13 Photos That Break Down Stereotypes Of Non-Binary People

Photographed by Laurence Philomene.
French-Canadian photographer Laurence Philomene is the kind of 23-year-old that leaves us quaking with admiration; they’ve shot for brands from Teen Vogue to Netflix, but as an artist, have managed to carve out their own aesthetic and stay true to it. Despite a penchant for super-bold block colors, Philomene’s portraiture work has a distinct sensitivity to it, something that comes from making friends with their subjects and allowing them to decide how they’d like to be depicted.
Philomene identifies as non-binary, and their latest series features people who also define their gender this way. Non-Binary is an ongoing project Philomene has been shooting since last year, and it’s making waves across the internet for capturing the nuances of gender expression with extreme intimacy.
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“I’ve been taking photos for about 10 years,” Philomene tells me. “I started out taking photos of these Japanese collectible dolls called Blythe dolls. There’s a whole community of people on Flickr who put them in scenarios and take photos of them. That’s how I got my start. Then I went to college for photography after high school and after that I guess I didn’t have a choice about whether to make a career out of it… I’ve been working freelance for four years now.”
Gender is a theme Philomene started experimenting with in college; it felt important to explore it in their photography work as part of an exploration of their own gender identity. “A lot of my work has been about themes of masculinity and femininity — putting that in my photography and trying to figure what it means for me,” Philomene explains, before adding: “I don’t think I’ve come to any conclusions yet, which is probably why I’m still working on it…”
Ahead, we take a look at Laurence’s project photographing non-binary identified people, and discuss how Laurence and their subjects express their gender — both privately and in front of the camera.
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Photographed by Laurence Philomene.
Laurence Philomene, 23, Montreal

Laurence on being non-binary: “I think it’s something I always felt about myself and I was even told by people around me that I didn’t fit in [with “male” or “female”] in certain ways. A lot of friends identify as non-binary and it took me a while to come to terms with it for myself because it’s easier to not talk about these things.

"I think a lot of people probably felt it before they had a word for it. The term’s been around for a couple of years and there’s a big community of non-binary people in Montreal. But still, it took a while before I was like, ‘This is a term I’m going to use for how I feel.’ Then I started talking about it more. I made a post on my private Instagram and talked to my friends about it, and then I kind of came out publicly through this project.”

Self Portrait by Laurence Philomene
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Photographed by Laurence Philomene.
“I use ‘they’ pronouns and ‘she’ pronouns. I never made a big thing of, ‘These are the pronouns I use now’ because a lot of my friends in my community already used ‘they’ pronouns for everybody. My family are aware of the press I’ve been doing and the show I just had in Berlin — I wrote a grant application for it that was about my identity that my dad proofread. But we never really had a big conversation about it. My family is French and there’s not really a term for non-binary in French — or gender neutral pronouns — so it’s hard to have a conversation about it in that language.” — Philomene

Lux by Laurence Philomene
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Photographed by Laurence Philomene.
“There’s definitely a big queer community in Montreal, but it’s a small city compared to somewhere like London. I’d say non-binary identities are a strong component of the queer community where I’m from, for sure. But I feel like Montreal is a very divided place between the Francophone queer community and the Anglophone queer community, and I can only speak for the Anglophone queer community, but I guess in terms of gender expression it’s a fairly open place. There’s still harassment and violence against LGBTQ people, as there is everywhere else in the world, but it’s a place I feel safe (presenting as non-binary).” — Philomene

Lucky by Laurence Philomene
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Hobbes Ginsberg, 23, Los Angeles

“I think I was around 17 when I started identifying as non-binary, but I honestly don't remember much. I had a very gradual transition and coming out.

“I think the biggest thing is realizing that there's no one way to be ‘non-binary.’ It’s not just a stereotypical ‘afab person who's into menswear and has a short haircut.’ There's so many different ways to express the physicality of being non-binary and so many combinations of masc or femme or neither or both, all of which have nothing to do with anyone's body.

“Laurence's project does a really beautiful job of showcasing a depth and variety of non-binary looks and experiences that is often not seen, which can really help broaden the narrative and introduce people to these ideas. I also think it's important to note that a non-binary experience isn't just limited to your physical presentation and it's something that I think in a lot of ways can feel intrinsic to your personality and your essential ‘way of being.’”

Hobbes by Laurence Philomene
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“For me, the non-binary series was a shift in my photography, where I went from projecting the image of myself onto whoever I was photographing, to listening to whoever I’m photographing about how they want to be represented. The conception of it was taking a look back at my work and thinking, ‘How can I be a better photographer for myself and my community,’ letting go of the past and how I used to control the image more.

“So, the initial idea was asking people, ‘How would you like to be photographed as your ideal self?’ Some people went very simple with it, like, ‘Oh I like this color.’ Others were more specific, like, ‘I want to be at this location or wearing this.’

“A lot of the people I’ve been photographing have marginalized identities on a lot of levels, and there’s this thing over the years of trans bodies being photographed through a very cis lens, which is very othering of the subject. I wanted to not do that and include the voice of whoever I was photographing. It was a collaborative process.

“This photo is of Kiki. They wanted to have an archer bow and arrow vibe as their ideal self and we went to a woodland area to shoot it. It’s the most different of all of the images compared to what I usually do… I really went outside of my comfort zone with the palette.” — Philomene

Kiki by Laurence Philomene
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William Garabito, 22, Montreal

“I started to identify myself as non-binary the moment identifying as gay was putting me in a box full of limitations, that same box I wanted to escape when I identified as heterosexual (if I ever did). I can't recall an exact time, but I would say about two or three years ago. Identifying myself as non-binary allows me to have no limitations when it comes to gender and relationships, both of which I still want to explore.”

