Join Linda Bournane Engelberth and guests Benny, Koyote and Kushy for a discussion about the visual representation of non-binary people.
The gender binary is the idea that there are only two possible genders – male and female. Anyone who identifies as non-binary, gender fluid, agender or genderqueer, views their gender as being beyond this binary.
Although the terminology is new, non-binary individuals, who fall under the LGBTQ umbrella, have always existed but many people are confused about what non-binary means. Worse, non-binary individuals often face discrimination even in countries which legally recognise LGBTQ rights.
Linda’s portrait project, “Outside the Binary”, explores the world of people that identify outside the binary and seeks to produce a better understanding of people who don’t identify as gender binary.
In this webinar event, Linda presents her project, and Benny, Koyote and Kushy will address how they are represented visually in the media, how they would like to be represented and how work like Linda’s might contribute to changing people’s perceptions of non-binary individuals.
David Campbell: Linda, who’s one of the VII photographers based in Oslo, is going to do a presentation on her project, Outside the Binary. But it’s fantastic that we’re joined by Koyote, Benny, and Kushy, who are both members of the nonbinary community, but also participants in Linda’s project, and they’ll be joining the discussion after Linda’s presentation. So, Linda, over to you.
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Thank you. Let me share my screen. Okay. Thank you for everybody that’s listening. My name is Linda Bournane Engelberth. I’m an Algerian- Norwegian photographer and today I will present my project Outside the Binary. First, I want to talk about how the project started. I’m part of VII photo agency that’s also hosting this event. And in the beginning, we were going to make an exhibition when I entered the agency that was called Rethinking Masculinity. And because I knew a nonbinary person, I was thinking that was interesting. I really wanted to photograph the community and nonbinary people. Also, because I felt like it was questioning all of us, what is masculinity or what is gender… so, I started. I took three photos I think for that project. And I will say I just fell in love with the project because I started to meet so many amazing people that had so much to say. And I also felt more and more that the project was very important. Also, because I’m from Algeria and I know some in the queer community there, and there, in those countries, where it’s really, really difficult to raise awareness, it’s super important. And then because I’m part of the VII photo agency, I’m able to travel around in the world. So, I was thinking, okay, I can use my privilege here. I can really make a project from all over the world and let people have a voice. So, for me, it was very important in the project that it’s not my voice that is important here. So, from each photo I’ve been taking, I’ve been also taking interviews. And the project is also very text based. And so, each person was able to say whatever they wanted and correct the text so the texts are exactly the way each person wanted. So, I’ve been all over the world. I’ve been working for three years, I met incredible people. And I’m still working on the project. So, in the end, this will be a book. Yes. So, first, I would like to— because VII photo is a photo agency, so we’ll also talk a little bit about the photographic process in the project. This is an activism project, but I will come back to that. But now I will start to talk about my inspiration in photography. So, before I started the project, I knew it would be based on portraits. So, I’m very inspired by painters. And Lucien Freud was really a huge inspiration for me, and foremost because the psychological part of his portraits. I would really like when I meet people to really try to capture something deep inside the people I meet. Of course, sometimes I have longer time with people, sometimes shorter, but this was really inspiration for me. Another thing I was studying before I was taking the pictures was all kings and queens from the Renaissance. And that was really a study of postures. Like, how is a very strong posture, it’s showing like, a strong person. And I was interested in how I was posing the people I met to show something that’s strong. Of course, I, in the beginning, when I was working, I was thinking a lot about this. But now since I’ve been working for three years, things change. But you can see it in some of the portraits that I have these references. Another artist that I really admire is Aki Kaurismäki. Aki is as a Finnish director.
I really, really like the light he’s using in his movies. So here, I was really thinking that I wanted to use sort of bright sunlight to create shadows, and then, yeah, shadows and sunlight to make depth in the photos. So, this is a movie that’s called Le Havra that I really like. And this is also a very huge inspiration for me light-wise. But of course, I didn’t always have some when I was photographing, so things were also changing there. But in the beginning, I was all the time watching the weather report before I met people to try to get that kind of light. Of course, when I was, for example, photographing Benny in Kenya, that wasn’t an issue because it was sun all the time when I was there. Yeah. Another inspiration is Alice Neel. Her paintings, for me, are so important in art history, because when I look at her paintings, they’re timeless. This is a person that was painting this during the 40s and 50s. And when I look at them, these portraits could still have been taken today. So, a sense of timelessness in the portraits felt very important for me. Yes. I just wanted to show you a bit of the starting point of the visuals in the project. I’m also working with a medium format analog. And that is also because I kind of like the tactile process of working with film.
