Reviews | We do not match your binary sex. Do with it.
A few years ago I went to see a show at a jazz bar in Greenwich Village. I remember being happy, carried by the sounds of the instruments that mingled. But then I got up to go to the bathroom, and there a woman berated me for using the female toilet. I didn’t expect something like this to happen in New York City.
When you’re a dyke like me, people often think you’re a man. When you present outside the norm, it can sometimes make you feel like you are unworthy in some way. Too often we have the impression that society does not see our humanity. The way people talk to us sometimes can be so dehumanizing.
This photography project was born out of my frustration with being poorly gendered. I set out to photograph people whose looks do not correspond to a gender stereotype. I wanted to show my subjects in the light of joy and beauty, with images that say this is who we are and what we look like – can you give us some space?
It was important for me to create images in which others could see themselves, because I never had that growing up. When I was a kid there just weren’t any heroic portraits of black people I could look at other than Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. As I got older, more women were held up during History Month. blacks, but homosexual women were absent from the story.
I usually work in my small living room. But for this series, I worked in a studio to create a space to collaborate with my subjects. I had a desk to sit down and look at the pictures together.
With the white background, the models create their own space; there is nothing to distract from it. In each photo I want you to see the person.
“Give me some pride,” I said before hitting the shutter button. But the people I photographed already exuded a sense of pride. For me, it was about connecting with them and capturing it. I like to think that we see each other in each other.
I know most of the people I photographed for this series. Rio and I have worked together to create different funds that support black trans people and – through Queer Art, a non-profit arts organization that serves a diverse community of LGBTQ artists – support queer artists of color. Jay lives in my building and she was in Stonewall. Felli was my mentee.
I had wanted to photograph Linda for a long time. She’s photogenic, funny – an icon in her own right. Michele was a bouncer at the Clit Club in New York at the time. April is an amazing DJ and a sort of Renaissance woman. Marty is a stable and reliable friend, a great writer with a killer sense of humor. Joe has this wonderful energy and is one of those young people who know how to get around the world.
A growing number of young people are moving beyond the idea that we live in a world where sexuality and gender only come in two forms. It’s wonderful to be alive during this time. But it’s worth remembering how it was before, how it is still in much of the world.
My friend the poet and activist Pamela Sneed put it beautifully: “Every time we found ourselves in the dark and in the light, it was resistance. When you wore what you really wanted to wear, it was resistance. When we said to ourselves: ‘You are beautiful’, ‘You are not wrong’, it was resistance.
Lola Flash is a photographer whose work focuses on social, LGBTQ and feminist issues. The photographs here are part of the “guesswork” portrait series.