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What Defines You
March 8, 2014 5:31 PM   Subscribe

The Identity Project "seeks to explore the labels we choose to identify with when defining our gender and sexuality." Accompanying each portrait are words the subjects prefer to use to describe themselves -- "Boi," "Provocateur Lesbian Dandy," "Queer Femme Beefcake," "Gold Star Gay Wife," "Gay Masculine of Center," "Lezzer Queer Bossy Mama," "Inbetweener," "Legally Married." By San Francisco photographer Sarah Deragon.

More of her portrait photography can be found here.
posted by Narrative Priorities (58 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bugs me that the subtitle is "what defines you". These are more like descriptors than definitions--you would not use these phrases even as starting points for getting to know someone.

Normally that would be a nitpick but perhaps not, here, given the project is about semantic concerns to start.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:38 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Oh, well, that was ill advised. "Defining gender and sexuality" is exactly the sort of thing you'd do in an OKCupid profile, which is more where I'd expect these sorts of phrases to pop up.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:40 PM on March 8


"Provocateur Lesbian Dandy". Love.
posted by feckless at 5:41 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]


Eh, I just sort of thought of them as "author supplied keywords." They actually told me a lot about how the people in the portraits saw themselves, which is as close to "definition" as a project like this will get.

And, as feckless points out, they are fun to read.

I am now imagining them as trading cards.....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:43 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Very nice photos (and is that Dylan Ryan?).
The website is awfully thin on what the concept of the project is, though. I would have liked to see more commentary from the photographer. I'm hoping there's a lot more than this (from the FAQ):

"What will the photos be used for?

I hope to one day turn these photos into a coffee table book and/or have them shown as an art installation. The photos will also be posted on all of my personal and professional social networking sites."


I'd also personally like to see the photo participants not limited to the LBGTQ community. There's identity/gender/sexuality variation beyond that too (And also LBGTQ people who don't feel they belong to the defined LBGTQ community), and it could help make the point about LBGTQ rights and thinking being for everyone. I mean especially if taglines like "Past Lives" are OK.
posted by Bwithh at 5:50 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


What's wrong with "person"?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:50 PM on March 8


Not enough information.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:55 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Person tends to be first cis white hetero male and then all else comes after. If there wasn't the idealized person in society, perhaps "person" would be fine, but there isn't, so it isn't.
posted by Sophie1 at 5:55 PM on March 8 [19 favorites]


They seem like nice people. If there's an opening for Straight Dude Who Thinks You All Are OK, I'd fill it.
posted by jonmc at 6:02 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


(kidding aside, as someone who's chosen and by chance occupations have put him in close quarters with folks like these, the more you realize that 99% of the time they're not that different from you, the more you'll get used to them.)
posted by jonmc at 6:05 PM on March 8


Oh hey, I know a couple of these people - Jaded Queen and Queer Femme Mommy.

Jaded Queen was telling me about this project - apparently she had just chosen her title on a whim during the shoot but she was pretty honest about it. She does burlesque and is rather exasperated with the very white-centric queer/burlesque scene in town, hence the jaded-ness.

In the circles I'm in (which intersects with a lot of these folk) these would certainly be ways of introducing yourself and getting to know someone.
posted by divabat at 6:07 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


I guess my discomfort is that, for the same reason you are not your name and photo, you are not your photo and Brainy Gender Queer Drag King.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:09 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


LogicalDash: I'm pretty sure the people in these photos decided for themselves that they were, at least in part, XYZ Label System.

(I share your discomfort about being your label, as someone who has an abusive history with labels. But I seem to be the minority - ha, figures - in these circles: labels are seen as some sort of important social justice solidarity measure.)
posted by divabat at 6:15 PM on March 8


I'd also personally like to see the photo participants not limited to the LBGTQ community. There's identity/gender/sexuality variation beyond that too (And also LBGTQ people who don't feel they belong to the defined LBGTQ community), and it could help make the point about LBGTQ rights and thinking being for everyone. I mean especially if taglines like "Past Lives" are OK.

I think the issue with including non-LGBTQ identified people is that you'd lose the empowerment aspect. Even if it's nominally about "the labels we choose to identify with when defining our gender and sexuality", it seems like that starts becoming about one's ability as a queer person to choose your own labels and how that ability is empowering.
posted by hoyland at 6:16 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Why can't these people be my neighbors? All of them.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:20 PM on March 8 [11 favorites]


Oh hey, I know a couple of these people - Jaded Queen and Queer Femme Mommy.

