Leo Xander Foo is a talented teen photographer who is already making his mark on the world with almost 20,000 followers. He discussed with us the prevalence of transphobia, his love for photography, and the importance of truly expressing yourself.
Alefiya: What does your Asian identity mean to you and how does your trans one intersect with that?
Leo: I honestly didn't grow up with a super Asian community. I grew up in Staten Island and I went to a really small Catholic school with only, like, Italian people. I probably definitely had internalized racism because, you know, the other kids weren’t very nice about me being the only Asian person. And then I moved to East Brunswick, and I realized, why am I afraid to be who I am? My Asian identity has definitely become more significant as I’ve grown up.
Alefiya: Do you feel your Asian identity shows up in your photography? How?
Leo: I think it does because a lot of my work, especially now, has moved towards self portraiture and just capturing me and the way I am. I definitely want to work on that more because there’s no really, like, end point to expressing yourself.
Alefiya: Why do you think you got into photography specifically and not some other type of art?
Leo: I’ve always been really interested in art since I was little, like drawing and instruments and all that. But I did those, and I was good at it, but they weren’t things that I wanted to be stressed over. I didn’t care that much. But photography is something I put myself through because I want to do it so bad that I’m willing to get stressed over it. I always took pictures, like on my iPod touch, like I always just thought it was fun. I also like sharing my art and making an impact on people. I don’t know, I always just enjoyed it more than other forms of art. Photography is for me, but I also want to share it with other people.
Alefiya: Activism and art often go together and you’ve also been vocal about many different issues on your Instagram account. In regards to the Atlanta shootings and the following conversation of AAPI based misogyny, I saw you post ‘Women are not the only people affected by misogyny’. Can you elaborate on what that means?
Leo: Misogyny doesn’t only affect women and femmes. It affects me, and I don’t consider myself a woman. It can be dysphoria-inducing for a lot of people- I know I’m not the only trans or non-binary person that feels this way when the media only talks about women and femmes. Even, like, masculine cis men, misogyny affects everyone. That needs to be talked about. It’s important to reevaluate vocabulary choice when you talk about such a thing and be more intersectional. Also, I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself an activist, but more of an advocate. I think it’s important that when you have a platform, you use it to help people as much as you can, especially with funding.
Alefiya: Can you tell us what you mean by funding?
Leo: For trans people, you need money. It’s hard to medically transition. Many trans people can’t get jobs, or don’t feel comfortable getting jobs because it’s not safe. Many trans people also don’t have family members who are willing to help them out or proper healthcare and things like that. So there’s crowdfunding and support for that. It’s important to ask for help when you need it, and even more important to help and spread awareness when you can. It just- everything costs a lot of money. Top surgery costs usually over $10,000 if you want a good one, which is a lot. It’s hard, and it’s a part of our safety to be able to get these affirming surgeries. And the fact that it’s not as accessible, I feel, is a part of transphobia. Not being able to get these surgeries is often what’s stopping us from being our full selves, and the money thing plays a big part in that.
Alefiya: What advice would you give to a young Asian or transgender person who is struggling with their identity or struggling to fit into these creative spaces?
Leo: Well, what I did for many years was fake my confidence and just do what I had to do. You know, nobody is stopping you but yourself. I know it feels like so many forces are working against you, but you zoom out and you realize that those ‘forces’ are literally just you, you, and you. And that’s easier said than done. But I think it’s important to realize you have the power to do anything you want, but you have to take that step and do it. And practice as much as you can. I would not be here if I hadn’t really pushed myself to photograph as much as I could. I would be scared to reach out to new people and ask them to shoot, but you have to realize that that fear is nothing real, nothing tangible. Why are you afraid to create? To express yourself? Figure out what’s really scaring you. Put your creativity above all.