William by Laurence Philomene
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William Garabito, 22, Montreal

“Nowadays, people are becoming much more aware of terms such as non-binary, queer and gender non-conforming, which is a good thing. In a way and besides the tremendous amount of work our community needs in order for us all to feel safe, people have a lot more access to information and can look up to people who identify as non-binary and have a bigger voice. This is something we didn’t have before, at least not within the public eye (mass media).

“Before, I would allow my gender identity to come to surface and really be part of my daily expressions and interactions. Now, I have a new take on it, where I see my non-binary identity as a way to showcase other characteristics that are more important to me. Being non-binary gives me freedom and a sense that I am much more than my gender alone and that I can do whatever I set my mind and body to do. As a non-binary person, my eyes are more open, I look at myself and others far beyond categories.”

William by Laurence Philomene
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“Most of the people in the series are my very close friends, friends of friends, or other young artists. I usually just cast with a Facebook post: ‘Hey, this is the project, message me if you’re interested in being in it.’

“I met one person who I didn’t know at all, a friend of a friend called William, I asked them to be in the series and they told me about a project they’re doing that’s a line of children’s clothes that’s unisex but not minimalist — frills and pink stuff and skirts for everyone — a different connotation of gender neutral. They said my project inspired them to do that and so we’re going to shoot a look book for their brand together.

“That’s how a lot of my projects go, I meet people, take photos of them and then we become friends. People ask me whether I always have a conversation about gender with my subjects when I shoot them. Not really. We relate to each other, make nice imagery, have a good time. I try to create as much as a ‘safe space’ as possible.” — Philomene

William by Laurence Philomene
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Philomene on using color: “After college, my use of color seemed to be the common thread across my still life, studio work and portraits. There’s not a deep meaning to it, that’s just what I gravitate towards. It makes me happy!

“I think people definitely still have associations with color and gender because people ask me about it all the time, whether I gender color or if colors mean anything. I feel like in my earlier work I was reclaiming pink and all that stuff but now I just use color visually. Any color is for anyone. Maybe that is a political message in itself but I don’t necessarily intend it as one.

“I never usually shoot grey but one of the models said it’s the only color they wear, so here I did it, with a kind of witch-style shoot. Going out of my comfort zone for this series has helped me be more open as a photographer.”

Lees by Laurence Philomene
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Rochelle Rinne, 25, Ontario

“I started identifying as non-binary as soon as I knew there was a term that might begin to encapsulate the feelings and confusion I’ve always felt toward my own gender identity. I have memories of being uncomfortable with being referred to as a 'girl' from as young as four or five because it seemed to totally gloss over the masculinity with which I’ve always aligned myself. This pushed me into 'Am I a trans boy?' territory for a while, but the most emotionally resonant thing for me to do is to reject the gender binary insofar as my own interiority and accept that I’ll likely never feel comfortable exclusively identifying as either boy or girl. The either/or feels like wearing a too-tight itchy sweater, and deeming myself non-binary feels like finally starting to peel it off.

"Here, I’m wearing a vintage 1960s JC Penney baby blue lace dress I got for $5 at a thrift store that I’m often too scared to wear because it’s so ‘girly,’ but I adore it, and I wanted to tell those feelings to go fuck themselves.”

Rochelle by Laurence Philomene
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Rochelle Rinne, 25, Ontario

“I think that white non-binary people get a lot more visibility because we are privileged in our ability to feel safe revealing ourselves as such, so we need to be careful not to apply racist one-dimensional gender stereotypes to people of color. There’s also a misconception that all non-binary people will ‘look androgynous.’ i.e. outfit themselves in such a way as to visibly straddle the gender binary, and that’s entirely untrue. You can be non-binary regardless of the way you look, and you don’t have to prove your gender identity to anyone. No one is owed that.

“I could go on about the relationship between bodies and gender expression, but that’s a whole other can of worms, and I’d rather just boil it down to ‘I’m an angel and being naked is great,’ because that’s the essence of how I was feeling the day this photo was taken.”

Rochelle by Laurence Philomene
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Photographed by Laurence Philomene.
Billy Starfield, 29, Montreal

“I think I came out as non-binary three or four years ago, but it’s been on my mind for a long time before that. As a child and teen I really saw myself as a feminine tomboy.

“There are so many misconceptions about non-binary. Printing zines with non-binary in the title at my local print shop, some other client came up to me and ask me if I thought 'that fad would last.’ I found it insulting and inconsiderate; what's wrong with exploring new avenues of gender? There's a strong emphasis from cis people that implies you should identify with just one gender and stick to it. They say non-binary is just a phase, or tell young trans folks that it’s just a phase. But so what if it’s just a phase? People are allowed to explore how they feel about gender. For me, my self-discovery as non-binary was freeing and I think it’s here to last. I'm close to 30 years old and my age influences the way I experience it.

“For me, gender is fluid; it’s okay to have phases, it’s okay to change your mind and switch. Too bad if people think it's confusing. I think non-binary people were always there, its current popularity just comes from the fact that this language is more accessible now.”

Billy by Laurence Philomene
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Photographed by Laurence Philomene.
Billy Starfield, 29, Montreal

“I think people read me as a girly girl because I only wear pastels. I have different looks for different moods. I often dress in baggy clothes, but people still read me as feminine because I wear soft colors: pink, mint, baby blue… But for me, all colors and styles are androgynous or gender neutral.

“I express gender just as I express my moods; it’s a flow, it’s not static and it can be all over the place. When I shot with Laurence, we just wanted to have fun. I really love pop stars and wanted to have a fake album cover. This one is strongly influenced by Dolly Parton. I often play with my femininity in extremes, in an almost grotesque manner. I love it, I love being extra.”

Billy by Laurence Philomene
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