Gallery: Our Stories
Tyler (Totally Tiff!)
Gender Identity: non-binary
Current home: Seward, Alaska
From: Davenport, Iowa
Interests: the Arts, outdoor pursuits, psychology
At 5 I was a smiley, gregarious, and even flirtatious kid. The type that found immense joy in capturing fireflies on the edge of cornfields, fighting with sticks, climbing anything I could get purchase on with my skinny build. I learned that the neighbor girl was taking tap dance lessons, and I thought that sounded like fun too. Soon I learned, that was NOT an activity that conformed to expectations for a boy. And Boy George would NOT be an appropriate Halloween costume. And earrings are NOT to be worn, even if acting like a pirate. I learned how to properly sit, walk, talk, etc. or so I thought. I certainly spent energy trying to conform, yet I’d still hear “Queer!” and “Fag!” directed my way as I advanced grade by grade at a seemingly glacial pace.
Visibility of queer individuals in my youth was so sparse that the 2% number I recall from Sex Ed seemed impossibly high. I’d heard rumors of a male hair stylist in town that maybe didn’t like the ladies as much as they liked him, and rumors of a junior high gym teacher who looked like Susan Powter and had an indomitable spirit for teaching square dancing. Both amazing individuals, but certainly nothing I identified with. By the end of high school I knew that a few lesbians existed in the student body, however I don’t recall any self identified gays.
In high school I thought I’d figured it out. I had facial hair, dressed in black with work boots everyday, and put on airs as a tough. I thought it authentic at the time, in hindsight I had probably just given myself Stockholm Syndrome. My aesthetic certainly reflected my contempt for the dichotomous nature of “preppies” and “dirties” as some students would generalize. By nature of residing in a less affluent neighboring town I was a “dirty”. Regardless, I was drawn to reinventing myself, using punk, goth, rockabilly, and raver elements, always trying to find where I fit in with this world.
My last semester of high school I managed to make the honor roll, yet I was without clear direction upon graduation. The only real aim was to live independent of depending upon anyone for anything. I operated in survival mode, barely having money for gas, baffled how I could repay student loans. My high school art teacher’s advice of “apply to art school” was overshadowed by the naysayers, “you’ll never make real money making art”. Conforming to the cultural expectations around me had left me with chronic self doubt and low self worth despite being mentioned as a person of note by the class chosen speaker at graduation, getting multiple senior superlatives, and the belief that I was as Hunter S. Thompson might say, “One of God’s own prototypes, A high-powered mutant never even considered for mass production”. For almost the entirety of my life I’ve felt and usually been the weirdest person in the room.
I took the safe route, automotive repair at community college. I acquired skills that opened doors to other blue-collar employment. Jobs that required, breathing coal dust, pumping human waste 4000’ under the arctic ocean, working with chemicals that cut through steel, using explosives, working in temps from 115F to -105 wind chill. And in almost all those jobs I’d encounter bigotry. Jobs where I spent time trying to prove myself against those that would criticize my choice in words, my laugh, my choice in Chapstick, or how I apply it. Yet I’d “put down the purse and dig in my heels” to make ends meet.show more
When I finally saved funds to move from the Midwest to the West coast alone I discovered that the possibility of living authentically was so much more acceptable, I knew then that moving back to the Midwest would be nearly impossible for me. Perhaps the single most pivotal moment being when I went to the Fremont Solstice Parade in Seattle in drag, and The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence invited me to join them in the procession. The whole concept of drag nuns raising money for charity was a revelation.
I realized drag does not have to be about nightlife or linked to sexuality. Drag doesn’t have to be taken seriously. And it can actually help people out by being visible, showcasing the uniqueness we are all capable of, and drag can even help raise funds for marginalized groups and individuals in need. Members of our country, and our states, and our communities that some would rather forget.
My grandfather would often say, “everyone has a purpose, even if just to serve as an example”, and to “be a leader, not a follower”. He may be rolling in his grave at some of my hijinks, but I do have to wonder if he also watched the 1943 film This is The Army with Ronald Reagan and featuring several drag performances. The product of who I am is a reaction to forces that shaped me. And with the energy I’ve spent deprograming myself of social constructs that were toxic, it’s only natural my sometimes contrarian nature doubles down against oppression, intolerance, and injustice.
Some folks say that I seem more powerful in drag, or living my best life, or shining my brightest. I’m fully aware of how ridiculous I am, laugh with me when a spider drops from my wig or my voice cracks trying to project. Maybe it’s my calling to set the bar at the far end of weirdness in my community so that others can grow realizing “well I’m not as strange as they are, and they survived” Maybe that’s been my destiny all along.
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: At each of the small town Pride events I went to on Alaska’s main road system, I saw a few familiar faces repeatedly despite the long driving distances between each event; Alaska’s queer communities are small and spread out, but strongly interconnected. It’s not unusual for people to support a neighboring community by driving 3-6 hours one-way to attend a Pride event. The second time I met Tiffany, she was at a Pride event nearly four hours away from her home, and mentioned that her goal was to attend as many Pride events as she could in drag that month.
For a photo shoot, Tyler suggested taking down a tree for a client while in drag. I kept an eye on the weather forecast in his town, and we managed to catch the only sunny day in Seward, Alaska that month. Tiffany rapidly scaled a towering pine tree in a utilitarian drag outfit with chainsaw in hand stripping branches, then took a quick break at the top to strike a few poses that still showed off her sparkling eye shadow coated in sawdust. When we sat down for some coffee shop conversation post tree-felling, Tiffany unabashedly expressed that she seems to operate more in the extremes for flipping between different gender expressions, as compared to the fluid flow I talked about experiencing for myself in between different genders. They seem to truly feel most comfortable being themselves without being forced into any labels at all, embracing being a dad, being a queen, being a lumberjack, and everything else that fits each phase of their life’s journey.show less
Gender Identity: non-binary, queer, intersex
Current home: Palmer, Alaska
From: Oregon, Utqiagvik Alaska, Talkeetna Alaska
Hello friends! My name is Leo, I use they/them pronouns and identify as non-binary, queer and intersex. I was born in Oregon but my home is Alaska. My parents moved from Oregon to Utqiagvik when I was four. We adopted my brother there and some of my earliest memories are of singing Inupiaq songs in class. We then moved to my grandfather’s farm in Talkeetna and I have fond memories of my time there. My grandfather taught me much about self reliance, being kind and respecting the earth. My family moved to the valley a few years later and I grew up mostly in Palmer, AK speeding around on my bike and climbing trees.
Palmer is where my gender and sexuality started developing between marathons of Kim Possible and watching Mulan on repeat. I knew that I wanted to be valued for my accomplishments and my strength rather than valued as a girl. If the teachers asked for a “big strong boy” to help with a task in the classroom I was the first person to stand up and do more than any other person in my class.
I became my mother’s caretaker and my brother’s keeper at 13. I was given adult responsibility when I was a child and it is something that I’ve carried with me throughout my life – it has formed who I am both good and bad.
I struggled with bullying throughout my whole schooling experience from pre-k through high school. Something about me seemed to make people dislike me. I now know that I was a mirror and they didn’t like their reflections. It wasn’t until college and a few broken hearts that I realized that my sexuality wasn’t straightforward like I had been conditioned to believe. And then a few years after that my gender identity followed. Leading recently when I found out through my own research that I’m intersex as well.
Throughout my life, I experienced a lot of trauma and through that trauma I formed like coal under pressure until I became the person I so desperately needed when I was a child. I needed someone to listen to me, to believe me, to affirm my identity and to love me unconditionally. I didn’t always receive those things but I am blessed to be able to give them freely to the clients I serve as a behavioral healthcare worker. There is nothing that gives me more joy than to be the safe person for the young people in my community and I hope I’ll continue to be that person for everyone I meet.show more
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: Leo looked completely at ease as they posed for some photos at one of their favorite scenic spots in Palmer, Alaska. It’s a spot where they often take their clients to process their emotions, and felt like Leo was also in sync with the dynamic magnitude of our natural surroundings: the mountains, the rushing water of the river, and the steep bluffs/cliffs rising from the river behind us.
At the same time, Leo expressed some of their personal frustration that the river helps offset, to include the reality that they have not been protected from what was likely significant employment discrimination against them as a queer person in their previous job, then the fall out that comes with prolonged unemployment following this. Leo’s approach to these predicaments seemed to be healthy and optimistic though, as they continue to put time and effort into creating safe spaces for other queer individuals. They seem to recognize that if we don’t create these spaces and put the effort into expanding them … no one else will do it for us. Thank you for sharing some of your hardships Leo, and for still continuing to be the best version of you in your community!show less
Gender Identity: male/trans man
Sexuality: Pansexual and polyamorous
Current home: Alaska!
From: I was born and have spent a significant amount of time in central Minnesota. I was very lucky and grew up in this amazing state – ALASKA!
Interests: Emergency medicine, my Harley, long distance driving (driving my truck in general), my pets (dog, cat, snake), drag, hiking, camping, fishing, climbing, biking, skiing, snowboarding, … pretty much if it’s outdoors I’ll most likely love it or be willing to try it!
My name is Daniel (Dan), I grew up in Alaska. I spent most of my early 20’s and late teens in Minnesota. Growing up, gender didn’t play a big role in my life other than when choosing clothes and when people, mostly kids, would ask if I was a boy or a girl. This didn’t bother me, I would just answer them and continue on with whatever I was doing (usually playing with friends).
I was very lucky growing up, my parents allowed my brother and I to dress how we wanted (as long as our clothes weren’t raggedy or pajamas outside) and play how we wanted as long as we were treating others kindly, obeying our parents rules, and obeying the law.
A majority of the time I was outside playing, riding bikes, skateboarding, playing catch, etc… I was always outside. I would also choose to play video games with my brother once in a while and I enjoyed playing with my barbie collection as well. I vividly remember I would much rather be outside helping my dad with fixing things or yard work than be inside baking or cleaning with my mom. I enjoyed time with her, but not baking and inside cleaning.
I came out to my parents as bi when I was 16, and soon after was my first girlfriend. When I was 18, thanks to the wonders of the up and coming YOUTUBE I found out what Transgender was. I did lots of research and realized that I am Transgender. I slowly came out to people who I thought I could trust and some are still friends of mine today (13 years later). I chose not to transition until after I was in the military in 2016, when they allowed people to start transitioning. Transitioning has definitely had its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I have 8 year old twins and absolutely love being a dad.
I have been very lucky and only had a handful of bad experiences with people not like/agree with me being trans. Other than that, the majority of people have been amazing or just not cared one way or the other. This includes the military.
As far as day to day goes… I pass as a cis male (assigned male at birth). This makes day to day pretty easy, except when I am in a LGBTQIA+ environment, I sometimes get questioned on why I’m there, though this has gotten better with time.
Now, as a 31 yr old single with 2 kids and 8 years in the military, am getting to freely explore myself and wants. This has been a very fun and interesting experience and chance to grow as a person. I have found that I identify with being a Pansexual, Polyamorous, Transgender male. Being trans and living in Alaska has been fairly diﬃcult, the population in Alaska is large but the queer community is fairly small. I spend a lot of my time working at a local ER, and with the military. I spend my free time with friends and family, I enjoy going to drag shows, camping, fishing, hiking, rock climbing at the local gym, and long drives/road trips when I’m able.show more
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: One of the first things that struck me about Danny was the overwhelming multitude of moving parts in his busy life. To him, it didn’t seem that overwhelming though, and quickly concluded that Danny seems comfortable moving through life at a relatively fast pace with multiple interests. He juggles being constantly on the move with fast paced careers, working towards medical school, raising his two high energy kids, and roaming distances both far and near for outdoor adventures. At the same time, it was easy to see that he revels in slowing down to be in the moment with his kids while we snapped some photos near a roadside pull out, where trees, rocks, and small hills doubled as a playground with Alaska’s majestic scenery in the background.
