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Revealing the Fascinating World Beyond the Gender Binary

Pidgeon

Rain

Beyond the rigid, often inflexible, ideas that we are taught lies a realm of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom that awaits us. The complexity of existence can be attributed to the fact that until we adapt our paradigms to reflect reality, we will remain trapped within a false construction masquerading as truth, one that may be used to exploit, oppress, or otherwise marginalize the most vulnerable among us.

To paraphrase Rumi, we can become the change we wish to see in the world — by forgoing the need to rush to opinion as a way to avoid the discomfort of doing the actual work. In giving people the space and freedom to share their truth, we confront our own ignorance and bigotry, while simultaneously learning from those whose lived experience bears witness to realities that may be far beyond our immediate comprehension.

When American photographer Chloe Aftel first heard the term “genderfluid” in 2012, she became curious and began to explore a world she did not know; a space where the gender binary does not operate accordingly to the principles set forth by the heternormative community.

With equal parts respect and curiosity. Aftel set forth to document the lives of gender non-binary people from all walks of life across America. What she came to understand was simple enough: the paradigms that we currently use to describe gender are limiting constructs that fail to recognize its extraordinarily complex expression.

“Most people are not simply one thing,” Aftel observes. “They do not see themselves in a singular, stagnant way but rather enjoy exploring who they are in a deep, sometimes complicated and possibly contradicting ways via gender exploration of paradigms, stereotypes and generalities.”

In honor of those who share their stories and their lives, Aftel has created the phenomenal new book, Outside & In Between: Self Beyond the Gender Binary, released on January 27 in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Transgender Troops Share Their Stories, in Photos

Aaron Wixson, a Marine field artillery radar operator in Oceanside, California, transitioned from female to male in 2016. His biggest challenge was getting everybody to change the pronouns they used for him. “Some of them said, ‘We’ve been calling you “her” for so long.’” © Jeff Sheng for Smithsonian Magazine

In June 2016, then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the United States would be lifting a ban on transgender people serving openly in the armed forces. “We’re talking about talented Americans who are serving with distinction or who want the opportunity to serve,” Carter said at the time. “We can’t allow barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications to prevent us from recruiting and retaining those who can best accomplish the mission.”

The next summer, President Donald Trump tweeted his intention to maintain the ban. In particular, he raised concerns about the medical costs involved in gender transitions. In March 2018, the executive branch barred transgender people from enlisting. The courts initially blocked the orders, but an appeals court reversed that decision. The Supreme Court ruled on January 22 that Trump’s restrictions could go into effect while the matter is making its way up through the legal system.*

With the fate of the ban still uncertain, we sent our photographer to meet five openly transgender members of the U.S. military. All but one of them told us they had full support from their superiors and other members of their units during their transitions. It’s unclear how typical their experiences were. In a survey included in this issue [of Smithsonian Magazine], only 39 percent of military personnel said they supported transgender people serving openly. But the people featured in this story said they were able to build on existing relationships to earn acceptance. “The younger men, especially, were like, ‘OK, cool, you seemed like one of the guys already,’” says Army National Guard member Adrian Rodriguez, who transitioned from female to male two years ago. “They were kind of expecting it.”

Read the rest of Jennie Rothenberg Gritz’s article on Jeff Sheng’s photographs over at Smithsonian Magazine.

The Life and Love of a Young Transgender Couple in Berlin

“It is hard to open your wounds to a complete stranger,” photographer Adelaide Ivánova says, “Especially when this stranger has a camera pointed to your face.” When she met Michael and Kai, two twenty-something transgender men living in Berlin, she didn’t photograph them at first. “I didn’t feel I had the right, in a way,” she remembers. The mutual trust came with time.

A Deeply Human Look at the Lives of Transgender Youth

“All my friends say ‘Oh, I started my period.’ or ‘I’m a B cup now.’ It’s hard for them to understand that that doesn’t happen to us and that we can’t give birth. Not that we necessarily want to, but we do want to feel the same.” – Lilly, 12-year-old transgender female, North Central California

“I know very well that I’m male, and yet I’m treated like a young child, as though I don’t know my own mind, when I’ve never been so sure of anything. I think it’s unfair to expect transgender children to live in the wrong body. My whole life is blighted by it. It never leaves. I’m always confronted by it because I have to live in a body that is not mine. ” – Zak, 13-year-old transgender male, Isle of Wight, England

Photographer Annie Tritt embarked on Transcending Self, a collection of portraits and interviews with transgender and gender expansive children, teenagers, and young adults around the world, more than two years ago. She spent the first year learning and absorbing information. She’d seen the inaccuracies and potentially hurtful stories the press had made in handling the subject in the past, and she wanted instead to give voice directly to the transgender youth.