So, it has been a huge research project because it has to start somewhere, so I started to photograph in Norway. And then each country I went to I’ve been contacting queer organizations. But now after two years, the community is helping me so much. So if I’m going to a new country, the community are giving me people to contact in a new country. This is Ynda Jas from London, that was helping me. I think I photographed like 10 people in London while I was there. This was very much in the beginning and you can also see the posture I was inspired of from the Renaissance portraits. This is Melino in Botswana, and sometimes I will have— I like when I photograph to maybe have one hour where we can walk around and talk and have a little bit of time, but we actually just had five minutes because I was taking the airplane and they were like coming really fast with a taxi. But it turned out really beautiful. And I felt like it got to be a very strong photo. In Botswana, it’s a bit different from many other African countries because in Botswana it is legal to be queer. And Melino really had a lot of openness and were accepted by their family, by the community around, so the situation for Melino was very different from any of the other African countries that I went to. This is Leah from Norway. So, this is Albi from Tanzania. And we were—the first time I was taking a photo of Albi, we were at the beach, but the situation in Tanzania is difficult and Kushy knows that. So, when I was actually taking the pictures on the beach, a huge group started to run after us, angry, and I don’t know why. So, we had to run to the car and the situation felt quite dangerous in a way. So, this was actually taken the day after. And we found a more peaceful place in the hotel. So, many of the people in my project are activists. I’ve been asking if it’s okay to show their face. And all the people in the photos wanted to show their face because— I have one picture, I think that is anonymized. And I’ve been very careful with names. So, I only use first name, and you can choose your own first name. And I also have kind of agreements like if you want to be on social media or not. And it’s a project where you have to step very careful because I don’t want to put anybody in a dangerous situation. This is Fay and Nate from London. This is Ismir, also in Tanzania. I must say I’ve been very touched. For example, after I’ve worked in Kenya, the community in Kenya helped me to get in contact with a community in Tanzania. And as Kushy knows, I think I had like 15 people meeting me in Tanzania. And I was just like, so, yeah, it felt very overwhelming. And I was so touched that the community is really opening up and are believing in the project and think is important. This is Christer Andre’ from Norway, that was actually the first person that I photographed in the whole project. And I think Christer Andre’ is listening now at the moment, but really great personality and doing a lot for the community in Norway. Luca from London. Here, I was also—I’m going to talk a little bit about the light and the photography because it’s a photo forum too. But here, it was actually, that day it was really gray. It wasn’t any sunlight. And I had seen on the weather report that the light was going to come for like two minutes. So, we waited and waited and then exactly that two minutes with sunlight, I was able to capture this photo. This is Ari from Lisbon. A really a great activist, great person in Lisbon. So, I’ve been using like— I didn’t have any funding for the project. But since I’ve been traveling, I’ve been contacting people in each country I went— if I went on vacation, if I went on a job, like, no matter what I’ve been doing, I’ve been contacting all over where I came to and it’s been really great. I think I actually got people from every country I went to except Algeria and Gambia
This is also one of my first people, Edea, from Norway. So, Edea was talking a lot about—because they wanted to transition as a trans person in the beginning and was waiting for the hospital to make the operation. But after, I think they were waiting three years, really changed their mind and really went into the situation of feeling as a nonbinary person. And that changed their whole life. And they didn’t do the transition even though some nonbinary people do. But I heard that also for many people that when they found out that they could kind of be both, then it was more easy for some of them. I mean, I’ve been working with people outside the binary so it’s people that identifying different way— could be a gender, gender queer, nonbinary, gender fucker, like you have a whole umbrella of different ways of feeling your gender. Some people feel like they’re both man or woman or on the spectrum in between. Some people don’t feel their gender at all. The thing that’s been very, very interesting is that when I’ve been traveling around— because you can also say no way that the terminology is kind of new, not that new anymore. But nonbinary or people outside have existed as long as people have existed. You can just read about history online. And then this is something that has always been there. But this has also been important for me, because in some countries, the terminology is not the same. So, for example, when I was working in the countryside in Indonesia, the person I met there was talking about exactly the same thing, about feeling both as a man and a woman, but didn’t have kind of the nonbinary terminology. So, this is a project where everybody will get the space and are able to communicate through the text. I just wanted to put this in because I just thought that was funny. Edea was part of exhibition and showed up in the same outfit for that. I thought that was beautiful. This is Kushy, that you’re going to meet later, part of the presentation, that I met. We had a beautiful meeting in Tanzania. Beautiful person. And I just wanted to show you some of the text that I have in the project too. Let me see. Can you read the whole text there? Or, yeah, okay. Sorry, sorry. I have a picture on top of the text, so I can’t read it right now. But yeah. Can you read it? Can you see the whole text, Koyo?
Koyote: I can see the whole text, but Kushy, do you want to read your end text?
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Kushy, could you read it?