Danny naturally gravitates towards more “hard-core” careers and interests traditionally associated with the most masculine expressing stereotypes. It seemed fitting to snap some photos of Danny with one of these many interests – a Harley motorcycle, with the city scape of his home in the background. He simultaneously embraces the feminine, teaching his children to make room for both play and emotional work, and having a passion for drag performing as well. Thank you for being so fearless, Danny, when it comes to living the most genuine version of you outside of any prescribed gender stereotypes.show less
Gender Identity: transfeminine
Current home: Eagle River, Alaska
Hi, I’m Evie. I’m an Alaska born transfem from Eagle River. I live and sometimes struggle with ADHD, autism, depression and anxiety. I work helping homeless youth in Alaska to find shelter support and maybe a place they can feel accepted and call home.
Photographer’s note: I met Evie at a coffee shop in downtown Anchorage, and started with what I thought might be a light conversational opener, asking how they met a close friend of hers who I had photographed a couple weeks earlier. She didn’t hesitate to briefly dive into how her friend had helped her with leaving conversion therapy, and with finding a new & safe home. I’m not sure if I managed to hide my surprise at hearing that young people were still being forced into conversion therapy, and only a short distance south of Alaska’s main urban center too. I learned afterward thru some research, that subjecting minors to conversion therapy is still legal in 29 states, but is often reframed under different titles; what should be an archaic practice in the psychology world that attempts to erase/cure someone of their gender and sexuality traits is still very much alive in some states.
Some of Evie’s underlying anguish from her past experiences was still palpable in casual conversation, however, her contagious and beaming grin was winning out as I got acquainted with her quirky and beautiful personality. She stayed relaxed in front of the camera by spinning her colorful umbrella with peacock feathers and we had fun capturing some of the colorful motion behind her. Evie looked at home, as she gravitated towards the pine trees in a city park where she holds a lot of special memories. She thought it important that we capture these urban pine trees in the background, expressing that the pine tree was one of the most essential and special things about Alaska, yet one of the most overlooked. I’m happy to have met you Evie, and am glad that you are now bringing the brightest version of your light to Alaska!
Gender Identity: Transgender man
Pronouns: He/him/hit (hit=a mix of he+it)
Sexuality: Ace, Bi, Queer
Current home: Anchorage, Alaska
From: Anchorage, Alaska
Interests: writing, cooking, photography, filmmaking, reading, organizing, collecting, games, human rights, queer art, and climate change
I was raised Catholic and homeschooled k-12; I wasn’t taught about gender or sexuality and didn’t have a word for how I was feeling until I was a Junior in high school. Since starting my gender journey I’ve used many different terms and learned it’s ok to question things and an important process to finding yourself.
I use the term trans man now, and I’m very happy but I want people to be able to look past my gender and just see Felix. I started my medical transition this year and came out to my parents around the same time. It’s felt very freeing to not have to hide from them anymore and to be completely me in all parts of my life.
It’s been a long process to get where I am now and it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve grown a lot through it and I’m very proud of the man I am today. There’s a lot of joy in being trans and a lot of love; it’s important to find community and keep each other safe. I love being me and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m so proud of all of my trans siblings, y’all are amazing and so strong keep being you.
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: In a beautiful public library, Felix grabbed a book off the shelf titled “Felix Ever After,” a novel in the young adult’s section depicting the life and struggles of a Black, queer and transgender teenager. Both as a child and young adult, Felix has always found comfort in the multitude of stories from around the country and world that they have been able to access in the safe space of the libraries.
Felix expressed that his self-confidence has grown since starting a medical transition, and sounds like it has been a rewarding and ongoing process to embrace who he is. Thank you, Felix, for letting me capture some images of your gentle tenacity and growing self-assurance.
For anyone not local to Alaska … no, the frenzy of book bans cherry picking LGBTQ+ themes and authors off the shelves have not yet erased the diversity of Alaskan libraries (and hopefully they won’t!). Alaskan communities have definitely not been immune to this type of censorship though, which seems to be gaining more traction in recent months, but for the most part select communities (both large and small) have still been winning their battles to keep public libraries stocked with books that share multiple viewpoints and represent all members of their diverse communities.show more
Gender Identity: Transgender man
Current home: Recently moved from Anchorage, Alaska to Texas
From: Valdez, Alaska
Cultural identity/background: Alaska Native (Inupiat, Athabascan)
Interests: Hiking, singing, acting, board games, yoga, softball, helping others
I’ve always known that I was a boy and as soon as I could express myself I communicated my preferences to my caregivers. I made sure to tell my Grandma that “I know you like pink Grandma but I like blue” when she would buy clothing for me. She continued to try to buy me things that had frills or dresses, but eventually gave up when I refused to wear them. I didn’t experience true gender euphoria until my Auntie let me shop in the “boys” section for the first time when I was eight years old. I picked out a black button up shirt with flames on the collars (this was before Guy Fieri was famous), cargo pants, and combo long-sleeved shirt with skateboards on the arms with a short sleeve on top that had a dragon sticking out its tongue. I had never felt more myself than when I tried on those clothes.
It makes me so happy that so many people today, especially youth are aware of pronouns and are given the opportunity to decide which pronouns they would like people to use for them. I was hyper aware of pronouns and their impact as a child because every time someone used she or her to describe me, my inner voice would say “that’s not right”. It would feel like a punch to my gut every time someone used a three-letter word about me. I am a huge advocate for how important pronouns are for everyone, regardless of their gender identity. Using someone’s correct pronouns is a small thing that makes a huge difference and shows that you care and respect someone.
Suicide is something that I was also aware of at a young age because I wanted to die every day as young as eight years old. This wasn’t due to the fact that I am Transgender, but rather because I knew that I was living in a society where I did not feel able to be my true self. Every day I longed to wake up in a body that I could feel comfortable in and that could communicate who I was to the world.
I almost killed myself at 16 years old, but decided to say goodbye to a good friend who lived in my neighborhood. She showed me an episode of the first season of Glee, which featured the first openly gay character in a primetime drama on television. In the episode that I watched, he came out to his father who responded by telling him that he loved and accepted him no matter what, and that he already knew. In that moment I decided that maybe the world was changing for the better and that maybe one day I could be accepted and loved for who I was (I was right)! I decided to stick around thanks to that visibility and I am forever grateful that I did. My hope is that visibility for Queer people and other marginalized identities will continue to grow because it matters incalculably. My other wish is that Queer youth and particularly Trans youth will be supported to be their true selves because doing so will save their lives.show more
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: The first time I met Kal, he seemed to be trying not to beam too much throughout the conversation, and revealed that he had recently proposed to his now fiancé. He was still smiling a couple weeks later when we went out for a “photo hike,” lighting up the somewhat grey and drizzly day around us. This hike gave me an excuse for another tourist day exploring the outskirts of Anchorage, as Kal led the way to a spot that was off the more beaten trail, to a dramatic river gorge and views of the distant cityscape cradled against the mountains and sea.
After we got a mile or so into this hike, Kal pointed out one of the first trees he ever climbed as a kid; the tree’s sprawling limbs stood out from its neighbors; good climbing trees are a rarity in Alaska’s tall and reaching boreal forests. Kal made a scramble up to a nook in the tree look easy, then took a peaceful moment to connect with nature, even as the wind shook the tree and blew the leaves parallel to the ground. On the rest of our walk up the mountainside, Kal shared a little more of the roller coaster of a journey he has been on since then; I also learned about what the intersections of being an Alaska Native, queer, and transgender man look like for him, and what he does to support other Alaska Natives through his work. I’m grateful to have met you Kal, and am glad that you’re still here being a light for others in your communities.show less
Gender Identity Cisgendered woman
Current home: Anchor Point, Alaska
From: Born on the west coast of Washington, raised Anchor Point, AK
Interests: Family, singing and music, movies and TV, books, human equality, Drag
Growing up I was always the mother hen and a tomboy. I loved my stuffed animals, Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite, GEM, and She-Ra, but not Barbie or her friends. I would rather play with my little truck or my brother’s GI Joe and He-Man figures. My mom was always supportive of that, my dad too when he was home, but as a young person these “contradictory” things made me wonder if I was something different than what I appeared to be.
The more I looked in on myself as I grew the more I realized that I could have all kinds of interests, because my gender didn’t define who I am as a human or what I can/should like. That did not mean that I didn’t still feel different; I was/am still a fat girl/woman who loves singing (too bad passion doesn’t equate talent). I also love listening to music of all kinds, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, comic book heroes and villains, babies and kids, sports, walking along the beach or river, dressing up occasionally, being comfortable most other times. I love performing as someone else on stage/other venues, but totally disliking being the center of attention 99% of the time.
Like many others in this world, I was bullied by peers, teachers, and some “well meaning” family members because of my looks, interests, and my shyness/introvert tendencies. That hurt echoes through me every single day, but I always try to hide or ignore that pain. I never want anyone to feel that same way, so most days I put on a smile and do my best to help others to know and feel love and support. We are all human beings after all, and it costs us nothing to be kind and accept people for who they are. But it does costs us to focus on our differences and see them as some kind of negative. It costs us human lives every single day, it nearly cost me mine.
W.H.O. says 703,000 lives are lost every year from suicide and there are so many more attempts. In 2019 suicide was the fourth leading cause of death for 15-29 year-olds, the range where we struggle the most with who we are or who we’re supposed to be. Obviously not all those lost or attempts are folx struggling with their identity, sexuality, or bullies, but too many are and that just breaks my heart. Why do we drain our (and other’s) energy hating, when instead we could embrace this wonderous variety of humankind.
I’m often reminded of the example that equality/respect isn’t cake, it doesn’t take anything away from your piece to give it to those around you. I guess that is what I want everyone to take away from my part in this project… love/equality/respect isn’t cake or some other finite commodity or resource, it is a boundless source of energy/love/joy so share it, spread it around so others can do the same.show more
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: I got to meet Shawnisty at Homer’s Pride event, a relatively humble Pride event that felt hidden from the main business strips and tourist stretches in town. The enthusiasm of the small crowd of vendors, nonprofit tables, attendees and a few folks in full drag made this small patch of town park green space on a street corner shine. Shawnisty’s sparkling personality, glimmering dress, and artfully applied rainbow make-up also helped to transform the small park gazebo into a makeshift stage.
Shawnisty brought the same contagiously joyful personality both to her drag persona, and to her everyday expression after meeting me at one of her favorite beaches a short while later. In each of her overlapping elements, she seemed to enjoy having her feminine expression seen in two different ways. I also enjoyed capturing her different modes of expression, particularly on the beach where Shawnisty seemed to be in her element, expressing that the ocean and water always hold a warm spot in her heart. Thank you, Shawnisty, for your presence at Pride events and everyday in your community; it’s so important for LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups to know there are people like Shawnisty making communities more welcoming and inclusive.show less
Gender Identity Trans, Nonbinary, Agender
Current home: Anchorage, Alaska
Birthplace: I was born in Florida, but came to Alaska with my family when I was 4. I grew up here in Southcentral Alaska. I spent about 5 years living in Nashville, TN but came back to Alaska a few years ago. This is my home.
Interests: I work in medical records at a mental health facility and as a transaction coordinator for a queer-owned real estate business. I just recently started exploring weightlifting to build confidence in my body movements. I haven’t been doing it long but I’m very proud of the progress I’ve made. I love reading and writing. Poetry especially. I have a collected work of poetry in zine format that explores my journey to understanding my identity and the authenticity with which I show up in the world. Finding the language to better understand myself has always been, and I think always will be a crucial part of my journey.
I’ve always identified as queer but never really came out in terms of my sexuality. Even with my history in queer relationships and community, I struggled with the coercive nature of heteronormativity. It took me 36 years, but I finally feel as though I am bringing my whole self when I meet the world. Coming out as trans a few years ago has shown me just how important my chosen family is. I am planning my wedding at the end of summer to my partner, Shirlie (they/she). One of my best friends is officiating and I am so grateful to be able to share this experience with people who love both of us so much. I’m also so excited to see all the creative elements we’re planning come together. I’m going to have a sword bouquet and I think that’s going to be pretty badass.
