Photo Essay

Questioning the Gender Binary

Gender, The Question

A mother is rushed to the hospital where her baby is born and the doctor announces to all present "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" based on the shape of their bodies. On a rare occasion, there is some confusion due to sexual anatomy that does not fit the typical definition of male or female, and no such pronouncement. If there is, we go on to dress those children a certain way, and choose toys, the color of their room, and more based upon those fateful little words. For many people this presumption is correct. We find that we feel like a feminine woman who likes makeup and dresses or a masculine man who likes sports and fulfills his role in the world without a second thought. In fact, many of us have never given our gender a moment's thought and find it difficult to believe let alone understand when someone declares their internal gender does not match what is going on between their legs.

For some of us, there is far more to gender than pink, blue, or the angle of the dangle. I have come to think of gender as a spectrum with feminine women on one end, masculine men on the other, and many stops along the way. I began my gender photo series both for everyone no matter where you may fall on the gender spectrum. I especially hope that those people who never before have given gender a thought will give these words and photos a second glance and think a bit about how our world shapes our expectations around gender, how we present ourselves, and the roles we play in society. I hope that those who feel the need to transition that my photos will do you and your stories justice, and for those who find themselves coloring somewhere outside the lines of societal gender norms that you will feel yourselves celebrated as well.

I have learned as much along the way as I thought others might learn from viewing the pictures I have taken. For example, one man I know had breasts, a condition called Gynecomastia, and has been researching surgical methods, meeting with doctors, and saving money in order to "have a male looking chest." A seemingly feminine woman confessed to me that she identifies as "Genderqueer" and at times enjoys doing drag with full facial hair. A medically transitioning female to male individual admits that he still enjoys wearing dresses on occasion and sometimes does full drag. A business owner shared her sexual orientation when hearing that I am photographing people and their thoughts on gender. Because so often, the expectation is that a woman will marry a man, and she found herself, a feminine woman who had never considered herself a lesbian, to be in love with another woman, she felt she was outside of gender norms. I could share story after story, but there is only so much room here.

At times taking these pictures has been a challenge and at times a joy. Some people have attacked me verbally for my work and others have praised me, but I feel myself moved and am filled with profound gratitude each time I reach out and someone allows me to photograph them. I hope to keep sharing the photographic evidence of the diversity I encounter for years to come.

You can see more of my gender related photos at http://genderdivercity.blogspot.com

Some basic definitions and resources I have found useful:

"Intersex" is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. You can learn more at www.isna.org

"Transgender" is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity (sense of themselves as male or female) or gender expression differs from that usually associated with their birth sex. Many transgender people live part-time or full-time as members of the gender opposite that assigned at birth. Broadly speaking, anyone whose identity, appearance, or behavior falls outside of conventional gender norms can be described as transgender. However, not everyone whose appearance or behavior is gender-atypical will identify as a transgender person.

"Gynechomastia" is more commonly known as man boobs, and is often mistakenly thought to be related to obesity. In fact, obesity is only one of many causes of men with breasts.

"Genderqueer" and "intergender" are catchall terms for gender identities other than man and woman. People who identify as genderqueer may think of themselves as being both male and female, as being neither male nor female, or as falling completely outside the gender binary. Some wish to have certain features of the opposite sex and not all characteristics, others want it all, and some move fluidly around the gender spectrum.

"Female to Male" or FtM refers to individuals who the doctor identified as female at birth, but whose internal gender is not female. Often FtM is used to refer to the entire spectrum of individuals from genderqueer "bois" to those who are male identified.

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