Kushy: Yeah, I can read it, I can read it.
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Thank you.
Kushy: Okay, no problem. Hi, everyone. Well, this is what I wrote. I use the pronouns they, them, just to identify as a nonbinary person, so I go for they, them. But I don’t really do labels. Something between a man and a woman because that’s how I feel. More of a hybrid. You can say, nonconforming class and gender, nonconforming person, because I don’t conform to the society’s terms of gender. For me, being a nonbinary person means to be taken as a person, as a human being, not just as a man or a woman, or any category in between. Just being yourself. And I’m actually reading what I wrote, eh?
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Yes. Please do that, Kushy.
Kushy: Okay, I started to feel like this a long time ago, before I was 10 years old. And it’s complicated to be like this in Tanzania. But because of my appearance, most people think I’m male. So that makes it easier. But if I were more feminine, like most of my friends are, it would be a bigger problem. So, here’s an advice I give to everyone who’s in the community, that, love yourself and it is you before anybody else. Don’t care about what anybody thinks. It’s all about loving yourself. I say don’t care about what anybody thinks because you only get one life to live and you should live it to the fullest as you love, as you like it. Because happiness is the only intrinsic…I’d say, to life. So, whatever makes you happy, you just be it. That’s it.
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Thank you, Kushy. Thank you. Sorry, I have a picture of Koyo on top of the text here. I don’t know why. Anyway. This is Stefano that lives in South Africa, but we met in Vienna. Angie, that I met in London. So, this was also—sometimes I only have five minutes and I hate that because I felt like the best part of the travel has really to be to get to know people and have one or two hours where we’re walking around and having conversation. But I’m also so happy that I’m able, like, even if we have five minutes, and Angie’s voice is really important. This is in New York, Quito. You would think that I had problem photographing people in some of the countries, but in New York it was really hard. We got chased away from, like, we were not allowed to sit anywhere. And we had a guard following us wherever we want and trying to get us away from the area. I don’t know. This is Joon from Finland that we met in London. So, when I’ve been photographing, some people have asked me about that, will you photograph a person that’s outside the binary different from any other person? And I will say absolutely not. Because we’re all persons. And I really been trying to make the most beautiful picture I can of each person. This is S from the States. But we met in Norway. So many people have changed during the project, like, so S is transferring now to be woman. And I know that some of the gender identities are also kind of changing over time. But I’m making the book and my hope is to make a new book in 10 years to follow up everybody and see, like, what’s the situation. This is Pong Charan from Thailand. The community in Thailand is also very strong and it’s a huge activism community in Thailand. And Pong Charan drove two hours to really be part of the project and to get their voice out. This is Falk from Norway. So this is Nellie from Kenya. Nellie is a gender nonconforming person, but also an intersex person. And I think Nellie was telling me some of the strongest stories that I heard, and was really talking about harassment, talking about how people can get shit, like, that people follow you on the street, that the police can harass you. And also talking about that many people in Kenya are—that people are using something that’s called correction rape, that people can get raped to feel what gender they are, in a way. And those kinds of stories are so terrifying for me. And it just makes me want to work with the project even more, because I think if it’s ever able to change the situation, we have to talk about it. And I also think that the countries for example, like Norway, or the United States, where we don’t have those kinds of systems, we have to be the people that’s showing the way and then… So, when we then have still problems in Norway, with, that people are stigmatized, that makes me just so sad, because we have to really try to change it, so it will be a change in the countries where it’s illegal, even to be queer. This is Darnell from New York. Amanda from New York. Nayland. I was so happy to get Nayland, to also get somebody that’s a little bit older. Really great person from New York. So, this is Koyo, from Norway, and also part of the talk that we’re having after. Um, I remember that we couldn’t take the picture outside, but then I was kind of happy to get some nature on the blanket behind you. Are you able to read your text?
Koyote: Ah yeah, I can do that. As I said, like, when in our practice session before we went live today, I can’t remember what I wrote. So, this may be the same for question. It’s as interesting to reread something we wrote a while ago, but I’ll try to be faithful to what I wrote. I’m now 45. So that’s changed, and preferred pronouns they, them. I describe myself as queer, trans or gender fluid. I rarely use nonbinary because I don’t like describing my gender in negative or passive terms. And I want to add something to that right now. That’s actually changing for me because I’ve come to like as well this nonbinary as a rejection of the binary. But I still don’t like to define myself for the negative in relation to this model. But I like the term nonbinary more now. And then I also wrote, it makes an experience that’s rich and expansive, sound small and restricted. The binary model of sex and gender is neither universal nor eternal, and it can’t adequately convey my own and many other people’s lived realities. Sadly, it’s also used as an excuse to actively shame, shrink and deny lives that could be joyful, loving, and productive. Both personally and as a therapist because that’s one of the things I work with. I’m a psychotherapist. I’m much more interested in exploring human creativity, diversity, and connectedness when it comes to gender and sexuality, than I am in labeling and moralizing.