At first I thought you meant "I know them as archetypes," and I thought "don't we all!" Then I realized I you meant the actual specific people.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:20 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


I applied, hope they pick me! I saw some old friends on there, but not all my identity labels.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 6:20 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


c'mon sea legs: I applied too. Maybe we should get a duo picture with the label Mefites.
posted by divabat at 6:22 PM on March 8 [6 favorites]


Does anybody know Daddy Femme Dyke Dom Queen? Because I would kill for that coat.
posted by rue72 at 6:23 PM on March 8


Divabat, I am down.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 6:38 PM on March 8


I mean, I do get to decide what my real and legal name is. There are procedures for changing it. I haven't used them because it isn't very important to me.

I think it's perfectly possible to default into any kind of label the same way. Did these particular people arrive at them that way? Lacking any information I'd tend to avoid answering that question, and likewise, would not say they decided for themselves. I have no idea, really. It just doesn't seem a safe assumption.

The queerness is probably amplifying my discomfort, OK, sorry. FWIW I do tend to react similarly when eg. straight people change their names on marriage or, for that matter, get married at all.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:52 PM on March 8


Oh, mine got posted, yay! I'm the only one with a mohawk (surprising, since it's the Bay Area). Sarah's super-rad and it was really fun participating in the project. I think I saw on facebook that she's considering shooting portraits for the project in other cities, too.
posted by the_bone at 6:59 PM on March 8 [14 favorites]


Well for starters, they'd be repulsed by the fact that your last name is Hitler.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:02 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Ctrl-F twank versatile

I am disappoint.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:04 PM on March 8


The way I look and how I present vs. how I label myself are two very different things. Labels are useful for me because despite appearing like a straight white middle aged soccer mom, I am a queer atheist feminist Jew married to an HIV infected gay poly leather man. People tend to want to put you in a box that seems easiest for them. At least I'd like to choose my own boxes, thank you very much.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:08 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


What's wrong with "person"?

The fact that in the world we currently live in, "person" means male, cis, and straight.
posted by northernish at 7:08 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


I'm the only one with a mohawk (surprising, since it's the Bay Area).

Wow. In NYC I fairly regularly see toddlers with mohawks.
posted by jonmc at 7:09 PM on March 8




I'm a black star heterosexual.

Where I'm from we call those "Dutch Boys".
Fingers... Dykes... you get it.
posted by Dreidl at 7:30 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Sad Little Houseplant here.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:42 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


I get why people need to identify as more than "person".

I can totally get why someone would need to say "I self-identify as X Y Z". I can hear that and understand.

At the same time, there oughta be a limit on adjectives.

When someone says "I self-identify as a radical P Q R S T U V W X Y Z", what I hear is "I self identify as self-absorbed".
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 7:51 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


It's funny how some people have chosen to define my descriptive title "Swell Foop", but I'm okay with that. In fact I'm Swell with it.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:04 PM on March 8


I think the issue with including non-LGBTQ identified people is that you'd lose the empowerment aspect.

Yeah, I kind a think that's BS.

Heterosexuality is a spectrum too. Hetero tomboys and hetero butch women exist, hetero femmy men exist, polyamory exists and is in fact a sexual minority, heteroflexibility exists. And none of those identities would be accepted as queer.

I know a guy who is slim, nerdy, slightly femmy, and who dates almost exclusively women who are slim, nerdy, and butch enough that his girlfriends basically all look a lot like him, down to the haircut at times. That's still straight, but it's far enough outside the normative spectrum that it gets noticed, and makes him feel like a misfit.

I mean, I can certainly see a project like this making a point of only including a minority of heteronormative monogamous straight people, but the implication that straight identity is fixed and simple is just wrong.

Straight doesn't always mean this or this.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 8:05 PM on March 8 [6 favorites]


The Identity Project "seeks to explore the labels we choose to identify with when defining our gender and sexuality."

I like that the respondents didn't stop at gender and sexuality. I may be wrong about some of these words—I need a cheat sheet for terms like baba and high femme—but many of the descriptors are about style, presentation, relationship status, family roles, lifestyle, and beliefs. And unlike the boring binary labels common in forms and online fields, self-chosen descriptors are loaded with affection, pride, nuance, and personality. I think it's cool there's a place to say, hey, being artsy or sassy is a huge part of who I am. It's not like the census is going to ask you.

