What is a “normal” gender identity? This question has been the driving force behind my research on gender, self-identity and sexuality. The innovative works of Judith Butler and Marjorie Garber, coupled with research into the represented gender identities in mainstream visual media, elicited the conclusion that there is no “normal” gender identity. Gender is free-floating; an imitation of an imitation with no essential origin and these notions were the driving force behind my final project, which I feel I have achieved.
My final project entitled “Gender Benders” consists of studio portraits of individuals that contest the rigid gender binary. The series supports the work of Garber and Butler and reinforces the idea that gender can be malleable. The series explores gender in its capacity to be reduced to individual components: a gesture, a hair style or flick of mascara. These individuals are unique and beautiful and I wanted to portray these individuals in this way. I achieved this by creating images that were more silent and gentle, the gender identities being left undefined and ambiguous. Despite this being a project exploring the wide array of gender identities, this is not a project about gender. This is a project about individuality and beauty, which is why I think it’s been a success.
You see despite the celebration and even acceptance of transsexuals, gays and drag performers in mainstream culture, the representation of trans*individuals are still falling short compared to the L.G.B community. Trans*individuals and other identities that move away from the gender binary are still very much a marginalised section of society, often stigmatized and misrepresented. A lack of knowledge and common misconceptions can leave trans* individuals, their families and friends feeling isolated, socially excluded and vulnerable. And this must change. It is crucial that people within the trans* community and those who have other socially defying gender identities are given the support and exposure they warrant like any other social minority within the U.K. We must raise awareness and show these individuals in a light that is accurate of the trans* community thereby reducing discrimination, prejudice and hostility. I hope my images will help advance trans equality within society and prove that beauty really resides in diversity.
I feel my photographs of gender bending, ambiguous individuals who embrace their individuality and move away from the gender binary will hopefully find a place in the current fashion market. Many more individuals with alternative gender identities have contacted me to participate in the project and so I’m really pleased that “Gender Benders” is fast becoming an ongoing series. After the opening night of the exhibition other people have contacted me complimenting me on the series and also forwarding me other subjects who could be potential subjects. This project has really inspired me and encouraged me to continue with this project, as its both current and an important issue to address.
Upon reflection this final project and the IMG19 exhibition has made me realise the difficulty of working in a team. Due to a hectic schedule and work I was unable to fully participate in all the aspects required in ensuring the IMG19 event was a success. This is unfortunate and I feel like I’ve missed the chance to gain new skills and feel a part of the group. Whilst the final project has developed and enhanced my communication, social networking and organisation skills as I have been conducting my own shoots, meeting new people and gaging more opportunities as an outcome through “Gender Bender”, it has also highlighted my weaknesses. I feel if I had managed my time more effectively and made more time for the event more could have been achieved as a team member. But all in all the final project has far outreached anything I would have initially anticipated and I hope it does continue to prosper.