by Nick Lingerfelt | photo by Joan Allison
Luca Tucker, a Memphis- based transgender graphic design artist who goes by “Barthaz” professionally, did not think he was transgender while growing up. Born in Colorado and raised in Utah before moving to Columbia, Missouri, he had always been a tomboy who had typical male- associated interests.
When he was in middle school, he would dress more like a boy by doing things like styling his hair with gel and wearing boys’ shorts and button-ups, but he never associated this with being transgender.
He moved to Memphis in 2014 to go to Memphis College of Art. The year he began at MCA, he began sharing his ideas about his identity with his roommate. His roommate, who had researched transness, told him she thought he was transgender.
“It’s one of those things where people around you are aware of more so than you are about yourself,” Tucker said. “When my friends and I came to that conclusion, I felt a little dumb.”
On Halloween in 2015, he publicly came out as transgender. He sought his mother’s permission six months later to begin hormone therapy, and she appeared to be supportive at first. But she did not use his preferred pronouns or call him by his new name. He decided she needed some time to accept him in his new identity. After the year went by, he confronted her about it.
“I was like, ‘Hey, it makes me upset that you don’t acknowledge that I’m trans at all,’” Tucker said. “She said, ‘Well, I never supported you. I lied,” and that was really devastating to me because I had already started hormone therapy.”
Tucker’s mother is half Apache, and in their culture, there is something called a “twin spirit,” which means someone was born as a woman but identifies with more masculine behaviors. He said his mother thought that was acceptable, but the medical transition would not be OK with her.
Tucker and his mother had a long discussion about it, and they came to the conclusion that they were no longer going to speak to one another.
“I haven’t talked to my mom in a long time over this because she wouldn’t acknowledge my transness,” Tucker said. “I miss her a lot, and I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”
Tucker has been on testosterone for a year and six months now. He said he feels lucky to have moved to Memphis where he is surrounded by people who support him.
“I have very supportive friends who have really become family members to me, and I’m so thankful for them,” Tucker said.
Tucker said he would advise anyone in a similar situation to demand respect.
“Even though it’s so hard, stick to your guns and demand respect,” Tucker said. “If you don’t demand respect, you’re going to be pushed around a lot, and it’s going to break you.”
Tucker did research trying to find trans artists, but he could not find very many, especially ones making art about their own transness.
“I took it upon myself to try to make work about it and about my own experience, and even other trans people’s experiences here in Memphis because I want to be that voice,” Tucker said. “I want to be able to speak for myself and also for others.”
Tucker’s current partner, Jesse Lee, said being with him while he medically transitions has been both awesome and difficult.
“If people were more open about things, (and if) they didn’t write them off, (they) would be more happy.
“I feel like our relationship has changed,” Lee said, “and made me a better person.”