I’ve been thinking about gender lately, and how defining or limiting can be. It is not something I have paid much attention to in the past, as I am lucky enough to feel pretty comfortable in the body I was born with. Not 100% comfortable all the time, just enough that I don’t need to alter my body to match my inside self.
Not everyone is so fortunate. My empathy for transgender and non-binary folks grows as I notice every day how little room there is for someone who doesn’t fit into our two extremely limiting camps, male or female. I admit it, I feel insatiably curious and a little uncomfortable when I can’t identify a person’s gender. It’s like I need to fit them into a box in order to apply my list of preconceptions or attributes to them before I can see them. It’s ingrained in me, I recognize it. Now I am working to take a more encompassing approach and acknowledge a person’s humanity first and foremost.
I don’t consider myself to be particularly feminine. I feel most comfortable wearing clothes I can romp around in, that I can get dirty. I usually have mud or bike grease or sweat or all of the above on me. Occasionally I like putting on a sexy dress, or showing off some leg. Sometimes I really do like being noticed and identified as a woman. A lot of the time though, I don’t find that title to be a strong part of my identity. Nor do I feel uncomfortable with it being part of my identity. It’s just there.
I feel more like a “Hannah” than a “woman”. I want to be seen as me, regardless of how I am dressed, what my hair looks like, or how much makeup I am wearing. From day to day I feel different on the inside, and I enjoy reflecting that on the outside.
I must acknowledge here that I am incredibly privileged to have been surrounded by open minded and supportive people my entire life. There are many parts of this country and this world where it is simply not safe to express one’s inner self on the outside. The best thing I can do as an individual is take responsibility for my own preconceptions, my own actions and reactions. I will lead by example and do my best to model true inclusiveness and compassion in my daily life.
So, I had this idea for a photoshoot. A photo shoot with me in front of the camera (eek!) instead of behind it. I wanted to express two versions of myself… one showing a more feminine side, and one showing a more masculine or androgynous side. Both true versions of Hannah.
Over a cup of coffee with the my extremely talented friend Mercia Moseley, I mentioned this spark of an idea and asked if she would be interested in photographing me. As we talked more about the project, we seemed to be of a similar thought on how it would look and feel. Soft light for feminine. More dramatic for masculine. A little stereotypical, I suppose!
When it came time to actually shooting, I was surprised by what came up while portraying these two different aspects of myself. In a dress and heeled boots I felt powerful, a little badass, and hyper aware of how I was holding my body. I felt sexy, and also like it took a lot of work to feel sexy. I expected to feel soft on the inside, and ended up feeling steely and defiant.
To transform into the other version of myself, I decided to go all out and shave the sides of my head for a different look and feel. It was a little nuts, I’ll admit. And, it felt awesome.
In the bathroom, holding a pair of scissors and beginning to snip away, I felt completely empowered. I was loving showing off cleavage and legs and curves, while giddily anticipating strapping down my breasts and embodying another part of myself.
Then came the final stage of the shoot. As my more masculine self I felt relaxed, soft, gentle. It was a big surprise to not feel the edginess or defiance I was expecting. Poses were natural and without planning or adjusting, they just happened. I loved how my shirt just hung off my shoulders without buttons popping at my chest. Breathing in a binder was hard, and yet something about wearing it felt liberating.
This was quite the experience on a number of levels. It was fascinating to explore these representations of gender, or non-gender, in myself. It was also a brand new experience to collaborate on a project with another photographer. Mercia and I were able to come up with ideas together on the fly, and say yes to each other’s suggestions as the project took on a life of it’s own. It was a beautiful process and I look forward to more!
A huge thank you to Mercia for taking these amazing photographs. You are a true artist!