“This is not my story,” she says, “It is theirs.”

A Powerful Look Inside Indonesia’s Transgender Community

Nur, 48, after make up. Indonesian transgender people are known as waria, a term which is a combination of two Indonesian words: “wanita,” which means woman, and “pria,” which means man. © Fulvio Bugani

Kirana and her snake. © Fulvio Bugani

All of the Muslim transgender women included in photojournalist Fulvio Bugani’s Waria series trusted him to tell their stories. They all gave him their written consent for the photographs, despite the fact that some of them had not felt comfortable enough to come out to their families.

Bugani met a community of waria, as transgender women are known in Indonesia, through Shinta Ratri, an activist and founder of the Pondok Pesantren Waria Al-Fatah, a madrasa in Yogyakarta. She opened the school as a safe-haven for Muslim transgender women to pray and learn without fear of violence or discrimination.

A Look at the Lives of Transgender Women in Indonesia

A young transgender puts make up on in his bedroom at Mami Joyce's house.

A young transgender woman puts make up on in her bedroom at Mami Joyce’s house.

Mami Joyce takes a cigarette break halfway through the make up process.

Mami Joyce takes a cigarette break halfway through the make up process.

In the heart of Jakarta’s bustling business district, says Italian-born photographer Giorgio Taraschi, Mami Joyce and her girls make their home. Taking in those as young as eighteen, the human rights activist has built a safe haven for transgender women—or “waria,” as they are often called in Indonesia—to call their own.

This Transgender Man Steals the Show in New Period Underwear Ad

Thinx

Suddenly, periods are in vogue. What was taboo two years ago is now openly discussed; feminine hygiene products are getting better and they’re being shared more widely with women in developing countries where the stigma is pervasive. Chances are you’ve heard about Thinx period panties, an alternative to pads, tampons, and menstrual cups. The press coverage has been tremendous; journalists have sampled different styles; celebrities have endorses the brand. Thanks in part to Thinx, having your period is no longer shameful; it’s cool.

The Photographer Who Fell in Love with Her Genderqueer Muse (NSFW)

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“BJ and I fell in love the first time we took the pictures,” says New York City-based photographer Lissa Rivera of her bond with her partner and muse. As her friend stood before her dressed in women’s clothing, she was startled by a pinprick of feeling and the initial pangs of yearning for someone who had previously been a platonic friend.

New Photo Exhibition Pushes the Boundaries of Femininity and Gender Roles

Juno Calypso_Massage Mask_2015_c Juno Calypso_Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Massage Mask, 2015 © Juno Calypso

from "Experimental Relationship" project

Get a firm grasp of your man, 2010 © Pixy Yijun Liao

Flowers Gallery in New York City has mounted a show, The Real Thing, which focuses on four female photographers whose works highlight roles of gender and identity. There’s a surge of focus on the study of human sexuality and identity; male or female, straight, gay or otherwise. Juno Calypso, Natasha Caruana, Pixy Liao, and Melanie Willhide use their photographic processes as a means to experiment further with feminine ideals.

Queer Photographer Explores the Ambiguities of Femininity and Gender Identity

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It’s sort of hard to say exactly what drives Hobbes Ginsberg‘s work in simple terms: but for the most part, the photographs and pictures serve as a kind of visual diary. This kind of concept is not new, but the intent with which Ginsberg photographs, as well as the kind of unique aesthetic concepts, make it hard to avoid. Distributed throughout Ginsberg’s photos are the kind of things you’d see showcased during a youtube “what’s in my bag” type video. Other photos resemble something closer to a messy bedroom after one hasn’t left it for weeks on end, or maybe the messy pastel leftovers on the table after a dinner party with friends. These kind of sentiments stretch across Ginsberg’s work, which despite these persisting interesting visual collages, often evolves into stunning, telling displays of self-portraiture. In many of the photos, Ginsberg is the prime focus by way of intriguing self-portraiture. Nonetheless, Ginsberg is always the subject of the photo whether she’s visible in it or not.

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