Legends of the Trans

Photo essay inspired by the 1994 film Legends of the Fall

“The Ludlows” (James Horner/London Symphony Orchestra)

She and Tristan Ludlow met in 1994 in Alberta. Tristan wasn’t like the other boys and neither was she.

Tristan was beautiful, radiant, with a disarming grin and long, sun-spun hair. And beauty was drawn to Tristan but so was tragedy. Tristan stirred like the sea, erupted like a bear. He also sobbed, leaned into grief. This made her feel like she too could stir, erupt, sob and grieve—sometimes all at once. His lack of eloquence seemed to her less like a personal flaw, but rather, echoed her own frustration with the limitations of words.

Tristan was a brazen rule breaker, and yet he was beloved by all. This was heartening to her because of her own growing unruliness. Unlike his younger brother, Tristan didn’t care about guns or war—he only wanted to protect his sibling. Unlike his older brother, Tristan didn’t care about wealth or power over others—he only wanted to provide for his loved ones. But his efforts to protect and provide were in vain because people he loved suffered violent deaths. Committed to upholding what he believed was fair, he often turned to vengeance. She too craved justice, and he showed her that maybe the only way to get it was to fight for it.

Tristan sought kinship and meaning beyond his blood and whiteness. Tristan loved the wilderness—they were matched in their unpredictability. This is actually what frightened her about nature: it never felt as serene as it looked surrounding him. But she did find solace when she conversed with the sky and imagined one day the wind would agree to be her lover like it was for Tristan. Tristan loved horses and horses loved Tristan back. Tristan was a hunter, and was eventually hunted. His friend, One Stab, described him best: “He had always lived in the borderland anyway, somewhere between this world and the other.”

She’d also lived somewhere between this world and others, one foot in, the rest of her out. But for now, she had returned to Alberta, wearing Tristan’s hair.