A new blog called Gender, Projected which describes itself as “an exploration of gender through photography and dialogue” recently featured a Tibetan gender variant individual in a diverse series of interviews highlighting the experiences of their models through storytelling.
The project is particularly unique because it focuses specifically on those who feel marginalized by the mainstream conversation on gender/sexuality and thus validates their lived experiences. Cake describes feeling empowered by the modeling project due to a persistent desire to be seen caused by years of invisibilization of gender non-conforming individuals. A common thread throughout the interview series is a strong sense of urgency in getting out the narratives of such individuals to bridge the gap in terms of knowledge production on gender issues.
The interview touches upon issues of home, family, gender sexuality and expression, and Tibetan cultural identity. Cake, whose preferred pronoun is they/them/their, describes growing up in India and moving to Connecticut struggling to reconcile her complex gender identity with her unique — albeit heteronormative — cultural heritage. In one personal anecdote, Cake reveals their desire to look like their cismale siblings every Tibetan New Year, ascribing it to the Tibetan concept of rebirth.
Cake describes presentation of their gender expression in terms of masculinity. Starting after cutting their hair short in 2006, they discuss their decision to stop wearing skirts and dresses, which are typically equated with feminine gender expression. In an answer to one of the questions, they remark on the “irrelevance” and “play” involving gender after the personal realization that they attached less and less importance over time to the presentation of gender to society (other than in cases where capital is involved, such as the workplace) and focusing less on the binary aspect of this social construct.
Presentation is a performance and not necessarily a wholeness, and who you are is so much more than your gender presentation.
Explaining how the standardized ideal of beauty is attributable to the westernization of it, Cake admits to little insecurities like having crooked teeth. “Teeth are an indicator of class,” they state. “We always try to present, especially if you are poor like me, as not poor.
Returning throughout the interview to their immigrant roots and contemporary Tibetan identity, Cake talks about their desire to model again due to the lack of Asian — and particularly Tibetan — representation of “gender variant identity roles.” Although Cake describes feeling vulnerable and nervous about going public with their personal life and gender identity despite their confrontational nature, they also make mention of the fact that they don’t represent all such Tibetans. For this reason, Cake hopes this interview will encourage other gender non-conforming Tibetans to talk more openly and comfortably about their identity.
The models in this series will be featured in the City Lights Gallery in Bridgeport, CT until August 12. For more details about the exhibit, visit the event website here.