feature image: Joan, Seattle, 2011 photographed by Elle Perez
One of the worst parts about being queer is that for a lot of us, a lot of the time, we can look high and low without seeing anyone who looks like us, or any acknowledgement that we exist. One of the best parts about being queer is fixing that.
Elle Perez is traveling across the country doing just that with the Outliers Project, a photo documentary of people across the US who "occupy the space between genders," in their words. Because it's more obvious than ever that the only way our stories will be told truly and accurately is if we do it ourselves, and someone has to make it possible for us to do that. This is what Perez is doing to make it better:
THE OUTLIERS IS A PROJECT THAT SEEKS TO PHOTOGRAPH PEOPLE WHO SELF IDENTIFY AS GENDERQUEER.
Very few images of genderqueer people exist in contemporary photographic media or other visual story telling methods. In searching for my own identity, I found reading the stories and seeing the faces of others who were like me to be extremely important in my own self-identification and maturing process. Frustrated by the lack of genderqueer representation in media, I am traveling the country to photograph and record the stories of those who live outside the binary.
Currently I am traveling the USA working on a photography document called "The Outliers" which is specifically focused on people who occupy the space between genders. I am photographing and interviewing people who identify as a multitude of identities: genderqueer, non binary, genderfluid, two-spirit, agender, basically every kind and shape of gender ninjas, outlaws, and pirates.
Photo projects documenting queer bodies aren't necessarily new. For instance, we had the honor of speaking with Molly Landreth and Amelia Tovey, whose Embodiments project also aimed to document and explore the lives of LGBTQ people, to "actively change the way marginalized communities are perceived, and offer individuals a chance to speak for themselves." Perez's project focuses on gender expression and identity and the ways of being gendered or not that are hard to define. No project that tries to document the lives of people in our community can ever be redundant; as Perez says, " there is no way to make a comprehensive project about something with as much variety as there are people in the world." Every portrait and individual story is important; each one becomes one facet of the story of a community, a kind of family.
You can appreciate the work that Perez has done already by looking at the project's tumblr, or check out the special limited-edition book (only $10, with an option to donate!). You can also help. Here's what Perez is asking:
I need more contacts in the south! I am scouring the Internet for trans organizations and anything I can find like that, but honestly, these types of connections are best through word of mouth. I am currently traveling through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. I'm looking for more people who want to be photographed, older folks, disabled folks, more people of color (I'm a POC myself so that is a goal particularly close to my heart!) but also anyone who can connect me to gender/trans activists in the south (Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) and the Midwest (Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Western Pennsylvania) or people in hard to reach places.
If you have thoughts, contacts or insights on any of these things, or if you'd like to participate in Perez's project, email elle.s.perez[at]gmail.com! This work is wonderful, but this work is hard. Perez has been traveling via mainly public transportation and "eating Easy Mac for breakfast, lunch and dinner," and art like this can only be made with the support of the community. Do you know someone who could make it better? Then speak out. Be the change you wish to see in the world! And help this artist do the same.