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Agender: Portraits of Young People Who Identify as Neither Male or Female

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Sasha was lit on fire on a public bus because they were wearing a skirt and a men’s shirt. The image was taken shortly after Sasha was released from the hospital in their parent’s living room.

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Micah was shot both on the street around their house and at home. They identify as neutrois or an absence of gender.

The term “agender” refers to individuals who identify as neither male or female, preferring the term “they” as opposed to the gender normative pronouns “he” or “she”. On November 4th, 2013, Maybeck High School senior Sasha Fleischman was sleeping on a public bus on the way home from school when they were suddenly awakened by flames leaping up their body. The teen suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns up and down their legs, spending over a month in a hospital burn unit. The story made headlines across the San Francisco Bay area where the incident took place and Fleischman suddenly found themselves thrust into the spotlight as a voice for the agender and genderqueer community. Photographer Chloe Aftel shot the victimized teen as well as others who do not allow society or culture to define them.

Aftel captured most of the young people in their homes or places significant to them, desiring to show an intimate and everyday vision of agenders. Commissioned by San Francisco Magazine, individuals like Emma were able to share their stories and speak their minds on issues of gender—“I think a lot of people like to see gender as this scale of blue and pink. I never really identified with either side of that, or even in between blue and pink. It’s so much more complicated—my identity varies so much on any given day. Sometimes I tell people I’m gold or something.”

Researchers have discovered that those who live as neither male or female suffer the most from discrimination and violence in the LGBT community, their determination to remain undefinable seeming to provoke and disgruntle those uncomfortable with gender norms. “When I wear a skirt,” Fleischman told San Francisco Magazine,”it makes them think about gender and not jumping to conclusions.” For people like Fleischman, it is crucial to simply be who they are, even in the face of intolerance and personal risk.

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Edie captured in their boyfriend’s parent home in Berkeley.

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Emma, shot in their apartment in San Francisco. They plan to possibly change their name after high school.

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Sarah is one of Sasha’s closest friends, shot in their room in their parents house. They are in high school and live at home.

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Mariyln lives at home with their parents, shot in both their bedroom and bathroom. Growing up, Mariyln felt neither a man or a woman fit their identity as an adult.

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Mark was shot in their San Francisco apartment. They wear both “male” and “female” clothing.

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Rain with their girlfriend.

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Mariyln lives at home with their parents, we shot in both their bedroom and bathroom.

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Rain models professionally, usually as a man. Here they are shot in their apartment in Berkeley.

  • John Crane

    It is you who is judging me by calling me “condescending”. I am simply pointing out the possibility and suggesting alternative.

  • John Crane

    Talk about condescending. Comparing these people to handicapped. Is that not judging?

    I am not judging anybody. We all make choices in life. We are each responsible for our own lives. But, we cannot choose wisely if we do not see all the choices available to us.

    If I point out that there is another way to think about something, that is not judging. I am just pointing out an alternative possibility that they may not have thought of. I am also pointing out the root cause of many of the problems humanity faces — the fixation on having a body, being a body, thinking they are nothing more than a body.

    This is simply not true. We are much more than that. To say this is not a statement of judgment. To say this is simply to tell you something that you may not know. If you choose to not believe it and if you choose to continue to believe that you are in a fixed condition beyond your ability to control, is your choice, not mine. I have no judgment. I’m just stating the situation as it is.

    What you don’t know is my husband IS handicapped and has been so all his life. His greatest wish is to be able to run, but he can barely walk.

    But, unlike many people who sit around and whine about their bad luck, he has the wisdom to know what he can change and what he can’t change. He and I are in complete agreement about what I have written. He has developed his body as much as he can, so as not to be dependent on other people. He has always wanted to do as much as his could physically and mentally, and he has really developed his mind.

    I suggest that before you and others hurl accusations of judgments against me, and examine yourself.

  • ofCanada

    The statement you posted that I responded to is condescending without a doubt. I have no problem at all judging a public statement, and if you think that makes me judgmental, so be it.

    But if you read your statement and not see it as condescending to others, then it shows a clear lack of insight (that would be more judgement—don’t worry, I can take on that mantle without difficulty).

    What you call “whining” is somebody else’s process for growing, for healing, for developing as both people and agendered people. It is also, quite often, the healthiest expression of emotion. To not “whine” is to bottle up one’s feelings. This is often—nearly always—taught to males, and it’s to their detriment. It is something we need to stop, not encourage.

    You might think that you’re encouraging people with your post, but the result of this “pick yourself up” message is that only those who can, already will. Those who need more time or healing (should they believe the message) will be deemed failures in their own eyes. This will happen whether they’ve had worse lives than you could even dream of or better than you had.

