Outside & In Between

Chloe Aftel

2012 - Ongoing

In early 2012, a friend and I were talking about the Genderqueer movement and I wanted to explore it further, I never felt like my gender identity fell neatly into one group or another, so I was curious what this discussion was grappling with. I had shot three portraits when I was assigned to shoot Sasha Fleischman for an editorial piece.

In the fall of 2013, Sasha was set on fire on a public bus because they (Sasha doesn’t use s/he as identifiers) wore a skirt with a men’s shirt. Sasha identifies as agender; others in the series as non-binary, gender non-conforming (GNC), etc. After this terrible event, more people were willing to be photographed and to take a stand about the basic human rights that should be extended to any person regardless of gender identification. This evolving culture consists of those living outside or in between the gender binary, refusing to define themselves as strictly male or female.

What drew me to this movement was the freedom its ideas held; you could be yourself in whatever way made sense to you. You could explore traditional archetypes on one day, and on another, disregard them completely. Your sense of self, sexuality and gender identity was able to evolve beyond a polarity, to a place of coexisting harmoniously.

Many of the people I photographed for this series have felt tortured or out of place their entire lives, unwilling or unable to live a lie. Society has been unrelenting in making them feel their normal is not acceptable. The older generation lived their real lives in secret, dressing as themselves only in the privacy of their own homes, never in public. The younger generations have had much more freedom in this regard, but of course, there’s long way to go.

Pronouns are an important part of identity and vary greatly within the community. From “they” to “ze” to “it” and many more iterations. Non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, androgynous, agender, there are many different ways folks identify themselves and each has its own meaning.

Gender and self-identification are complex. This movement allows all of us more space to explore ourselves. I never wanted to fall into the archetypes of traditional femininity, nor did I want to be entirely male. It is exciting to be able to present and explore oneself in whatever way makes sense to you, be that wearing dresses or men’s suits or something more internal like feeling free to express yourself and your body in a way that feels genuine and comfortable.

This series was shot in a meaningful place for each subject, most often in the home to give the viewer a sense of who each subject is and how they live. It is an exploration of what this movement looks like and what it means for each person involved.

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