I have the immense honor of being a parent to a gender expansive kid. Getting to witness and support a young person’s exploration and development of their self is something I honestly cannot express how deeply lucky I am to be in this place helping this person become who they are in safety and love. The responsibility of parenthood is always overwhelming but the responsibility to show up & hold space for a kid who explores gender in an expansive way is something I know is so important. I didn’t grow up with this language, this awareness, this representation, so being able to provide a new generation with the tools and support they need to be exactly who they are is a daily healing process.
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: My first impression of Kat was that they have an incredible command over who they are as a person at this point in their life; it shows in their words of poetry, in their confidence and body language. Their confidence still gives so much room for curiosity about the intricacies and fluid nature of identity, as they continue to take the time to passionately learn about these intricacies.
Kat does not hide their curiosity and jumped straight into embracing my openly blunt questions about gender when we met up at one of Anchorage’s few truly local coffee cafes (one I would end up going back to more than a few times!); the queer friendly café boasts LGBTQ+ themed books in the entrance and gives way to a cozy living room feel and several more shelves of books lining the perimeter. We then captured some photos of Kat’s contemplative demeanor surrounded by bright, graffiti covered rocks. It was also my first time visiting this colorful, coastal corner of Anchorage, whose layers upon layers of graffiti seem to change from one week to the next. The beach park serves as a quirky and fun respite from the city’s bustling, but still regularly reminds you of its urban surroundings every 10-20 minutes as airplanes fly in low with a deafening roar to land nearby. Thank you Kat for showing me this fun, beautiful gem in your city, and for taking this challenging journey to be the best version of you!
Gender Identity non-binary, genderqueer
Sexuality: asexual panromantic
Current home: Wasilla, Alaska
Birthplace: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
I was adopted by a southern Baptist minister when I was 3. I grew up in deep, east Texas. Trauma and abuse was the way my adoptive family dealt with everything, including an autistic child with ADHD.
From the age of 5, I knew I was different. I didn’t want to be a girl. I wanted to be a boy. I refused to play with girl toys and hated Barbie especially. I would steal my brothers action figures and play with them. I really wouldn’t even play with my sister, because she wanted to play with dolls. I was a tomboy and it was tolerated for a while, since I lived in the country. I always had to wear dresses and conform to gender roles when we went anywhere, but at home I could play outside and get dirty. I never grew out of it like they hoped.
Even as a teenager I was gender nonconforming. I wasn’t given any kind of sex education so I didn’t know I was asexual until I was in my 30s and a mother of 3. I was devastated that I had forced myself into heteronormative behavior to fit in.
In 2019, I truly began to explore my identity and sexuality. It’s been a long road to find myself while healing from all the traumas I have been through. During the process I found my true passion as well. In 2020, I started painting to help my mental health. Turning my grief and sadness from the loss of a child in 2021, and my own lost childhood into something beautiful is my favorite way to cope. I have also written a book about healing from abuse. Using what I have learned to help others is what keeps me going. I came out officially last year on my birthday.
After my daughter passed, I knew my only chance at happiness and life was authenticity. I knew that I had to be the real me for the first time no matter how scary. It may have taken me most of my life to figure out who I am, but I know now. Now I live freely and it is worth it.
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: I loved being able to capture some glimpses of Phenix’s resilient spirit that has already overcome a lifetime of steep challenges. Phenix glowed as they told the stories & backgrounds of some of their art pieces around their home, a passion that has unmistakably been a strong healing force in their life. Their tone shifted as they pointed out in a blue toned painting how their daughter’s hair looked shortly before she passed away; it was clearly a vivid visual memory that seemed therapeutic to record with a canvas and paint. Phenix shared another art piece spread out over three panels; the emotions recorded in this piece seemed to jump off the panels as they described working through emotional turmoil and trauma shortly after her daughter’s sudden passing as well.
It took Phenix only a few moments after picking up a paintbrush to look completely at peace with themselves and their surroundings in the mosquito laden summer air, seeming to come back to most genuine version of who Phenix is. Painting is a passion they have only found in the past few years, and seemed to be at ease painting emotions that reflect the most genuine version of themself in the fitting image of a rising phoenix. Thank you Phenix, for sharing your art, and sharing vulnerable parts of your story with the world.
Gender Identity: trans man
Current home: Anchorage, Alaska
From: Anchorage, Alaska
Interests: Peer support, nature walks, Pokemon
I didn’t always know I was trans. Growing up, gender was irrelevant to me from the time I was born to about 8 or so. Even then I didn’t have a strong sense of my gender. I played with Barbies, and me and my little brother would play Barbies and Batman. I wore dresses only on school picture day and those didn’t feel quite right, but that was my only indication that I was different from other people. I just thought that everyone was like that.
It was while I was going through my first puberty that I started to realize that I was different. All my life I was scared to be different and so I suppressed it. I wore clothes that I thought were acceptable for a girl and I hid everything that made me ME. That led to me being very depressed most of my teenage years. I didn’t think I would make it to 18.
It was only when I came out to myself that things started getting better. When I started T at the beginning of 2019, I felt more complete than I ever have been. I got both my hysterectomy and my top surgery done at the end of 2022; while my top surgery isn’t perfect, it fits my body. I love my scars and eventually I plan to get cherry blossoms tattooed by them to accentuate them. I have cut my hair before; while I do love having short hair, I started growing it out in 2020 and I’ve come to realize just how much I love my long hair. Everything about me feels right and while I’m thankful for the medical interventions I’ve had, the bigger piece was and is loving myself as I am. As trans people, we’re taught to hate ourselves and our bodies and we don’t deserve that. We deserve love and acceptance just as much as cis folks do. It’s an act of love to change yourself to fit in your body, not an act of hate.
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: I kept running into Quinn at different Pride events around Alaska after he reached out to me online. What always strikes me about Quinn (other than his creatively bright hairstyles!), is that he is unapologetically himself in every way; a characteristic that can take half a life time for many other adults further along in their life journey to find.
Quinn did not hesitate to share just a few of the tough experiences he has already gone through in his relatively young life. After walking out to a section of Anchorage’s coastline through some beautiful forest, Quinn asked if he could do a few shirtless photos, and felt like we captured a beautiful moment where he could just take a deep breath of ocean air as the most genuine version of himself. The expansive, textured mudflats in the inlet behind him underly some of the greatest tidal changes in the world; it’s a landscape that stays the same at its core from day to day, but also undergoes a rapid transformation twice daily, in a way defining and making this dynamic landscape of Alaska what it is. Quinn is no longer boxing himself in by traditional gender norms, and has gone through the hard work both internally and externally to be the best version of himself. It shows that he takes this work seriously, even pursuing training for a career that helps other people who are still navigating challenging journeys. Thank you for being so vulnerable Quinn and sharing your story.
Gender Identity: cisgendered man
Current home: Anchorage, Alaska
From: I was originally born in southern Idaho and spent a little bit of time in Anchorage, Alaska, as a baby, before splitting time between Portland and Eugene, OR as a young boy. I moved back up to Anchorage permanently in 2003
Interests: I am passionate for all things social justice, civics, and community. My career is young, but I’ve managed to more-or-less build it around those passions, and I’m grateful to get to say that. I currently work in marketing for a local community development non-profit. I am the board secretary for The Queen’s Guard. When I’m not doom-scrolling on my phone in my off-time from work and/or volunteering, I can usually be found puttering around my house, daydreaming, travelling locally, nationally, and internationally, reading, trying to cook a new recipe, infodumping on someone, hiking/playing outside, or doing fun stuff with my friends and family. I’m pretty obsessed with my dog, Coco, too.
I was born on the autism spectrum, and the older I get, the more I realize how it’s always made me different. I never quite understood exactly why boys had to do “boy things.” (Does joy really have a gender?…) As a kid, I loved playing Barbies, wearing dresses, and listening to “girly” music, just as much as I wanted to be a hockey player and play in the mud. I never quite felt 100% like a boy; I present masculine and I identify as cis, but even as a small child I knew that gender norms were made up and baseless. Moreover, I’ve always loved the more feminine parts of me. But unfortunately, bullying’s a huge part of my history; because of my autism, I wasn’t able to “mask” very well (and still can’t), but enough gender-shaming, coupled with growing up in a less progressive time in our culture, I learned to (at least try to) suppress my natural femininities, and even came to internalize shame around being myself as a whole. It took me until my junior year of university to definitively accept that I am a man who loves men, and that 100% of attempts at “acting straight” are miserably futile, and it took just about as long to love myself for being autistic, too. I’m grateful to report today that I have a supportive family and community, and have experienced relationships that have been good for my heart and soul.
I’m on an ever-continuing journey towards self-love, particularly with my autism. It wasn’t until the pandemic, and a string of bad professional experiences and personal relationships, that I realized that it doesn’t serve me to be “normal” to appease the sensibilities of others. I realized that I am born the way I am, my needs are what they are, my differences make me the person that I am, and because of that, I am valid and whole and worthy of no less than love, respect, inclusion, and dignity. Being disabled isn’t the same thing as being incapable, and I’m proud of the life and community I’m building for myself.
I love me. Me in all my queerness. Me in my soft masculinity and femininity. Me in my all my neurodivergence. Taking up space in the world, as nature and fate intended.
Photographer’s Note: The first time I met David, at a small town Pride event, I started learning more about the Queen’s Guard in Alaska, an organization that he plays a key role in. I had first noticed David and other Queen’s Guard members in colorful and whimsical outfits at Soldotna Pride, tactfully steering people away from a sullen gentleman roaming the event wearing a shirt with a vile message targeting the LGBTQ+ community; he appeared to be attempting to instigate negative interactions with a cell phone at the ready to record & post. Queen’s Guard members also inserted themselves into a group of protesters outside the Pride event in an effort to water down the bigoted messages being flashed towards the main street. True to their name, this organization does what they can to “guard” the LGBTQ+ community and their safe spaces from hate and intolerance, as well as hosting a few major Pride events in the state every year.
I ran into David’s contagiously joyful and frank personality again shortly later, at another small town Pride event. One of Seward’s main Pride events is the Rainbow over Resurrection Cruise, an amazing ride down this deep turquoise fjord that is filled with sightings of humpback whales, orcas, sea lions, sea otters and more. There was no one here to protest the party boat, and everyone’s joy spilled out into Resurrection Bay. While I spent half my time warming up indoors, David embraced the cold, summer air on the bow of the boat sporting shorts and rosy cheeks. Thank you David, for being so visible, and for everything you do for the beautiful communities you are a part of!
Gender Identity: cisgendered woman
Current home: Soldotna, Alaska
From: Camas, Washington
Interests: photography, art tile installations, large scale glass mosaics, fiber art, photography, landscaping, and mixed media, home construction and repairs, caregiving, being a commercial seamstress
Identifying as female, I’ve been heterosexual all my life. My friends however are not all like me, as I make no criticism of other gender identifications. The heart and soul of a creature is what matters to me.
My lineage is from United Kingdom and Norway. I imagine those Vikings came to the British Isles to conquer, and left a bit of themselves behind, as I am 40% Norse. From Camas, Washington, myself, my mother, and the family cat drove the Alcan Highway together to my father who was already working in Alaska. We hit Soldotna, Alaska the day before my mother’s 45th birthday. I didn’t want to move, but my parents did. We survived.
Living in Soldotna, Alaska for 54 years, my roots are embedded in the bedrock of the community. I graduated from the sole high school, Kenai High, in 1971. Transforming from student to motherhood at 19, I raised two daughters by my first husband. It was much later that I met the love of my life and found the true meaning of being an adored human being. Paul gave me the real ME, as he taught me about how love works, first by learning to love oneself, then by empowering me to give that love to another.
