives reach beyond medical transition and oppression.
The project’s name, a combination of “transgender,” and “resilient” was no accident. Especially in recent years, trans people are recognized for their resilience, their ability to persevere in the face of adversity. Basil exemplifies this perseverance. After surviving a childhood of abuse and poverty, he ran away from home at age 16 and began working his way into the world of trans advocacy where he’s currently flourishing and giving back to his community.
Now, Basil’s life revolves around helping other trans people find joy and liberation. In addition to leading Transilient, he has shared stories in the Advocate, the Huffington Post and other publications. He also worked as an LGBTQ community organizer in North Carolina. Currently, Basil works for SAGE, a nonprofit for LGBTQ elders.
Although the emotional labor of educating others is hard work, Basil believes it’s worth it. “Sometimes emotional labor does save people’s lives and heals them,” he says. He adds that LGBTQ elders’ love and wisdom is crucial to the community but, sadly, they are often neglected.
Uplifting trans people’s neglected narratives is why Basil travels the country with Transilient. He wants to share stories that show how trans folks are, ultimately, humans. They’re just living their lives, which, like anyone else’s, are beautiful and rich with love and fulfillment.
Transilient speaks with trans people about their careers, hobbies and relationships. They’ve spoken with business owners and burlesque dancers, nurses and retail workers, engineers, mechanics, rock climbers, video-gamers, parents and veterans.
Beyond his own trans experience, Basil is a poet who loves being an uncle and hopes to be a father someday. “I believe my purpose on this Earth,” he says, “is to break the generational abuse in my family and somehow garner reparations for myself, my brother and my sister.”
Although Transilient seeks to expand trans stories beyond their bodies, Basil’s own body is like a collection of stories itself. His arms and chest are painted with tattoos: the bluebird over his heart, a nod to one of his favorite poems; a crab on his shoulder for his astrological sign; and, now an image that reflects trans resilience, the outline of North Carolina. Last year, the state received national attention as the first to pass a law regulating trans people’s restroom use.
This summer, Basil and Transilient are partnering with the National Center for Transgender Equality to embark on a trip to states hit hardest by anti-LGBTQ legislation.
Despite these challenges, Basil stays strong by focusing on the trans community and what’s in their hearts.
“I love my community,” he says. He hopes that Transilient can build a world where cis people can relate to trans people, based on shared interests and experiences.
Tygra Slarlii-Bartletts, a trans woman from Omaha, Neb., told Transilient about her work as a nurse and how her patients help her to stay positive. She explained that if she felt down, her patients noticed and felt sad, as well. Now, Tygra strives to focus on the love in her life, so she can share it with others and take better care of her patients. Like Basil, Tygra realized the joy and fulfillment that comes from selflessly giving back to our fellow human beings.
Whether it’s nursing or storytelling, giving back and being there for each other is key. Basil sums up the importance of his work with a simple, yet powerful truth:
“I think it’s important that we support each other and show up for each other as much as possible.”
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