    What’s more—and this was important to my statement—we need loud unhappy people saying “this ain’t right!” just as much as we need people who quietly make their way. Everybody serves a purpose in a rights movement. Some by living, some by demanding better.

  • ofCanada

    You can’t say somebody is “whining” and deny you judge. That’s a contradiction. Unless you use the word to describe a sound being produced, it is a judgemental term.

  • corisande

    Singular “you” is not correct either, if thou insistest upon the immutability of language. Singular “they” is a pretty reasonable adaptation that follows the same pattern as singular “you,” which is why people know what it means and why it’ll probably end up accepted.

  • Kasey Spickard

    +1 I also thought the term shot meant the person had been attacked, please change the term.

  • John Crane

    “Everybody serves a purpose.. Some by living, some by demanding better”

    And some by MAKING it better.

    And, there are alternatives to “whining” or “bottling up one’s emotions”. One of those is taking positive action.

  • ofCanada

    You’re just not going to see it.

    Good luck to you. My hope is that you are only ever surrounded by people with thick skins and the ability to respond to your kind of encouragement.

  • John Crane

    It takes imagination to pick up a thought from somebody else and use it to better oneself. There aren’t too many people like that, unfortunately, but there are a few. It’s easy to just go along with the flow and not better oneself. It’s harder to grab yourself by the shoulders, make a decision that will result in positive change, and act on it.

  • ofCanada

    I was thinking pretty much exactly the same thing.

  • Blick Mang

    There’s already a pronoun – “he” or “she”
    Identify with something else, great for you, but no need to redefine biology and language based on someone’s “feelings”

  • Marly Ruiz

    I completely agree. I had the exact same thought through out the article.

  • chaizydain

    Something that I am reminded of, at home by my step-daughter any time I mess up and mistakenly use the wrong word to convey a concept, is that GENDER is a social CONSTRUCT which is MUTABLE. (SEX is a biological characteristic and is *usually* unchangeable – surgery notwithstanding)

    150 years ago ANY person of the female SEX who wore pants would have pretty much been considered a transGENDERED because socially speaking females did not wear pants only males did.

    150 years from now, I certainly hope that as a society we will have stopped making value judgements about a person’s worth and place in society based upon the fabric they wear to cover their various bits. Clothing is a COSTUME – for ALL of us. Even those of us who are gender conforming. I put on my white lab coat and my glasses and I am the brilliant scientist. I put on my dark suit and carry my sophisticated briefcase and I am the stunning attorney. I put on the flouncy skirt and the pom-poms and I am the sexy cheerleader. I strap on the shoulder pads and the color blocked jersey and I am the All Star quarter back. Its ALL costume, we all use it every day to play a certain role in our life…even when we don’t think we do.

    As for pronouns…I have to wonder if individuals who chose “they/their” does so because there isn’t a commonly accepted (or at least understood) alternative to describe a neuter/neutral person (neuter used to mean not either, both, or other and not used only to mean absence of). This is not a *modern* phenomenon. Anthropologically speaking, the existence of the “third” (depending on which anthropologist you speak to there are three, four, five, or many genders) crosses most ancient cultures and has existed since the beginning of humankind. Countries that the West often consider *backwards* already have existing words that properly reflect a person as being genderless. For example, in Sanskrit there exists a word for the third gender and Indian recognizes an entire population of genderless persons as a protected class. The only reason that English and other western langauges do not already have pronouns that reflect gender diversity is because of our instance in bi-normative thinking. Because we expect that there are only two acceptable answers (male or female) we expect the need for only two sets of pronouns (him/his/he and she/her/hers).

    Appropriate pronouns are needed if only to demonstrate normalization of something that has always existed and will always exists as oart of the human condition. It is essential to human rights.

  • Tim Wise

    Why glorify these freaks?!? A bullet in the head will solve the problem!

  • Silver Shoelaces

    I am an agender person, but also an English geek who finds the word “they” to be offensive when referring to me. I don’t particularly care how I read gender-wise, and am open to any singular English pronoun (whether it’s gendered, made-up, or anything else, really). I’d say that the safest thing to do is to just use the person’s name, rather than assume a pronoun. Or ask!

  • Sue

    Are they looking like that so they can get welfare and not work. All look very creepy and untidy. Maybe some time in a Mental Institution with good psychiatrists not odd ones they may get somewhere. No one would want a child like that in a class and children who pretend they are the opposites should be in special schools. Hate them for a neighbour and would not want any child near them.

  • John

    Wow, really? Not “respectful”??? I call for dealing with the issue so that there can be consensus and we can move on. That was really not necessary on your part.