Part of that gift from Paul was how it enabled me to flourish, as I gained proficiency I never thought would be mine. Most important in that gathering was recognizing my innate artistic ability. Those traits have aided me in both functional and abstract tasks I’ve undertaken throughout my lifetime. My mother taught me to sew when she bought a new Singer sewing machine in 1962. Starting out making simple doll clothes, I’ve grown into a troubleshooting commercial seamstress from which local businesses send customers my way.
As Paul and I joined, we built our home out of pocket, taking 6 years. I worked beside him while he taught me the importance of sound construction technique, guaranteeing longevity of both the construction, and longevity for ourselves. We moved in in 1998. Sadly, my love had five and a half years to enjoy our home before he died of cancer in 2004
My passion for photography began when I was allowed to take pictures with my parents Brownie camera as a child. I was gifted with the opportunity to attend college at the age of 57, where one of my lifelong dreams became reality. I earned an A.A.S. and B.A. in photography in four years, graduating in 2014. I have created art in many media:
– art tile installations, large scale glass mosaics, fiber art, photography, landscaping, and mixed media.
Over time, I owned a bed and breakfast for 21 years, managed property for 20 years, currently perform professional photo-restoration and shoot an occasional special event while still working as a seamstress. In between that work, I elder-cared my parents for 16 years, which led me to part time work at a local assisted living home after they passed away. Empathy directs life.
Photographer’s Note: I met Sandra at Soldotna’s Pride event, looking entirely at ease in the milling crowds of LGBTQ+ friends and other folks she showed up to support. When I showed up at her home, she was literally waist deep in her deck reconstruction. Motioning to a project that looked like a multi-person job, she said she was working on repairing her deck before her 70th birthday party in two weeks. She was replacing beams under the sizeable deck single handedly, using giant levers to work through the tough job on her own. When talking about her personal growth throughout her life, she described herself as previously “mousey,” and I just couldn’t picture it.
Her approach to her home project seemed consistent with the self-sufficiency she described finding more in her later adult life. She embraces learning a huge range of skills, some of which fit within traditional women’s social roles, and many of which do not. Signs of her creativity and artistic expression garnish her entire home. The most eyecatching artpiece at her home is an intricate wall of glass art, where the placement of each piece of repurposed glass from different parts of Sandra’s life was thoughtfully planned.
Thank you, Sandra, for being an incredible role model for people of all genders and all ages, by embracing a full life of continual growth and discovery.
Gender Identity: I feel more fluid
Current home: Homer, Alaska
From: Yakima, Washington
Interests: reading, jewelry, puzzles
I am from Yakima Washington and spent my younger years there. My family then moved to Florida, and as an adult I lived in St. Petersburg/Tampa and Fort Myers. I am also a mom; I have 2 kids, a boy and a girl.
For a lot of my life, I assumed I was just bisexual and that is not the case. I moved here to Alaska with my partner and had always wanted to move here; her family is also here and she had been wanting to return, so it worked out well for our combined future goals.
I am the CAC (Children’s Advocacy Center) family advocate for Haven House here in Homer; I love my work and my colleagues, they feel like family.
In my spare time, I love to read, make jewelry, and do puzzles with my partner. I also enjoy my social media; as a matter of fact my partner and I met on TikTok. I am loving Homer, everyone for the most part really is so kind and open and accepting, I look forward to putting down roots and marrying my partner here.
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: As we scouted out the numerous dandelion patches between the scattered driftwood, Nicole shared a beautiful dandelion tattoo on her forearm with fluttering birds. I loved hearing about the history behind her decision to get this beautiful piece of art inked into her skin, and the happy memories she associates with dandelions.
As we enjoyed the beach, she talked about why she and her partner decided to make their exit from her home in Florida, where more than a few LGBTQ people are quietly and sadly migrating to other states, sometimes as far as Alaska. Part of me is saddened to hear people are feeling they are no longer safe in states where they grew up, but was glad to have the opportunity to capture some glimpses of Nicole’s enthusiasm and passion for her beautiful new home, and for her job that involves tireless support of young people in need. Thank you Nicole, for everything you’re doing in your new home, and for the effort you put into letting LGBTQ youth in your community know that they are also welcome and supported.
Gender Identity: trans woman
Current home: Kenai, Alaska
From: Wrangell & Juneau, AK, Seattle, WA
Interests: live action role play, playing other games, writing, photography, sightseeing
Hi, my name is Layla. I’m a pansexual trans woman who currently lives in Kenai Alaska, but with plans to move. I was born in Colorado, but have lived in Alaska ever since I was 2 months old. My parents moved to Wrangell, Alaska at an early age, as that’s where my dad was from. We lived there for about a year and a half until they moved back to Seattle. They lived with me as a baby, and when I was three my dad unfortunately passed away from an overdose.
My mom then took me and moved back to Wrangell, Alaska with my dad’s parents. We lived there until I was about nine when we moved to Juneau and lived there for a year before finally settling on the Kenai Peninsula. Fast forward, and here I am now with my amazing partner.
My one main passion is LARP (Live Action Role Play). I play with an international organization known as Amtgard; it’s a fast paced form of LARP that mixes foam sword combat and fantasy. With Amtgard, you can be whoever you want to be, whoever you identify as, in a safe environment with fellow players who just want to have fun, be nerdy and whack each other with foam swords. Amtgard to me is a safe place where anyone who is queer can find an acceptance and community that is almost like family. It was the first group I came out to as trans. When I’m not larping, I love other hobbies such as playing games, writing, little bit of photography, and a little bit of sightseeing. Most of the time I spend with my partner when he’s not deployed with his main job and passion.
Photographer’s Note: A theme that Layla kept coming back to is that “there is a place for everyone” in her LARP’ing group (Live Action Role Play), whether it be making costumes, actively role playing, or taking a leadership position in the group and organization. While I was walking through the town park here looking for her Amtguard group, it was hard to miss a somewhat sparsely attended “counter-event” to a Pride event (which was hosted here the day before); the thinly veiled homophobic and transphobic messages hanging on the tent’s banners didn’t create a space I wanted to stay in for long, and hurried my pace towards the swinging foam swords on the other end of the park. Layla’s group, although displaced by the protest event that day, had a refreshing vibe in comparison, with more than a few other members of the group also putting a heartfelt emphasis on how important it is that their group is welcoming towards people of all genders and all other backgrounds.show more
I loved seeing how immersed Layla, her partner and fellow members were in the intricacies of this game. As an outsider to the group, it looks like a refreshing break from often ordinariness of the rest of life, while also engaging everyone’s creativity with a lot of thought given to learning a range of rules. Layla and her partner clearly gravitate towards each other through an invisible bond while still engaging with the rest of their group as well. Thanks to Layla and her partner for welcoming me to share in some of the joy they take in this community!
Gender Identity: transman
Pronouns: he/him, they/them
Current home: Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada
Cultural Identity/background: Columbian, German
Interests: dogs (mushing, training, kennel life), hockey, snowboarding, video editing/creation of short clips, board games
I distinctly remember feeling being born in the wrong body since I can remember watching my younger brother growing up, so around the age of 3-4. Although we shared the same interests and passions and often played together, his clothing, gifts and manners were always different from mine, and it was all the reflection of society and their idea of boy and girl. It was impossible for me to understand why I was treated so differently.
I was also raised catholic, and how damaging that can be is a story for itself, but I remember always wishing God had made me a boy, even from before elementary school. I am realizing that the inner little boy inside me died at some point around the age of 5-8 when humans in my life stopped treating me as a child, but started treating me as a girl and future woman of society, which is a very destructive concept for trans youth. For most of my teenage years I was bullied; I was just not one of the girls. I always felt like I was one of guys back then.
February 2017 was a turning point for me. I was in Australia attending university when I randomly found someone’s FTM (female-to-male) journey on YouTube, and I was stunned. I immediately wanted top surgery and I was mind blown what HRT (hormone replacement therapy) can do to a human. So, I started learning and reading, then I realized surgery was a pretty unrealistic dream – too expensive and not accessible, so I focused on finishing my degree and starting to save money for it.
During my high school years, I felt happiest with my dog; he gave me a reason to exist. I started training him, more and more professionally, and later started competing with him. The bond between a dog and a human is something that would later change my entire life.
After university, I decided to learn about dog mushing. I left Germany in September 2018 and began helping mushers. After learning how to raise, train, race and live with an average of 40 dogs over two consecutive winters, I knew this was my path. Fast forward about 5 years, and I now own a sled dog kennel myself. I built my kennel since my first dog and legend Tony became my first sled dog in 2018. Once I became a Permanent Resident of Canada, I went all in.show more
They are healing for me, the symbiosis between two species is very special. When I come back from work the entire kennel starts freaking out to see me. When we train, they are amped and so stoked to do something. Racing in the winter and travelling is their absolute highlight.
Humans nowadays have lost their connection to their inner animal. We are mammals, I am an animal, and my dogs help me reconnect not only to the animal in me, but to nature. When I am out on the trail with my team, it does not matter what my body is shaped like, society does not matter, because it is just me and my team. Adrenaline is being triggered, instincts sharpened, my senses are getting stronger, and I am using my body and its physical limits. I am learning what a human is capable of, which is way more than sitting in an office all day and watching a screen. We are so numb as humans, but I believe if we all reconnect more to our inner animal, use our bodies, go into nature and learn from other animals, we can heal.
Photographer’s note: For my meet-up with Nate, we took a bumpy four wheeler ride through the Yukon’s bright green forest bursting with fresh spring time blooms at the end of May after a typical long winter. The ride brought us out to a clearing surrounded by mountains still capped with snow in the distance. Nate’s dogs, oblivious to the views, kept noses to the ground as they raced endless & tireless circles through the surrounding brush and forest. I imagine his canine companions were also puzzling at the slow pace of his four wheeler ride that day as well, as he heeded my request for a slow and cautious ride to protect my “baby” (or my camera;)
Nate treats his dogs like family, and they return the same favor in the way they greet him, train with him, and rest with him. It felt like Nate was also at complete ease in the Yukon’s vast and gorgeous stretches of land. His intrepid spirit also knows what it takes to survive in the Yukon’s winter wilderness for several days or weeks at a time. This past winter Nate placed third in the Yukon Quest 100 with his team, crossing the finish line with a transgender flag across his sled. Thank you, Nate, for your fearlessness in being visible as a transperson and dog musher while pursuing your dreams.
Gender Identity: transgender woman
Current home: Juneau, Alaska
From: Wichita, Kansas
Cultural Identity/background: Muscogee Nation
Interests: I try to do a lot of creative writing, but I’m also a full-time student of Indigenous Studies so a lot of my time goes to that. I love being able to travel and meet people. I host board game and D&D nights whenever possible.
About 6 years ago I was driving across town screaming at my windshield. I was in the middle of one of the worst dysphoria episodes I had ever experienced at that point in my life, and they were only getting more intense and frequent. A wave of exhaustion crashed over me and I suddenly knew in my bones that I wouldn’t last much longer; dysphoria was going to kill me, probably within 5-7 years.
I didn’t know the word transgender until I was in high school, but one of my earliest memories was having a dream when I was around 4 years old that my parents had found a doctor who could fix that I wasn’t a girl. Unfortunately, that was paired with a memory from that same time period of my non-dream mother making it unmistakably clear that I could never be a girl. So, while I’ve known my whole life that I’m trans, I always understood my trans-ness as a shameful aberration, as something inherently wrong and broken about me.
I spent a lot of time and effort trying to obliterate my trans-ness, especially as I got older, and more enmeshed in the conservative religion I had been raised in. Even when I realized that I couldn’t survive life in the closet, I was unwilling to entertain the idea of transitioning, since it would represent defeat in the war I’d been waging against myself.
I was drunk when I came out for the first time, I probably would never have said anything otherwise. I don’t remember doing it, I just remember laying in bed afterwards panicking about what had just happened. I had a supportive environment while I figured out what to do and ultimately decided to give myself a “Netflix free trial” year of transitioning. I wasn’t sure if I could live with myself for transitioning, after all of the work I had done to avoid it, but I was very sure I couldn’t live if I didn’t try. Within 6 months I knew I was on the right path.
