13 Stunning Photos That Shatter Society's Stereotypes About Trans People

13 Stunning Photos That Shatter Society's Stereotypes About Trans People

Warrior. Musician. MMA fighter. Wildlife biologist.

These are just a few identities captured in photographer Rhys Harper's captivating photo series, Transcending Gender, which celebrates transgender and gender nonconforming individuals in a variety of settings and environments.

Flying in the face of society's tendency to uniformly stereotype trans communities, each photo emphasizes how unique and varied these individuals are, and that there is no single narrative of what it means to be transgender. Together, they are a powerful means of humanizing and normalizing an often marginalized group.

Aiden is a taxidermist and Native American two-spirit tribal artist who lives in Boise, Idaho. He also loves cars, specifically, his Gambit-themed Mustang that he has been customizing for the past few years. He says one of the most defining moments in his life has been the death of his soulmate, whom he lost to suicide – he gave him the courage to live life and find the happiness everyone deserves. He also loves things that are imperfectly perfect. He is pictured here in his Native regalia, which he wears for special occasions and powwow dances.  Rhys Harper
Fallon is a professional mixed martial artist (MMA) fighter from the Chicago area. She has also been involved with national trans advocacy efforts and regularly writes for national LGBT media.  Rhys Harper

These photos are for everyone. AlthoughTranscending Gender champions trans lives, its intended main audience isn't the LGBTQ community, but rather "the rest of the world." As Harper explains on his website, "trans rights are everyone's rights."

Harper told Mic, "I would like to start conversations and change the way we think about, talk about and understand gender in mainstream society. 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."

Natalie is a wildlife biologist who has recently been studying mink populations along the Sheboygan River. She is also a bow hunter and does falconry. She is pictured here with her bird Bam Bam. In addition to her love for all things outdoors, she volunteers her time with several national organizations, including an organization that helps survivors of domestic violence.  Rhys Harper
Arin is an Oklahoma teen who just published his first novel, Some Assembly Required. He is currently attending college in Oklahoma and plans to have a career in the outdoors.  Rhys Harper
Mattee is a Native woman who is doing HIV/AIDS work for a Native nonprofit health center in Albuquerque. She identifies first and foremost as Diné, which is a Navajo word that means "of the people."  Rhys Harper

Harper's project reinforces the important notion that people are so much more than their gender. Nobody knows this more than Harper, whose own transition inspired him to undertake this project.

"When I started thinking about my own transition quite a few years ago, I worried that people would see me only as a trans person — and that it would cloud their perception of who I am as a person," said Harper. "I wanted them to see me, not my transition. So I immediately began thinking of ways I could photograph transgender and gender nonconforming people in a way that really just captured them as people, not trans people." 

Chris is a country boy living in Oklahoma. He works as an EMT dispatcher, but when he isn't working he is riding four-wheelers, hunting and getting muddy out in the backwoods of Oklahoma. He also is passionate about gun safety and wants to get his gunsmith license in the future.  Rhys Harper
Eri grew up in the pool – she was on the swim team, and spent much of her life swimming in her parent's pool, where I photographed her. She was recently the subject of the documentary 'TransMormon,' featured on Upworthy, and works for a holistic health company.  Rhys Harper

Harper's message is resonating. Over 1,000 people — from LGBTQ and straight communities alike — have expressed their support and eagerness to be photographed by Harper.

"The response has been incredible, and I am really excited for the expansion of the project [which will] now  include people who are not transgender or gender non-conforming...I really want to start reaching beyond communities that already 'get it' and making changes in communities that may not have a full understanding."

Lana is a third-generation firefighter who is in her 34th year of service. She was promoted to lieutenant in 1992, and to captain in 2000. Recently, she started volunteering as a mentor for a local court program that helps women who are survivors of human trafficking and are in the court system move forward with their lives in a positive way. She also serves on the national board of directors for GLAAD.  Rhys Harper

This is an ambitious undertaking, but an important one. Prescribed gender roles  harm everyone, not just gender non-conforming individuals: Fixed ideas of what is "masculine" or "feminine" force people into stereotyped behaviors and lifestyles that may not accurately represent who they really are.

Until people understand and accept that gender is a social construct (unlike sex, which is biologically determined), and by no means a person's only defining characteristic, narrow gender roles will continue to flourish. 

And as Harper said, we all deserve to express ourselves freely, without being pressured into socially "acceptable" — aka dictated — ways of life.  

Zoe is an amazing DJ, photographer and activist. She spins every Saturday night at a local Cleveland nightclub, and is also involved with local activist efforts to assist trans women of color in the area and also nationwide.  Rhys Harper
Kaleb is a professional cat rescuer in North Carolina. He manages a shelter in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, where he takes care of more than 70 cats and kittens. He lives in a small apartment on the shelter property, and works tirelessly to take care of the shelter cats while rescuing cats from the local animal shelter. In his limited spare time, he likes dancing to Olivia Newton John in his apartment.  Rhys Harper
Kallie is a veteran, engineer and aspiring professional cyclist. She is passionate about trans military rights, and says that she would go back to serving her country in a heartbeat if the military were to change its policies regarding trans people.  Rhys Harper
Landon is a former U.S. sailor and trans military activist. His story made headlines when he was discharged from the military for being trans after being up for a promotion while he was deployed. Since returning from deployment and leaving the military, he has been an outspoken activist for changing the military's policies and allowing for open trans service. He also loves animals and has an adorable dog named Maizie.  Rhys Harper
Tracy is a transgender-expressive novelist from Dallas/Waxahachie, Texas. She is also a blogger, reviewer, former actor and artist. She writes true-to-life stories, novels and screenplays with real characters set in realistic situations. In terms of genre, she writes interracial/multicultural romance and drama with an LGBT twist. Her writing portfolio includes four novels, two original screenplay projects and a collection of short stories.  Rhys Harper