    Of course English is fluid and changing and not ossified, I never said it was not changing, the English that we speak 100 years from now will differ from today and today differs from 100 years before. “Our” feelings? I feel like saying “ain’t” but I cannot write that in an academic paper. And you don’t speak for all transgender people. Our language rules are transphobic, sexist, and classist. So are Hollywood movies, but I still watch them.

    Callout culture. A fucking dead end. Have fun with that.

  • ian

    Wow, too bad you did not read the rest of the original comment. Only reading partly makes you look jerky.

  • ian

    We have to be patient with people. Others may not have as much experience with this as you do. Do we want to win people over or condemn them for not being right?

    if people are trained a certain way, they may not be used to the word, “they”, but if John and others are willing to learn, we should not chastise those who are not used to different ways of doing things.

    I’d rather partner with someone who may not be the best on using pronouns but will have the back of transgendered people in an attack. Until there is more mainstream acceptance, we will continue to run into this.

  • ian

    Who is trying to impose American standards on British English? I’ve got the answer, no one on this board is trying to do that. You are reading an awful lot that is not there, mate. Strawman much?

    I want to win people over to our side, but some of you are going to make that hard.

  • ofCanada

    My response was to “guest” who said that “they” and “them” was not correct, because it had been thrown out by an American woman.

    The rest of my post was a bit of a joke based on Canadian/British spellings of words (bolding the differences). It was a bit of fun about how Americans are always telling Canadians that we are spelling our words either wrong or in ways that are old fashioned.

    I’m not sure at all how this relates to winning people over to “our side.” But I suspect you’re not talking about spelling at this point. I believe it’s safe to assume that “guest” and I (and you, perhaps) are on the same side regarding agendered folk.

    I think you really just need yourself a bit of a drink, and a long chill.

  • ian

    I’m chill, this is what you said: “I don’t have any kind of problem with some new pronoun’s introduction, but I will not see a perfectly good set of English words thrown out based on American standards. Goodness. We are your neighbours, and find you colourful, but don’t consider you the centre of English usage.”

    Maybe you should chill. Especially considering that no one said this, which I think make your posts a bit of a joke. So nasty, but that’s your problem and your business— cheers!

  • ofCanada

    I’m sorry, but you simply read the wrong tone into my post.

    I was having a bit of fun, not being nasty in the least. I was also not being nasty when I responded to you. I’m still in a pretty good mood.

    But here’s the thing: I’m a bit of a pedant. I like words and their uses. I find the concept of “this (or that) is the correct word” interesting. Guest really did honestly say that the pronouns were “not correct,” so, I’m not making that part up. They also said that the use of these pronouns was thrown out by an American…and that’s where I got the catalyst for my pedantic reply.

    I’m very sorry you didn’t get the joke with all my little spellings marked out (neighbours, colourful, centre). I said what I did about Americans so that I could incorporate such words into a reply.

    Once you have to explain a joke, it’s pretty much dead, so…oh well.

    At worst, this failure to amuse makes me a poor comedian, not a nasty person.

    For the record Here is the entire post I was responding to copy/pasted directly from the thread (note the author according to CNN):

    ****
    Guest • 14 days ago

    Technically, using “they” and “them” to describe a person is not correct. Singular “they” was used by Shakespeare and others, but it was thrown out in American English by a woman, surprisingly enough for the pronoun, “he”.

    We need a better set of singular gender-neutral pronouns, the current grammar set-up is transphobic. We have dealt with sexism in language, it s time to address transphobia and get a singular gender-neutral pronoun. “They” and “them” is awkward.

    ****

    BECAUSE I am a pedant, I have to add: this post is not aimed specifically to American writers/speakers. It’s an opinion regarding general usage of the pronouns.

    Despite this I don’t seriously think this person is attempting to tell Canadians and British people how to talk, that was just part of the joke. I’m sure they don’t care.

  • Zaron

    No, I read the whole comment. Sorry, but someone disagreeing with you isn’t evidence that they didn’t read your comment.

  • DorothyP

    Considering the random violence that these innocent people so often attract, why not use the word “Photographed” rather than “shot”?

  • Tora Shade

    Glorious photos. Beautiful people.
    Reading the comments has made me face palm all over the place though. >.<

  • Tora Shade

    Hello, I’m Agender, employed, High school graduate, and a certified chef. I have no known mental problems and I am not on any welfare.
    Are you seriously just making judgments off of pictures?

  • kazerniel

    what are transphobic assholes doing under this article?

  • Bassem House

    Same thought, I got a mini heart attack every time I read shot, thinking why did hey all get shot!!