My journey has been less about trying to define my gender than it has been about allowing myself to live in my gender. The world had been an inhospitable place and much of my first year of transitioning was defined by trying to heal from what I had done to myself in cooperation with that world. I’m still working on it, but my once tentative steps into being me have turned into bold strides.
I just celebrated my third “Birthday” the other day and during my celebration I remembered that drive where I had faced my death. I’m right in the middle of the range where my future disappeared, but I can’t imagine my life ending now. I am living the life that 4-year-old me dreamed of living, and I am just so happy to be here.show more
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: I felt lucky that Mina showed me a special spot where she first felt like she was included as “one of the girls.” This beautiful and secluded beach cove in SouthEast Alaska had always been considered a “ladies only” destination, and at some point after Mina came out of the closet as trans, she was invited to join a group of friends in this gorgeous spot. As we walked to the cove, she shared some insightful experiences and perspectives as a person who grew up as part of the Muscogee Nation, yet felt unfortunately far removed from their Native culture growing up. She also shared experiences being part of a very male dominated profession in her previous life, and painfully masking much of who she was in that profession.
Mina seems to embrace the rainy climate of her current home in southeast Alaska, and had no problem going out equipped with umbrellas for a soggy and fun shoot in the steady rain during my last few hours in town. Thank you, Mina, for allowing me to capture some images of both the heartache and euphoric joy that you carry through your new and beautiful life with your resilient spirit!
Gender Identity: transgender woman
Current home: Haines, Alaska
From: Tampa, Florida
Interests: Going on long hikes into the woods with friends and good conversation. Love to go out of town with my friends and cook for them.
Gender Dysphoria is not something that I would wish on anyone; it’s not pleasant at all. I was born with it, and knew who I was at the age of 5. I had to keep it hidden for 35 years, and it feels so good to finally live as myself. Having gender dysphoria is so heavy and just keeps adding weight the longer you try to hide it. It’s life-saving for kids and adults to feel comfortable enough to be ourselves. I hope that someday, people won’t have to be fearful to come out. We can just be openly accepted and loved for who we are.
Living fully as my true authentic self has opened up so many doors of my life, and I’m finally happy. I still have a long way to go, but for the first time ever, I’m finally excited for my future. I’m surrounded by the best supportive friends a girl could ever ask for. I’m truly grateful for all the support and love I’ve received. I hope that I can be a source of comfort and support for other LGBTQ+ people.
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: Pru’s current home is in a sleepy town in southeast Alaska that is brought alive during the summer by the occasional festival/fair and tourists disembarking from small cruise ships. It sits on an inlet across from stunning mountain backdrops and amongst a lush rainforest. The town is the last stop on a quiet, 150 mile long road that stretches from the Yukon territory, thru a corner of British Columbia, to southeast Alaska.
The scenery here is stunning, yet belies a harsher climate that exists in this isolated town for the mostly underground LGBTQ+ community. To make a long story short, it felt like a scavenger hunt to find members of the LGBTQ+ community here in my initial visit to town. Queer folks here have quietly found and connected with each other; one resident only recently started regular social meet-ups that can’t be advertised online due to the stress of receiving hundreds of hateful and threatening comments from other locals every time they attempt to advertise any small events supporting LGBTQ people.
Given the climate here, I was surprised that Pru, and one other amazing human, felt safe enough to participate in this project, and am grateful for their courage to be visible for other members of their community. I really enjoyed spending time with Pru and capturing some images of her resilient and gentle spirit in a place where she finds peace. Pru is someone who is actively working on shedding a lifetime of pain and hurt, and could feel some of this uncertainty as we started a photoshoot. With each click of the shutter, I got to see her quiet confidence steadily grow, embracing the beautiful person that she is. Thank you, Pru, for having the courage to be visible as the truest version of yourself in this corner of Alaska!
Gender Identity: cisgendered female
Current home: Juneau, Alaska
From: born in Anchorage, but moved at 2 – most of my life (until 2015) was spent in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley.
I am finally at a job whose values align with my own – Planned Parenthood where I serve our patients as the local Health Center Manager. I love hiking in the wilderness (and not-so-wilderness) of Juneau and am excited to share I’ve been learning how to snowboard in the winters. My favorite things to do, besides hiking and snowboarding, are spend time with my child and with my partner. And… attend drag shows!
My passion now is to help LGBTQ+ folx to feel welcomed and loved. Especially those folx who have not been accepted by their families. My own child came out as trans a few years ago and I’ve learned a lot. They were not accepted by their father and his family and it’s lit a fire in me to be that accepting parent, where I can be, to all those who need one! I am a proud mama bear and still delighted to learn and grow as I continue on this journey with my child.
Photographer’s note: There were a couple things that struck me about Constance during the short time I spent getting to know her. The first was what seemed like a tireless effort to support her teenager through a huge range of challenges, and continually re-evaluating the best approach to support them. The second, was a thoughtful and reflective approach to her own gender, sexuality and how she interacts with the world.
I enjoyed seeing one of Constance’s favorite places to recharge and connect to nature, spent some time indulging in the flowers and Juneau’s rapidly changing rainforest vegetation over the warmer seasons. Thank you, Constance, for allowing me to capture both some of the joy and worry that comes with being a dedicated and proud mama bear!
Gender Identity: demiboy/genderfluid AFAB
Current home: Juneau, Alaska
I was born in Salem, Oregon, but grew up in the countryside in Oregon in a small house by a farm. We moved to Kotzebue, Alaska when I was seven, and then Wrangell, Alaska, and we now reside in Juneau.
I’m an aspiring artist, but I also occasionally enjoy crafting and gardening. Due to my disability, I’m a bit of a homebody so usually you find me in bed drawing on my tablet.
Photographer’s note: I managed to catch Robyyn while they were having a few moments of feeling better at home while working through a recent surgery recovery. I was not quite lucky enough to see any of their artwork, which they express is normally reserved for sharing with select friends online, but caught some relaxed images of them with one of their main creative tools, as well as some moments of laughter and love they shared with their mom and their cats.
Over the last few years and while working on this project, I’ve had more opportunities to spend time with people in the generation 20 years younger than me. I am continually surprised at what a strong command Robyyn’s generation has on using language to label themselves to help navigate their life’s journey.
I’ll admit I had to look up one of Robyyn’s identity labels, as well as look up a label that they had helped their mom find for herself, after they had observantly deemed the term omnisexual a more appropriate description for their mother than pansexual. Some might argue that our use of labels is now excessive, but after personally growing up in a generation and community without the visible words and role models who looked anything like my internal sense of self and how I wanted to interact with the world, I think our expanding our scope of “identity” language is incredibly powerful to connect people for support along all phases of their journeys. I don’t think we should be expected to know what every label means, but if you hear a descriptor unfamiliar to you, it may be worth taking a moment to look it up and learn something new about another human’s experience of the world:)
Gender Identity: female
Current home: Juneau, Alaska
From: I was born and raised in Juneau! I have never moved out of town. This has always been home
Interests: Performing arts have always been a niche of mine. I started in elementary school performing on stage with a small local acting youth group, and continued on through plays in high school. Now that I’m an adult, I am finding pleasure performing as a Drag King named under James Sparkles, and also perform as myself in miscellaneous self-written acts in our local variety shows… I also like Legos, animals and I have a child that keeps me busy!
Being a straight mom, doubling as a Drag King, has definitely been quite the ride!
Since as long as I can remember I’ve always naturally leaned towards a stronger masculine personality. I appreciate and truly love how a woman’s body curves, and really find all women beautiful in every way! But I still just find myself sexually attracted to men. I know – I’m still figuring it out myself!
I’ve chopped my hair, I don’t wear women’s clothes, I don’t wear makeup, and heck sometimes I’ll even put on a bowtie. Toss in a spark of creativity that I’ve always wanted to put on stage, and suddenly you have a Drag King! So, when I’m on stage, I really just feel whole. It’s everything I thrive in all at once. This can often confuse people in my day-to-day routines. Especially my family members and old friends who have watched me grow. I have learned to just accept how I am, and if people have questions, I am honest, open and willing to communicate.
I am a very strong supporter of the LGBTQ community and I have been accepted into it with open arms. This makes me feel like a part of the drag family more than anything else! To be able to be myself. With no judgement. And with this, my daughter has learned through me how to accept people of all genders, personalities, and sexualities.
We have learned that we can truly be anybody we want to be.
Photographer’s note: Rhyan sets an incredible example for her daughter to express herself in any way that fits. At the same time, her daughter is still at an age where she’s grasping the “why” behind different modes of expression that don’t fit assumed binaries; after Rhyan transformed into James Sparkles, her high-energy daughter suddenly paused, turned to me, and said very matter of factly, “Mom still doesn’t LOOK like a boy.”
This transformation into a sparkling, masculine expressing outfit gave Rhyan a different air of confidence that did not subtract from their wonderful & confident presence as a cisgender woman and parent. Her different modes of expression did not leave me wondering if she was trying to be a “boy or a girl,” but rather embraced being able to capture some images of someone living their best life.
Gender Identity: nonbinary, pretty fluid
Pronouns: any, whatever fits the vibe
Current home: Juneau, Alaska
Interests: Dancing, climbing, canoeing and the stars. I love being held in somebody’s arms, and chasing the sun in an old classic car. I’m a morning person who thinks breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Something was always a little bit off. I never felt comfortable with that masculine box everyone always tried to put me in, including teachers, parents, my peers and role models. I always thought it was silly that I was grouped with all the boys instead of with my friends, who were much more similar to each other than either boys or girls.
I tried to fit in – for a lot of reasons that don’t matter any longer – but the repression nearly killed me. I was convinced that being trans was not an option. I saw very little into the lives of queer folks, and what I did see in my small hometown looked painful and lonely. I wasn’t brave enough to blaze my own trail or write my own script, I was a kid who hardly had internet access. So, I tried to compensate; I was in boy scouts for years, I worked on cars, I kept my hair buzzed short and only wore t-shirts and jeans. I couldn’t think about how my sense of style and fashion was affected by my gender, so I pushed it out of mind altogether. I even went by a different name. To only my closest friends I was Kelby; I couldn’t accept people’s perception of this masculine persona as their perception of me. I picked one of my middle names and had all my teachers and classmates call me that for years.
I hated it. I hated myself. In my depression and apathy, I hurt those around me.
It wasn’t until I was 21 that I saw people living authentically. Queer people. Successful, stable, queer people who were accepted and even celebrated by their whole community. It was life changing, and their example showed me the way out.
I love this place. These locations by the Mendenhall glacier and on the rocky shores of North Douglas; they feel wild and wonderful and free. They are places I am lucky enough to work as a guide and play as my authentic self. I am grateful to call this place home, after running so far and so long from many others.
The ice doesn’t care who I love or how others perceive me, it just is. And it is beautiful.show more
Photographer’s note: I spent a few hours getting to know Kelby and their relaxed demeanor on my first day in Juneau. I learned more about southeast Alaska as they passionately shared their knowledge about these beautiful places where they spend their time guiding and learning more about this rainy paradise every day.
Although they have a beautiful classic car that they adore, we opted to take photos with their truck camper instead. When I worked in Alaska last summer, I was struck by the number of hand built and personalized camper trucks; I loved that Kelby took their self-built camper truck one step further, with a painting on each side that points to the long miles and effort that they have put into journeying to find a place where they can truly be who they are.show less
Gender Identity: agender
Current home: Juneau, Alaska
From: Wrangell, Alaska
Interests: Quilting, puzzles, and useless trivia. Disc golf, hiking, and scenic strolls
It’s been hard to think about sharing my gender journey without also sharing my neurodivergence, and I’m finding that they are intertwined in ways that can’t possibly be untangled.
