On Gender & Labels

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A couple of years ago, I posted this photograph online. 
Two people folded into each other, embracing one another in a warm sunbeam of light on a wooden floor. Bodies intertwined – it was so magical to create. I was proud of the photograph and the experience of creating it with these two beautiful humans.
After I shared the image, most of the feedback was kind and supportive – except one person. They were upset about the photograph. They said that it made them uncomfortable because they couldn’t identify the genders of the subjects.  
When I saw that comment, I was taken aback. I sat with it for a few minutes, typing and re-typing what I was going to respond with because it’s important to try to say the right words. I wanted to create a space where questions and comments were welcome. It was an opportunity to have elevated conversation. It’s wonderful that photographs can open doors to these discussions. 
I was heartened to see that before I had a chance to hit ‘enter’ on my response, other people had spoken up. Other viewers – friends who know and understand me and my heart and how I feel about images that I create – they stood up and voiced their words with grace and tact and support. In essence, their collective comments echoed everything I felt.
“Does it matter?”
The photograph portrayed two people, in safety, in peace, in love. That’s all that mattered.
I was grateful for the dialogue. But in the end, for the sake of my concerned viewer, I could not comment on how my subjects identified…because I didn’t ask.
That interaction has stayed with me over the years. Which brings me to the gallery I share today.
R & S reached out to me last spring about creating a gallery. They each identify in different places on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. They wanted to create a gallery that reflected connection without restriction. To portray love without labels. They were willing to photograph wherever I wished, however I wished, but only had a small window of time as they were coming from Scotland. We managed to find a space, a day, and a time that would work for all of us. We didn’t really have a plan, but in the end, that was a gift in itself.
Creating this gallery with these incredible people was emotional. Cathartic. Intense. Beautifully organic. Full of heart and human spirit. We spent several hours in the hot August heat in this huge, incredible warehouse, empty but filled with dust, smoke and sweat. We let the light take us where it wanted to go. Sometimes resting in quiet, just staring at the beams filled with motes sparkling in the sun. Sometimes pushing our feet and bodies over the floor, feeling the grit of the dust on our skin. And in the middle of the singing and the moving and twisting, we found these photographs.
I can still feel the welcome cool of the floor under my palms. The steel of the scaffolding under my feet. The dust in the air. Words and labels drifted over our heads as we worked – we watched them flutter to the dust and leave no trace.
The entire time I was creating this gallery, I was remembering the image I reference above. Over and over again, with each bend of a limb, skin brushing over skin, dust transferred from body to body, I was reminded that THIS was what mattered.
Connection doesn’t need labels. Gender doesn’t need to be declared when we enter a room for the sake and comfort of others. Sexuality doesn’t need to be boxed into a concrete casket in order to be presented to you in a tidy, complete puzzle with the pieces clicked together in perfect sequence.
Bodies are beautiful. Fluidity is beautiful. Connection is beautiful.
Every. Single. Human.
Every. Single. Gender.
Every. Single. Time.

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