The more verbose descriptions also made me stop for a second and appreciate the significance of the simpler identities. "Married," alone, with no modifiers: even if there weren't a picture, I'd get the picture that these couples were so pumped about finally being able to marry that they chose it over anything in the gigantic swathe of descriptors available to them as pairs of people with multifaceted identities. Same with "queer" - I don't know a lot about the word's history and usage, but seeing multiple people choose it as their sole descriptor tells me something about how significant and inclusive it can be.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 8:07 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


the implication that straight identity is fixed and simple is just wrong.

I'm really not seeing this project as implying anything about straight people. It just happens to not include photographs of them.

And now I've learned the title baba (which was what I used to call my grandma, but not in the same way) and learned a bunch of new titles both on this site and the place I wound up while Googlin. Nibling!
posted by jessamyn at 8:10 PM on March 8 [10 favorites]


I'm guessing 'baba' in this context means 'parental figure', since it's a common word for 'dad' in some languages and the picture has a kid.
posted by divabat at 8:11 PM on March 8


I'm really not seeing this project as implying anything about straight people. It just happens to not include photographs of them.

I was responding to the comment that by not limiting it to LGBTQ people, you lose the empowerment aspect. There are plenty of heterosexual identities that aren't hetero-monog-normative that could certainly use a little empowerment.

Also the mission statement says, "This photography project seeks to explore the labels we choose to identify with when defining our gender and sexuality." It doesn't explain why it's LGBTQ only, nor does the FAQ.

I mean, there are all sorts of valid rationales for exclusive spaces, but this project doesn't give us one in any way.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 8:26 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's kind of what bugs me about it too... as a not-in-full-compliance-with-gender-norms cis hetero dude, I think it would've been awesome if the scope of the project was a bit wider. Nothing wrong with limiting it to LGBTQ folks, but maybe that intention could have been made clearer.
posted by Crane Shot at 8:40 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Cool. I like the idea of self-titled portraits, but they do feel a little rushed, maybe (the titles, not the portraits).
posted by rtha at 9:01 PM on March 8


As cis hetero "dudes", I get that your identity may be more than "frat boy", but you must realize that as someone passing and identifying as the ideal, you've received more than your fair share of coverage. It's actually ok that those of us who don't fit the ideal get to leave you out once in a while.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:01 PM on March 8 [14 favorites]


These couples were so pumped about finally being able to marry that they chose it over anything in the gigantic swathe of descriptors available to them as pairs of people with multifaceted identities.

. . . on further inspection, people in the couple pictures also appear as individuals with different self-descriptors. Oops, should've paid attention.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 9:06 PM on March 8


It's actually ok that those of us who don't fit the ideal get to leave you out once in a while.

Leaving aside the fact that you have no idea about my relationship with "the ideal", I do agree with your larger point. I'm not denying anyone's right to leave me out, I'm just critiquing an online art project.
posted by Crane Shot at 9:09 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


given that mainstream discourse almost 100% of the time lumps everyone outside of gender norms into a category called "the gays" and leaves it at that, getting a glimpse of the diverse range of personalities and shapes and attitudes of these individuals is downright enlightening. (i know thats the point, but also there are so many "portrait projects" online and so few are actually of any substance, so in my opinion this is doubly impressive!)

looking through the images i of course wondered about the use of self-descriptors. "why seek to so specifically pigeon-hole ones-self? shouldn't the idea be to remove labels?" but then again, im playing the game of life on easy mode, so what do i know. to even have a label to be proud of probably represents years of self-doubt, confusion and emotional hardship in the search of identity. without any context or frame of reference its so easy to throw shade on people who speak in "strange" descriptive terms like this, suggesting they are "self-absorbed" or whatever, but i would think the only way to succeed at a search for identity would be to be literally that.

anyway, great post OP.
posted by young_son at 10:06 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


I had seen a shorter version of this, but hadn't seen the full set of photos, so didn't realize there's (at least) one mefite in there -- looking good! I love this project, not least because it made me think what terms I'd use for myself in this context.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:34 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Not one appears to be over 50 and most aren't over 40. That's horrible.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:36 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Well for starters, they'd be repulsed by the fact that your last name is Hitler.

I'm not sure why you'd assume these folks would be so uptight and humorless. It has been my experience that fun, creative, interesting folks don't give a damn about my last name, at least once I explain its origin. You think the folks in this photo series don't know some people with silly names?