I’ve been out as bisexual for 10 years now, and that part has always been easy. I came out to my parents casually, in a conversation about my drag queen best friend, “No, he’s not gay, he’s bi. And bi the way, I am too. Anyway, you should come see her perform Dog Days!” I don’t even remember coming out to my friends, so many of them are queer that it’s almost expected. Being bi has been a large part of my identity for a long time – but I’ve been hesitant to open up about my gender, because I can’t separate it from another piece of my identity that affects everything about how I interact with the world.
I’m agender, or gender-fluid, and often just a girl, because it’s convenient. Gender expectations seem just as arbitrary as the other social rules I’ve learned by rote, so I’ll play along.
I think it’s RuPaul that said, we’re all born naked, and the rest is drag? I feel that more acutely than intended – my autism makes everything feels like a performance, and everyone has memorized a script I’ve never read. Improv has never been my strong suit, either.
I’m an artist, but my real passion is in curation. Collecting art, planning my tattoos, arranging shop displays, pairing fabrics, and now, I’m taking the things I like from THIS gender and THAT gender, and ignoring the gender expectations that do not spark joy.
Cutting my hair short was an early step towards gender nonconformity. Years later, I shaved that pixie cut to a close buzz and the result was euphoria – partially the gender validation, but mostly because the sensation of my own hair touching my skin was a constant irritant, and styling it was just another aspect of my appearance to maintain. I’d like top surgery one day, as I find my chest more logistically annoying than dysphoric.show more
I can’t talk about these things that I’ve learned about myself without acknowledging that if I was born before the internet, if I had been raised in the small town I was born in, I may never have had the words to describe myself. I am attracted to men – if I never learned the word bisexual, I imagine I could’ve lived my whole life fairly content, settling down and keeping my attraction to other genders a shameful secret. I also enjoy many aspects of femininity. If I didn’t know there were options outside of the gender binary, I could’ve spent my whole life performing womanhood with great effort and discomfort. I don’t fit the classic stereotypes of autism – and it pains me to think how much harder my life would be without this understanding that I’m just wired differently, and that I’m not alone in any of these experiences.
So I’d like to thank the queers and autistics (and especially the autistic queers) on the internet for sharing the spectrum of their experiences for the world to see – it’s in all of you that I could see myself.
Photographer’s note: I felt lucky that I got to capture some glimpses of Veronica in their true element, where there seemed to be a minimal need to perform to fit her surrounding world, but rather an ability to sink into her element by taking some time to work on a sewing project while surrounded by her eclectic collection of crafts and other art pieces. Another place that Veronica seemed to be in their element was by a gorgeous spot next to the river, where they expressed that the white noise often helps dim the rest of the world’s stimulants when they need it.
I was also lucky to meet Veronica’s special cat Charlotte, very briefly, as Charlotte did not take a liking to a new stranger in her space and took more than a minute to find her stealthy hiding place for a goofy photo!show less
Gender Identity: non-binary
Sexuality: homosexual, biromantic
Current home: Juneau, Alaska
From: born in Juneau, Alaska. Moved around growing up due to dad being in the Coast Guard. Lived in Maui and Oahu, Hawaii, Virginia, Washington, and Louisiana
Interests: I love Cooking and Baking so much that I got a degree in it while living in Louisiana.I enjoy reading but have found it hard to find the time since leaving school and joining the workforce. My favorite genres are fantasy and poorly written gay romance novels.I really enjoy going on hikes and walks to enjoy nature, especially where nature had begun to reclaim what has been left behind.I also start a lot of different art projects, most of which I don’t finish lol.
Growing up in so many places made making friends difficult and I quickly developed a people pleasing mentality. I was also raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; while Mormons tend to be good people they also tend to be a bit narrow minded. I tried so hard to fit into the mold that was set before me as a child, but never fit that mold. My first crushes were Hearvey, from Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Rex, the clone captain from Star Wars. I, of course, vehemently denied these crushes as they were “unnatural” and “wrong” according to what I’d been taught; I also wanted so badly to just be normal and accepted.
It was amid my freshman year of high school that I finally snapped and realized I was never going to be happy pretending to be someone I’m not. It was with the help of my Friends and teachers that I was able to open up, come out to my social circles at the time and really feel what it was like to live authentically even if I couldn’t at home. It was also those same people who first introduced me to the concept of being trans.
I unfortunately moved to Louisiana for my senior year of high school and lost my support network to distance and anxiety. It was in Louisiana however that I began to question my gender. I began to question gender norms and why I felt like I had to conform to them. All they did was hold me back from being my genuine self. I began to identify as gender fluid. I actually didn’t even know that gender fluid fell under the umbrella of trans when I first started identifying that way but I was invited to a trans support chat that really helped me connect to my gender and the trans community.show more
However, the title of gender fluid never quite fit. I didn’t want to be a woman or a man – I just wanted to be me. That is when I shifted to identifying as non-binary. It is hard to describe non-binary as a gender since it is quite literally anything that is not male or female. It’s not androgyny either. I see it as freedom to be whatever I want to be without the pressures of gender stereotypes. I think it’s so hard to describe because from birth this world divides things between the gender binary. In elementary school there’s girl toys and boy toys, or girl colors and boy colors. Supermarkets split their clothing sections by men’s and women’s.
In a world so full of social norms and stereotypes, I am trying to break free and exist as myself; exist not as other people see me, but as I see myself.
Photographer’s note: Sebastian and their partner showed me a favorite area in Juneau that consists of the ruins of an old mining town that are being reclaimed by the forest. For what ended up being one of my favorite photos, Sebastian made an agile leap in platform heels up to a high wall, and made it look just as easy jumping down. A few of our last shots were next to a piece of graffiti that perfectly encapsulated our conversational themes of the morning, as I learned about some of Sebastian’s journey to embrace their gender and living their life authentically.show less
Current home: Colorado, works in Alaska. Photos taken in Yukon Territory, Canada
TROY’S STORY: I was six or seven years old when I first realized I fell outside of the “norm”. At that age I lacked the vocabulary to describe, or even properly understand, my experience and who I was. I remember my parents watching Billy Elliot and found I deeply identified with both Billy and his friend Michael.
When I was ten or eleven, I was playing with my younger cousin. She loved barbies and wanted a playmate, I was happy to oblige. Later, amongst some of the older members of the family, it was considered a humorous instance of a young boy playing with his cousin and her dolls. I recall this as my first instance of seeing the arbitrary application of gender tropes. I didn’t see playing with barbies as a gendered activity, simply something I was doing with my cousin. Societal norms were gendering the event.
Naturally, as a fifth grader, I didn’t understand it at that level of complexity. What I did know, however, was that I did not see the activity as “girly”, it simply was, and, further, I didn’t understand the humor that was found in it.
I could go bounding down a rabbit hole of all those moments where the eggshell began to crack as I aged. Sexual and gender confusion were an immersive quality of my adolescence.
It took years to learn more of who I was, and I still don’t believe I know entirely who I am. I’m unsure I ever will. As I stand today, I see gender as, frankly, a fluidic mess, epistemologically limited by linguistic shortcomings. I’m unsure we, as a species, will ever completely understand gender and sex, after all, in our current society, there is often a blatant bent towards some Aristotlean “female” and “femaleness” or “male” and “maleness”. Insofar as our species clings to these notions, I think we will always be incomplete in our ability to know and understand identity.
I still wrestle with that categorization. Though I endeavor to live my daily life with the perspective that gender and identity are largely informed by historical stereotypes, three decades of that is a difficult habit to overcome.
In simplest terms, I try to live who I am. I enjoy trucks, heavy, specialized work. But, I also enjoy hair. I enjoy tattoos. I enjoy fashion, makeup and other sartorial and cosmetological expression. That has led me to all sorts of places, people and experiences.show more
Alaska is remote. It is sparsely inhabited.
When I come driving over a vista with 1,000 square miles of nature on my horizon, a sole strip of asphalt or dirt, at times, ice and snow, winding the single stake of humanity in front of me, I’m reminded how insignificant I am. That is a most brilliant form of solitude. In nature, I have no more importance than the black bear or the prickly pear. The wind will blow against me, the rain and snow will fall against me with the same intensity and force as it does the trees, the rocks, the rivers and glaciers. Nature is egalitarian, I am equal to it all, yet miniscule and powerless, no more and no less than all the biology, geology, chemistry and physics toiling on around me.
And, I experience that more in Alaska… in any rural locale, than I do in cities and municipalities.
In the forsaken and solitary endlessness of frontiers, I experience an equality I experience nowhere else.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE GAY, TO BE GENDERQUEER, TO BE “ABERRANT”, IN HEAVY INDUSTRY?
I’ve engaged in this work for nearly a decade-and-a-half. It was only in the last few years I’ve been more “out” than the preceding two-thirds of my career.
Over the years, as my skillset and experience increased, I have found myself more so in position of teaching and training. It often leads to working closely with other drivers where I have seen pronounced prejudice.
After all, Westboro-ism is an amorphous and general slur when it’s a group of bigots you pass on a roadway. But, hearing anger towards drag queens and the trans-community, hearing sophomoric, platitudinous gay jokes when working individually with people, the bigotry is coalesced to a concrete, identifiable notion in the individual.
And, yet, I am often working with these people around heavy equipment and tools that, if used improperly, could maim or kill them.
Safety, whether it be from homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, racism, et cetera, or from a wire rope splitting and whipping an operator with thousands of pounds of force, is something I see as a fundamental right. No one deserves to be unduly put in the path of danger. And, so, you teach them the same principles and rules of safety as you would anyone else.
Throughout my career, I’ve had to make decisions about how “out” I am in given situations. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It can be a matter of numbers and personal safety. I’m unsure if the industry will ever be prepared to see me as completely “out”, but, luckily, I have found those who do see me as who I am, who respect not only my knowledge and skill within the industry, but, also respect who I am as an individual.
I hope my inclusion on this project can show young lesbian, trans, gay, bi, and other queer folks that they can engage in industries and work that are notoriously heteronormative.
There are still sectors of society we must invade and demonstrate we are as capable as anyone. And, although I may not always be capable of wearing the Pride on my sleeve as a matter of my own safety, I hope that I can make some small impact on those endeavors.
Photographer’s note: I came across Troy’s social media account using the hashtag #queertrucker, two words that should be comfortably combined when these are two core parts of your identity and passion, but are unfortunately seen as incompatible by many. I’m glad we could make a photo session in the middle of the Yukon work, shortly before he headed back south (after what was a fast & LONG 2900 km/1800 mile haul from Vancouver for me, but just another typical week for Troy driving several hundred miles), and hear more about how Troy merges his gender identity & expression into various passions and interests.show less
Identity: nonbinary, queer
Current home: Unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) nations (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
From: Iək̓ʷəŋən (Lekwungen) land (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada)
Interests/work: eating snacks
I’m a mixed race Chinese person. I went to art school and then became an elementary teacher. I still make art but spend more of my non-professional energy organizing events as part of the art collective MangoSweet. We focus on creating QTBIPOC spaces for people to make art and have fun in. We also DJ.
I never had strong feelings about my gender identity and never felt kinship with men in any way. I have always picked clothes based on what I like regardless of what gendered section it came from. I remember telling some friends that if I were a woman I’d still pick the same clothes and do all the same things – in retrospect, that was really telling for how I perceive my own gender.
Photographer’s Note: I enjoyed getting to know Judah, and capturing some images of both the joy and fatigue that result from the passion that they pour into their career as an art teacher. After seeing nothing but tumultuous headlines in the U.S. surrounding the degree to which LGBTQ+/QTBIPOC school teachers can be themselves and support all their students regardless of their identities, it was also refreshing to meet someone like Judah who is able to express their gender more openly in their work setting and set an example for students to embrace the best version of themselves.
As we wrapped up the photo session, Judah joked that it was fun taking photos of something they don’t actually do every day, referring to not having a lot of time & energy left in the day for personal art projects anymore. Thank you Judah for letting me rope you into painting something for the sake of a photo, and for putting your time into creating queer friendly art spaces in Vancouver!
