Here, photographers push the boundaries to show how to respectfully—and accurately—portray the gender spectrum through imagery.
The gender binary prevails in the fashion and editorial photography industries. As society becomes more attuned to the experiences of nonbinary and transgender people, the industry needs to update its understanding of the gender spectrum and how it’s represented in works of art.
Fortunately, there are already a number of nonbinary and transgender trendsetters creatively presenting gender in a new dimension. This is fundamentally shifting how the industry is considering gender beyond the binary.
Include the Entire Gender Spectrum in Photos
In a world that is still largely binary when it comes to gender, how can we better represent those who don’t fit neatly into either category? It’s a question that photographers across the gender spectrum are grappling with in their works.
First, let’s be clear about who is included across the gender spectrum, as well as beyond the binary. Within the gender spectrum, we see people who are male and female, and many people who experience life somewhere in between. Still, many people feel as though they don’t fit within this binary spectrum at all. Non-binary is a way to describe when a person’s gender falls outside the gender binary system.
According to a recent report from the Williams Institute, an estimated 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender or gender nonconforming. And yet, they’re often invisible in the media. This issue is becoming increasingly urgent to address because the number of nonbinary, transgender, and gender nonconforming people continues to grow around the world.
Be Inspired by Creatives Making Change
Creatives are on the forefront of cultural expression. Photographers are uniquely positioned to frame the world and contextualize new images and messages in the minds and hearts of patrons.
We can all take inspiration from the following creatives when including the gender spectrum within your photography. Here’s their perspectives . . .
Challenge Old Perceptions of Gender
Tyler Mitchell was one of the first photographers to break the mold when it came to shooting nonbinary and transgender people. He made history when he became the first Black photographer to shoot a cover for Vogue US.
His work often features Black subjects experiencing euphoria and living at ease. He challenges traditional notions of beauty and desirability by featuring a range of different gender expressions. From androgynous models to drag queens, much of his work is a celebration of diversity and self-acceptance.
Celebrate Trans and Non-Binary Beauty
His series “Gender is Over” is a direct response to the rigidity of the gender binary, featuring non-binary and transgender people in a variety of different styles and poses.
Work like Isaiah’s is inspiring, playful, and liberating, offering a glimpse into a world where gender is fluid and ever-changing.
Intentionally Prioritize Intersectionality
Challenge traditional ideas and explore the complexities of gender. Deana Lawson is a photographer whose work does this. She often features nonbinary and transgender people of color in intimate settings, validating and respecting their experiences and how they love.
For example, her series “The House That Heals” focuses on transgender women of color who are living in a transitional housing program in Brooklyn. It is intimate and compassionate, offering a rare glimpse into the lives of these often-marginalized women.
Highlighting emotion in your photography choices, even when emotions are difficult or challenging, should not be shied away from.
Tourmaline is a queer, Black, transgender activist and filmmaker whose work focuses on the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. Her series “Queer Black Girl Magic” celebrates the beauty and power of queer, Black women, while her film Transvisible tells the stories of transgender people of color who are living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities.
Making conscious choices to tell the stories of people of color throughout the gender spectrum is critical as well, and these two artists are striving to do so.
Embrace Inclusive Technology
When people search for #nonbinary on social media platforms, search engines, or image libraries, they are often met with an incomplete datasets. Results often have biases or limitations because the people who created the stock photos or database have implicit or explicit bias.
It’s important to consider adding nonbinary and trans models from across the spectrums of identity. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and genders. This community is not monolithic. It’s diverse and complex with stories that deserve to be snapshotted.
In pursuit of better and more diverse representation of gender identity and expression, Shutterstock has updated gender image search filters to include a nonbinary option. This is one way that new technology is allowing everyone to more easily find pictures that represent themselves. It also has the added effect of increasing visibility for nonbinary photographers and artists who are underemployed for not fitting a particular mold.
Photography can be a powerful tool for nonbinary people to express their identity and find community. By increasing visibility and representation, we can help create a more inclusive world for all.
It’s time for all industries—from technology to fashion—to catch up and start representing all members of the gender spectrum equally. If they do, it will help to create a more inclusive industry for everyone.
License this cover image via farinasfoto.