As I have pointed out many times, the fact that there's some crazy tranny running around calling herself Ursula Hitler sure wouldn't have made Adolf happy.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:16 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Okay, reading the description here I was all ready to be 'arrgh, labels are so reductive, I mean really, what a dumb/exclusionary/backward idea' and then RTFA. And actually seeing the project totally changed my mind - I get that it is not 'I am my label', it is more 'the gays is a pretty wide spectrum, people'. And it also shows that you can't judge by looks - what label you might think would apply is not the label someone my apply to themselves - and that you know what, attaching a label to yourself can actually be pretty empowering.

So says the atheist bi married mother flaneur.
posted by Megami at 11:38 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Though can someone please advise me what 'reverse evolution femme' means because I am intrigued!
posted by Megami at 11:42 PM on March 8


Man, I am madly in love with Femme Pinay Supermom, Gold Star Butch Daddy, and their Modern Family Just Got Cooler daughter. I want to hang out with them for days.

Also Provocateur Lesbian Dandy needs to call me.
posted by Katemonkey at 12:01 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Also the mission statement says, "This photography project seeks to explore the labels we choose to identify with when defining our gender and sexuality." It doesn't explain why it's LGBTQ only, nor does the FAQ.

Why is it the duty of the artist to explain why the boundaries of the project are where they are? I mean, I get that you feel left out, but it was never the artist's duty to include you in the first place. Heck, we don't even know if she would turn you down if you applied -- have you tried? It's entirely possible that her project boundaries are wider than you assume, but these are the people who applied....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:04 AM on March 9 [8 favorites]


so who is the "center," as far as masculinity goes?
posted by atoxyl at 5:56 AM on March 9


masculine of center* is more a term of art, than a statement of relation to some clearly-defined 'center'.

*From some slightly random website. The Brown Boi Project either doesn't define it or it's buried in their not really finished website.
posted by hoyland at 6:11 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


What gets me is how genuinely happy most everyone looks, and even the ones who aren't out right smiling just seem to be proud. I'm really impressed with how at ease everyone is in the pictures. These are pictures of people feeling good about and expressing how they think about themselves. That's awesome.

Also, be sure to read the testimonials.
posted by Gygesringtone at 7:56 AM on March 9 [7 favorites]


I have lived a relatively non-normative life with as open a mind as I could, and yet as I was looking at these (amazing beautiful happy) portraits I suddenly realized that for each one of them I was trying to figure out--is that a boy who is presenting as a girl? Or a girl who has had surgery to look like a boy? Is that a girl who is trying to look like a boy looking like a girl? For each one I was trying to categorize, and then I realized there were so many different categories I kept adding more--ok that is definitely a dyke, no a boi, no a drag--wait lesbian butch drag--wait what--which--what--ooh look how cute he/she--oh they're so happy, ok I understand that picture, oh wait maybe I don't -wait, what? And then I realized how unbelievably silly my supposedly open mind was being without conscious thought and my mind was blown, man, blown! Look at all the fun happy people! I wish they were running the world instead of the politicians we've got :)
posted by eggkeeper at 9:36 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


masculine of center* is more a term of art, than a statement of relation to some clearly-defined 'center'.

Sorry, hoyland, I wasn't actually under the impression there was an established reference point, I just thought it interesting to contemplate.
posted by atoxyl at 2:18 PM on March 9


What, no furries? (Cub doesn't count, I'm betting.)
posted by gusandrews at 4:55 PM on March 9


Despite their prevalence on the internet, the furry community is actually not that large.
posted by jessamyn at 5:13 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


"I know a guy who is slim, nerdy, slightly femmy, and who dates almost exclusively women who are slim, nerdy, and butch enough that his girlfriends basically all look a lot like him, down to the haircut at times. That's still straight, but it's far enough outside the normative spectrum that it gets noticed, and makes him feel like a misfit."

So, does he identify as "gender nonconforming"? Does he identify as queer? What identity would he be empowering? Heterosexual? Why does "heterosexual" need more power? Isn't it the assumed default?

When your friend says he's dating women, does he have to explain that he's straight? When he says he's straight, does he have to explain he's dating women?

Even further, when your friend told his parents that he dates women, what did they say? Disappointed? Supportive? Questioning? Does he have to regularly articulate an identity to people, explaining what dates slim, butch women is for a guy?

And I'm sorry he feels like a misfit. Has he grouped together with any other people who are also romantically gender non-conforming and organized? Done any solidarity work?

When he and his girlfriend go out, can they go anywhere they want? Or are they worried that just describing his romantic proclivities could get him beaten up in some places? They get hassled much out on the street? Any slurs you think he could reclaim by posing with them?
posted by klangklangston at 11:02 PM on March 9 [5 favorites]


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