Gender identity: Genderqueer x agender
Current home: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (uncoded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Territory)
From: Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada (unceded Kwikwetlem, Tsleil-Waututh, Katzie, Musqueam, Qayqayt, Squamish, and Sto’:lo Territory)
Interests/work: I’m a theatre and music human by trade, and a dedicated toe-shoe wearer (since 2019!)
Here’s something I think about a lot:
Much of what I understand about gender is tied to the ways I have been socialized to enact gender roles and gender norms. Almost everything I know about gender is tied to my socialization as a girl. Almost everything I know about gender has been taught to me and socialized into me through a very euro-colonial, binary-gender lens. When I look beyond this, and acknowledge that non-binary and more complex understandings of gender have traditionally existed in so many cultures of the global majority, I start to feel really messy about what exactly gender is.
From the activism of so many fearless, tireless and vulnerable queer folks (and particularly trans people of colour), I understand that sex does not equal gender. That my body parts, my pronouns, my name, and my clothes do not assign me a gender. I understand that my experience of self and gender are mine alone, and would not change, even were I to wake up one day in a body with different parts, or with a different name (though what might be different, had I been born AMAB, would be the way I was raised, the way I was socialized.)
And so, I get messy about gender. How much is me? How much is socialization? How much is the over-arching influence of a euro-colonial culture and worldview?
And maybe the things cannot be separated. What it means for me, however, is that binary, colonial gender feels like an offering and not an imposition (and I say, “no, thank you.”). Like… to use an extended metaphor… If I am an art piece (which, truly, I think we all are), binary colonial gender is an outside interpretation of my experience. From inside, as both art and artist, I understand myself differently. I will forever be finding the language to interpret myself. My sense is that as I learn more from other queer folks, from other activists, from other non-eurocentric knowledges on gender, I will be able to discover more of myself. It feels like a deliciously and expansively complex lifelong journey to me.
*AMAB=assigned male at birthshow more
Photographer’s note: Kelsi summed up this photo session and day by saying “what a dream!” We seemed to have a perfect sunny day for capturing images of Kelsi’s gentle and playful spirit. Kelsi didn’t hesitate to carefully make their way across slippery rocks hiding under the water to find a picturesque, water-bound perch with the Vancouver skyline highlighted by the sun with rain clouds dispersing in the background.
It was a beautiful “exchange of art,” complete with photography, music, learning about Kelsi’s multiple talents in the theatre world, and hearing the story behind Kelsi’s self portraits. They hated the thought of throwing away a giant cardboard box that once held a keyboard, so cut up the box into three pieces and painted three self portraits that hang on their wall. Photos can be interpreted so many different ways, but think that one of the portraits we took with her paintings encompasses the idea that we should all be able to embrace every side of ourselves.show less
Gender identity: Trans Nonbinary Femme
Current home: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
From: Born & raised in Hong Kong
Interests/work: non-profit work, human rights, passion for advocacy in terms of disability & accessibility, thoughtful humanist designs, thrifted/sustainable fashion, easily moved by music & lyrics, love to sing and dance, enjoy being close to the ocean, foodie
I was 4 years old when I remember feeling the discomfort of being different from my peers. I knew I wasn’t a boy, but I didn’t have the language to advocate for myself. I grew up in a very religious traditional household in Hong Kong. My upbringing revolved around getting good-ish grades, attending church, upholding Christian-Chinese values, and always making sure I impressed my parents.
I kept so much of my queer identity hidden because I was not ready to face the reaction of my family: shame, anger, disappointment & disownment. I practiced the role of being a good faithful, pious, and religious child all my life, so I continued doing that all the way until my mid-20s.
My life fell apart in 2014 with the tragic passing of my mother. It was the most difficult thing I had to endure, but it also became the catalyst for many changes to come. I had broken up with my closeted relationship with an ex, I came out as “gay” to my family & friends, I made changes to my appearance (hello purple hair and skimpy tank tops!), I left the church and broadened my circle of friends and chosen family, and then I met my soulmate and moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia for over 5 years.
During my time in Halifax, my trans egg cracked even more. I was finally free to dictate my life how I saw fit. My partner’s support and the queer friends I made in the city helped me to come into my own. I came out for a second time: as a nonbinary person. It was not easy coming out since most people don’t fully understand gender identity still, but it made total sense to me.
Embracing my nonbinary identity provided me with the space to express myself and become more feminine. I grew my hair out and started officially transitioning socially, legally, medically, and spiritually. And during this transformation, I am reminded of my 4-year-old self, acknowledging that I was born in the wrong body. I have always been trans.
Today, I live my life out loud as a proud transfeminine person. It’s not always easygoing and carefree, but I get to live my truth, take up space, and finally return to who I’ve always been.show more
Photographer’s Note: Reece explained she picked this location in Westminster (a suburb of Vancouver, BC) because of analogous parallels the area’s history holds with aspects of her own journey. In 2020, a huge section of the older portion of this beautiful, riverside boardwalk that is more than one kilometer long was engulfed in a massive fire; the city has since reopened part of the less damaged section, and is still in the process of rebuilding the rest into something that will likely be even more beautiful than its previous state. There is also an old boat that remains docked along this area that has Reece’s “dead name,” a name that represents their past life feeling more stagnant in some ways and not blooming to its fullest potential.
I really enjoyed getting to know Reece, and capturing some images of their relaxed and calming presence. As we meandered down the open boardwalk section not affected by fire, Reece’s face lit up when they pointed out a tulip bed that had the same colors as the non-binary flag: white, yellow, and purple. We didn’t plan this ahead of time, but it was a fun coincidence to work with for photographs!show less
Gender identity & Sexuality: non-binary, gay
Pronouns: them/them (human)
Current home: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
From: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Interests/work: political science, human rights and arts
ORIGINS: I come from a humble upbringing in Calgary, Alberta, where I lived almost all of my life. In Calgary, I lived with my father, brother, grandmother, and sometimes mother. My understanding of my origins is rather limited. I resented that my mother was unable to be there for her children due to her battle with addictions and personal demons; in later years I’ve forgiven her and personally believe her actions to be a result of the disenfranchisement of the indigenous population in Canada.
GENDER IDENTITY: I came out of the closet as a gay man in 2010 shortly after my father passed away and I had ongoing battles with depression and suicidal ideation. After being admitted to the hospital, I discovered a side of me I had not explored before with another guy who was gay. After this, I tried to be every stereotype of a gay person because I was looking for a community where I belonged. I would often dress up in a feminine manner with makeup and the whole nine yards, until I dusted off an old suit, cut off my hair myself, then looked in the mirror and told myself “this is me.” I see clothing as a way of expressing who you are and what you’re trying to convey to the world. Recently I’ve thought of myself as “human” more than anything else. I believe the boundaries of how we portray and define gender and sexuality are passe and need to be challenged to create more inclusive and healthy environments for everyone to thrive.
THEN AND NOW: When I found my group of people it was oddly in a place that I had not ever considered which was musical theatre and choir. I sang with the Calgary Men’s Chorus and Mount Royal Artio, a group that defined the word “fearless” and reinvented what choral singing could be. To this day, I remain grateful for the experiences, friends, acquaintances, inspiration and confidence that Artio gave me.
In 2018, I had many unfortunate circumstances that kept me from doing what I truly wanted to do in life and unfortunately suffered from a bout of depression that led to suicidal ideation. This also happened to be the year where I would challenge many things for myself and enter into a loving relationship that saved my life; while the relationship ended I’m very grateful for the memories I’ve shared. For the first time ever I’ve gotten to travel across Western Canada and appreciate things I didn’t before. Of my favorite memories was a trip throughout northern Saskatchewan and Riding Mountain National park in Manitoba. With a love of nature, birds, photography and activism, I’m now writing a new story in Vancouver, British Columbia.show more
Photographer’s Note: Cole ended up joining the photo project after they met-up with Aramesh for a first date, and unexpectedly had a photographer along on their date! I wanted to make sure they didn’t feel pressured to join since they had inadvertently walked into a meet-up to shoot some photos of Aramesh. Cole assured me they had actually always wanted to do a photo shoot. They expressed some mild concern that they had overdressed for the occasion, but I thought their handsome clothing choices were the perfect complement to their poised and relaxed presence in front of the camera.show less
Gender identity: gender queer
Current home: Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
Interests/work: I love to travel and learn other people’s culture, feel the rhythm of the music and dance, take pictures of the moment and landscape cause photos are a beautiful thing to keep, nature walks (we need to be with nature to be in balance of the hectic work life).
Photographer’s notes on Aramesh’s story: Aramesh greeted me at a Starbucks in downtown Vancouver next to vibrantly blooming tulip beds and cherry blossom trees, with a beaming smile and a slight air of confidence that had a story behind it. Why am I relaying some of their story for them? Well, they initially sent me the wonderfully concise summary above; after meeting up I discovered that they recently had some life changing journeys and experiences that they were eager to share – they expressed that the difficulty with writing things down in a short “bio” was narrowing down what to share! So, he didn’t hesitate to give me permission to share parts of our conversation.
Aramesh expressed having some difficulty really finding himself as an openly queer person during gradeschool and into high school. Aramesh had a slightly mischievous and delighted grin as they described loving to paint their nails at a young age (this is where their mom drew the line haha), and later enjoying more touches of feminine expression that came with growing their hair long and selecting fashionable outfits with care.
What was intended to be a short one month trip partly to visit his mother’s family in Mexico, ended up being an unexpectedly long (thanks to Canadian COVID travel restrictions!), 10 month “gap year” trip to Mexico as a solo traveler that turned into what sounds like a life changing experience. Aramesh described experiences that gave them a tremendous amount of room to grow, connect with himself, make meaningful connections with others, and openly be himself without some of the social expectations attached to gender and sexuality that he grew up with.
One of the people they connected with during their travels was their first significant romantic crush; this special connection among many others played intricate roles in helping them embrace their internal sense of self, their own “feminine spirit” in relation to others (being attracted to more masculine expressing people), as well as continuing the beautiful journey of embracing their sexuality in different ways.show more
Thank you Aramesh for allowing me to share some of your free-spirited approach to life from my perspective in the short time I had to meet you!
One more note – a funny story that I’m sure will make this photo session a memorable one. How many times do photographers get to say they captured some of the magic (and delightful awkwardness;) that comes with first dates? Photographers who are much more seasoned than me are often capturing beautiful moments within established, long term relationships.
We had lost track of time in great conversation to get acquainted before taking photos at the nearby park … and to my surprise a lovely person who was meeting up with Aramesh for a first time date showed up an hour into our conversation (I think we determined scheduling might not be Aramesh’s biggest strength haha). Once the three of us got past an awkward moment or two, and determined everyone was still okay with me proceeding to photograph Aramesh, I made another new friend. I enjoyed get to know and photograph Cole for the project as well.
Both of these wonderful people allowed me to snap some photos of a few of their first date interactions, to include an impromptu dance lesson on the beach. I wish the best to both of you, whether your new connection turns into a wonderful short term relationship or a longer life partnership! A few days later, Cole happily informed me that they were “a couple” and both gave permission to share their photos together as well.show less
Gender identity: transman
Current home: Washington
From: Colorado, Wisconsin
Interests/work: relationship coach, traveling, staying active, eating delicious food, adventures of all kinds
I remember really feeling my gender dissonance at age 7. Grief over not having the body I wanted was something I cried about a lot as a kid and a secret only my sister knew about.
At 7, I already knew it wasn’t safe to be me, to live my truth, and I felt so sad about hiding. I believed I was destined to just be miserable born in this body. I was AFAB and drawn to sports, Transformers, Hot Wheels, Lego, but it wasn’t supported much by my primary parental figures. I used to be forced into dresses on Sundays and would risk being yelled at, and sometimes even spankings to just have the ability to wear pants and allow my true self the ability to exist.
