Kit Steinkellner
December 19, 2014 12:49 pm

We are ALL kinds of psyched about photographer Rhys Harper’s gorgeous new photo series “Transcending Gender,” which celebrates the specificity and individuality of its transgender and gender non-conforming subjects and strives to illuminate the powerful truth that there are as many trans narratives as there are trans individuals. Too often, those who identify as trans and gender non-conforming are stereotyped and marginalized. Harper’s photos seek to both humanize and honor his subjects. But his project isn’t just about trans narratives—it’s about everyone.

The project began as a way to question the notion of gender in all its forms, and grew into a very intimate, stunning portrait series capturing the real lives of people who challenge gendered notions just by being their glorious selves. Many of his subjects are transgender but not all. His portraits reveal the many ways people embrace their boundless uniqueness, from a Native American warrior posing in traditional Native regalia, to a trans advocate and female MMA fighter in the ring.

The project, according to Harper’s artist statement, “began as a photographic celebration of the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming humans.” But it grew into something more. “Recently, it has become a statement by transgender individuals, and also individuals who are not transgender – literally, everyone and anyone – that we are all a little gender non-conforming in some way or another, and that we are more than just our gender.”

Harper’s project celebrates everyone from trans pioneers to “straight women with short hair who are not transgender.” The message is all about freedom of expression and defying the parameters we were raised to believe we had to fit into.

“I would like to start conversations and change the way we think about, talk about and understand gender in mainstream society,” Harper told Mic. “For instance, why can’t guys have a pink phone case? Or why is it seen as weak for guys to cry when they are sad? Why can’t girls be strong and fierce? Why are colors gendered? Why is anything gendered? I want to see a shift in these gendered expectations in our society, because I don’t really think they benefit anyone.”

This project is highly personal for Harper, and the inspiration for this series stemmed directly from his experience with his own transition.

“Transition has been both incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding,” writes Harper on his blog, where he’s chronicled his transition process. “I never thought I would be able to begin loving my body in the way that I am beginning to love my body. . .I see my transition as an ongoing process – a journey – that I will be on for the rest of my life. I believe this is parallel to the journey that is life – we are always learning, growing, and evolving – and my transition is no different.”

These gorg photographs—of gender non-conforming people following their passions, be it music, hiking, or sheltering cats—are really resonating with their audience, so much so that over one thousand people have contacted Harper hoping he’ll do a photo sesh with them. You can apply to be apart of the project on his website.

Harper is over the moon about the response to this project and he absolutely plans on continuing and expanding this series:

“I really want to start reaching beyond communities that already ‘get it,'” he told Mic, “and making changes in communities that may not have a full understanding.”

For more on Harper’s incredible series, check out his project’s website.

(Photos by Rhys Harper)

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