I spent much of my life managing that part of me and trying to find ways to express it in more “acceptable” ways. Embracing all the tomboy I could until the time I recognized that I was REALLY attracted to women. While that was also a scary step, at least being able to express myself as a butch lesbian was a big step toward living my authenticity…. But it turned out to not be enough.
As my former wife and I journeyed down the path of creating and growing our family, my gender dissonance grew. I knew clearly that I didn’t want to be identified with a feminine parental name. My insta-kid and my firstborn are AMAB, and somehow the combination of the 2 things created the internal chaos I (apparently) needed to allow my truth, Calvin, the ability to finally exist. So, I took action in finally honoring this huge part of me. While it’s had its difficult moments, and it’s changed my relationship with many people in my life, I have never felt happier and more comfortable in my own skin. If I believed in regret, my only regret would have been… not doing it sooner.
I will be forever grateful for my courageous choice to just be me.
*AFAB=assigned female at birth *AMAB=assigned male at birthshow more
Photographer’s note: I was grateful for the opportunity to capture some of Cal’s authentic and comfortable confidence on camera, and meet his beautiful family at one of their favorite places near Seattle.show less
Gender identity: femme-presenting gender queer
Sexuality: greysexual queer
Current home: Auburn, Washington
From: West Bend, Wisconsin
Interests/work: I’m a relationship nerd! (And relationship coach, educator, author and co-owner at PowerfuLove! (www. powerfulove.com)) I love trees, being barefoot on soft grass, and swinging in a hammock on a warm day. I love reading, writing, traveling, letterboxing, and inspiring people to what’s possible in life and love.
My gender journey has very much intersected with my sexuality journey. As a young person, I think I was very free to play with gender expression. I was the tomboy who climbed trees and caught frogs in the swamp as much as I was the girl who loved skirts that flared out wide when you spun in circles. I didn’t think much about my gender, actually, until I realized in my 20’s that I wasn’t heterosexual.
Oddly, as a cis-gender, heterosexual, monogamously identified woman… I felt very fluid in my gender expression, but as soon as I recognized that I was NOT heterosexual, that all changed. I got pulled into my perceived narratives about what it meant to be gay. I cut off my hair, ditched my skirts, and leaned hard into the butch lesbian stereotype (though I couldn’t give up makeup at that time…)
All that changed when I met Calvin who was, at the time we met, a full-on butch lesbian. And in his masculine energy, he made it clear that his preference was for the feminine. This was new for me, and while parts of me resisted, I also liked him SO much that I was willing to allow some of my femininity back into the picture…
And for a long time, when I was around Calvin, my feminine gender expression was privileged and my queer and masculine parts got set aside. Fortunately, as both he and I continued to evolve, we recognized the beautiful space for all expressions of gender within each of us.
Now, though I still present rather feminine most of the time, the thing I’ve ditched are the stereotypes. I give myself permission to be unapologetically ME, however,I decide to express that on any given day. I don’t need labels or explanations, and I find that the binary of gender doesn’t serve or fit me. So I rest happily in the ambiguous space of queer (both in my gender and sexuality) while acknowledging also the privilege that comes with my typical cis-femme presentation.show more
Photographer’s note: It was easy to feel the “powerful love” between Jeni and their partner Cal, their comfortable ways of embracing each other and their different gender identities and expressions. It was such a pleasure meeting with Jeni and her family on another unusually sunny PNW day at one of their favorite spots.show less
Gender identity: cisgender woman
Current home: Seattle, WA
From: El Paso, TX – a border city between the U.S. and Mexico
Interests/work: Biogeochemist, yoga, being outside, hiking
Because I identify as the gender I was assigned at birth, many people probably find me relatable. However, once they learn how strong I am in my convictions, how passionate I am about science, how much I love going hiking and being outside, overall, how untraditional I am, their opinion may change. I find that I am connected to both my feminine and masculine energies, since both dwell within everyone. However, gender expression is your presentation to the outside world, and in this sense, I am connected to being a woman. This has been a challenge since many still don’t appreciate women being in STEM fields, but all we can do is continue diversifying and including everyone, especially those who have been historically pushed out of spaces.
Interests/work: I am a biogeochemist and earned my Ph.D. in geological sciences researching the use of isotopes to help us detect how microorganisms can affect the formation of minerals in harsh environments. Geology has also lent itself to my love of traveling, hiking, caving, climbing, swimming, and basically anything outdoors. I’ve always loved exploring our amazing planet, and studying geology not only provided me the opportunity to conduct research all around the globe, but also to better understand how all natural cycles operate and depend on one another. The intersectionality of science is similar to the intersectionality of my hometown, where two cultures meld together to create El Paso’s unique community.
I now work as a STEM Coordinator in Seattle helping others along with their academic journey by leading an internship program and exposing students to the amazing world of scientific research and field work. My scientific and professional life has also been informed by my love for yoga! My practice has taught me to accept myself as a Latina in a traditionally male-dominated field and how to take up space when many would rather silence me. I have remained passionate about protecting our planet through scientific knowledge and promoting minorities in STEM despite facing many obstacles and challenges because my practice has supported me, keeping me balanced and rooted in my purpose while I push the proverbial envelope. Within my career, I aim to help as many other underrepresented minority students along their journey as my mentors did for me.
Photographer’s note: Another gorgeous sunny day in the PNW?? I thought an early wake-up was worth the amazing morning catching a sunrise highlighting the Olympic Mountains in the background at one of Seattle’s beautiful parks. It also felt like Amanda really slipped into her element grounding herself in a few poses on the rocky beach.
Gender identity: nonbinary, gender free
Current home: Washington
From: South Dakota, Alaska, Minnesota
Interests/work: Working with children with Autism, proofreading, creating escape rooms, planning and hosting themed children’s parties, creating queer community
Gender does not work for me. A friend of mine recently used the words “gender free” when describing a family member of a previous generation and these words are perfect for me, because this is always what I have wanted to be. Gender free.
As a child, I operated in my play as if gender did not exist. I pretended to be Peter Pan or Mowgli from The Jungle Book, but I wasn’t pretending to be “a boy”, I was pretending to be Peter Pan and Mowgli and I paid no attention whatsoever to their assigned genders or to mine. They were different from me because they were different people, not because of their gender.
My family moved to the Alaskan bush when I was seven. I spent a lot of time near or on the Yukon River and free-ranging. I was lucky in that my parents, my upbringing, and my surroundings were less gender alignment focused than others. I still felt that people were constantly pointing out gender and the impact to me felt like they were shouting it at me. I never understood why everyone seemed to find gender so important, so relevant. I didn’t want people to think of me as a boy or a girl. I just wanted them to see me. When people see me as a gender, I feel like they don’t truly see me at all, because their perceptions of me are filtered through a lens of the gender they see me as.
I cannot make people see me as I am, but I can live authentically and welcome into my life the people who are open to seeing me. The more authentically I live my life; how I present, how I act, the choices I make, where I put my energy; the more I feel good about myself and my life. Fighting to fit expectations and avoid negative results only made me miserable. It turns out making a mistake or failing at something or getting hurt isn’t nearly so humanity crushing as living in fear. Life is hard, but being brave, being me, keeps me from drowning. It pulls me up. Helps me breathe. Aim for the things in life that make you more you and the aiming alone will do so. If I have taught my children anything, let it be this.
Photographer’s note: It was an honor to capture some images of Kate’s beautiful spirit. I also want to say that we were lucky enough to have an unusually sunny spring day in the PNW for outdoor photos with stunning views of Mount Rainer in the background!
Gender Identity & Sexuality: transgender man, queer
Current home: Wyoming
Interests/work: park ranger
For a long time I identified primarily with being trans – I have always felt a lot of kinship with other people who are trans or have had complex gender journeys. The practice of moving between or within genders is what matters – I think that experience ties trans people together more than the specific places that we land.
I grew up in Pennsylvania, and right now I’m living in Wyoming. I’ve also lived in Alabama, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Washington DC, and a few different parts of New England. My work takes me to a lot of remote areas and small communities, where it can sometimes be really challenging to be openly queer. It can also be really awesome, and the connections I’ve made with other queer people – and with people who don’t know anyone queer – living in those places are great. High risk, high reward!
The smartest thing I’ve ever seen anyone say about gender, from a post somewhere on the internet: “Almost all adults have a different gender identity than they did when they were children. ‘Boy’ and ‘girl’ aren’t the same genders as ‘man’ and ‘woman.’” I was a girl and now I’m a man. That may not be typical, but it doesn’t change anything about my life as a girl or my life as a man.show more
Photographer’s note: When I had a chance to work as a park ranger, discovered that “look, a ranger pointing at things!” was a fun, inside joke given the nature of the job. So, even though the photo composition isn’t ideal with a fence between us and the deer, couldn’t resist a “ranger pointing at things” photo with the abundance of wildlife in this region! Thanks to Owen for a fun shoot kicking off this project!show less
Gender Identity: gender fluid, gender queer
Home: Virginia, Alaska, on the road
From: New Hampshire, spent most of my adult life living in GA, MO, TX, VA
Interests/work: photography, social advocacy, traveling, health & fitness
This project is not about me, but thought it fitting to get out from behind the camera lens and share my portrait/story first. As I’ve been preparing to start this project, I’ve had moments of conflict over whether I want to put my own gender identity on display for the world to see. Gender identity is only one part of who I am, but it has been interwoven into every other aspect of my life.
I grew up in a sheltered household and community that heavily enforced and modeled binary gender roles, both within my family and within a Catholic church community where I was always struggling to fit in from the fringes. Any terminology outside of male or female might have helped me determine why I wasn’t fitting, but language that described that part of me wasn’t part of my world. Terminology for sexuality describes a different part of identity (who you’re attracted to), but I think still relevant to my story and how I have approached unpackaging who I am.
Before I was 11 to 12 years old, I already knew for sure I was physically attracted to girls and boys, but also knew that even a homosexual thought would send me to hell (unless I confessed it to the Catholic priest every week). Before graduating from high school, the only words I knew to describe sexuality were lesbian, gay and homosexual. I also knew one of my only five friends when I was 13 was mercilessly bullied for presumably being a “faggot” and committed suicide by hanging himself from a treehouse at age 13. With this being the extent of my small teenage world in relation to anything queer, it seemed like the smartest option to survive high school and the judgmental eyes of my parents and the church, was to build a thick wall around that person in me that crushed on girls, and a thicker wall around that semi-androgynous person in me who wasn’t sure they liked being a girl.show more
It took more than another decade just to start deconstructing those walls I put up to guard my gender (and sexuality) identities that had no home in the world my parents and church had created for me. These identities also were not welcome in the culture that came with being a subservient military wife in my early twenties. These identities were even less welcome as a married, female bodied Soldier spending nearly a decade in the military (I still have the utmost respect for other Veterans, military members and partners … but that culture is rough!). Over more recent years, I’ve found communities and support from some loved ones where I don’t have to hide these identities at all … and it is more liberating than I could have imagined 10 years ago.
Despite my moments of internal conflict as I’m starting this project, I keep coming back to the conclusion that my gender is not a piece of me I can just ignore or simply pretend I’m a woman at heart. I’m finally at a point where I’m so comfortable being me, but I also can’t ignore that there are so many people out there who still struggle to be themselves because they are isolated, feel threatened and/or their environment’s story about who they should be is so incongruent with who they are. I’m nervous to start this project, and I’m also excited and honored to connect with anyone who is bold enough to be a part of this project with me.
**These couple shots are self-portraits taken in a place I love near my homebase on the Virginia coast, with the help of my partner who is trying his best behind the camera with my pointers haha. If you’re interested in working with me, I would love to photograph you anywhere that you feel connected to, whether it be at home or any other favorite places you enjoy spending time.
I’m also not expecting others to share quite as much as I am here (I know I’m occasionally long-winded); I want anyone I photograph to feel comfortable sharing as much or as little as you want about yourself and gender identity. If you’re not particularly comfortable with writing, I’m more than happy to help you find your own words to share when we meet.show less