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Thank you, thank you. This is Emma from Japan. And Ana from Indonesia. I was very lucky when I met Ana because we had almost a week together because they were participating in photographic workshop that I had. So, we got to be really, really good friends. And I was really happy when I made this photo of Ana. And really a great talent in photography. This is a Goken from Japan, but originally from China. And Goken was also telling that the situation in China are way more difficult than in Japan. In Japan it is still difficult, but you have a broader community and more openness. But in China, it was much more difficult.
So, this is taken in Johannesburg in South Africa. And I only were there for eight hours because I was in between travels. So, I was able to get into the center and meet Tevin for one hour and then take the taxi back again. But that was kind of a very lucky day because Tevin was there, the sunlight was amazing. So it was just one of those really nice days. And I was so happy that I was able to get Tevin in the project. Tevin is also— like South Africa is also more open country and more progressive in Africa. And, but of course, they’re still really difficult to live there, but it’s a totally different situation than from Kenya or Tanzania or Algeria. But Tevin is really open about their gender identity and sexuality and is an activist in South Africa. This is Camilla from Norway. I think she’s listening now too. Yeah. They, when I met Camilla—they, I said she, but Camilla is a musician. They’re like a really, really good violinist in Norway and I was so happy that I could meet them in this winter. And also Camilla is living on the west side in Oslo and when we met, they were just like, coming out and were being open about their gender identity and is a really brave person. So I have a lot of—I admire Cam really, really… Sorry about the wrong use of pronoun since we haven’t talked about that since we met.
This is Khiladi from Tanzania, also telling a really strong story also about— Khiladi was, the importance for Khiladi was really also telling about how it is living in Tanzania with HIV. So, we were talking a lot about that. And they… really wanted the text to come out. You can see some of the texts on my webpage. And I will also, of course, host when the book is coming out. But a really brave person too from Tanzania. This is Omary. Omary is a practicing Muslim. He used the pronoun he, but he was really talking about the situation as a Muslim, because he really wanted to say that no matter what religion you have, like, God created us, and if you feel like you are a mix between two genders, that nobody can say that that’s anything wrong, but also very strong voice coming out from the Muslim community. Yeah, this is Benny, that’s here in the, that’s going to talk later. We also had a very beautiful meeting in Kenya. This is with your partner. Yeah, you are raising children together. And I also have your texts, if you could read it, Benny.
Benny: Wow, this was a long time ago, but some some part of my screen is covered, so I can’t see it all. And technology is so challenging. So, I don’t know what am I going to do.
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Kushy, could you read it? Do you see the whole screen?
Kushy: I can see it. Okay, Benny, 25, from Mombasa, Kenya. They identify as nonbinary, gender queer, nonconforming person and uses the pronouns they, them. They say I’m a parent, and I’m not comfortable to be called a father or mother. I’m just me. I started to feel like this when I was very young, because when I was young, I felt like a man. But my mother always told me that I was a girl. My mother pushed me to wear women’s clothes when she saw me dress as a man. Being queer in Kenya is not that easy. Mainly because of the Muslim religion. The men feel like you’re competing with with them. If you have a partner and a family, it’s a challenge to most of the men. So, it’s not that easy. However, I work with my confidence. I am human. I’m a human rights defender. I live together with a woman and my two children. Normally the harassment I get is from verbal attacks and I would like to say to people that families are family and parents are parents. It’s beautiful.
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Thank you. Thank you. This is Liv from Estonia. And this is Leah that was part of the other panel talk we had and Elias. Elias is originally from Palestine and were also telling me really strong story about coming out, living in Denmark and having a really beautiful life now, but also being rejected by the family. Yeah. And a really strong voice in the community in Denmark at the moment. I also wanted to show you some of the representation. So, for me, this has been a project I really wanted to come out in the world. So as many countries I can get outside Norway that I can show it is a very important for me. So, this is in Sarajevo. That was a very important exhibition because in Sarajevo it’s quite strict and we got a lot of questions and it was like, really, really beautiful place to exhibit. So, this is Christer Andre’ We had the exhibition at the railway station in Norway. And I think that was maybe the most beautiful exhibition because this is really different exhibition space and you will really… I would reach out to the people that don’t normally go to a gallery so that this is a very important exhibition for me. Yeah. And then we had it in the New York Times. And I was surprised about the all the comments that came in. And S… was really, like, posting on their Instagram really bad comments, but this just made me even, like, we have to talk about it and really talk about gender even more than we’re doing today. It’s also now part of the Helsinki Photo Festival. And this is my dummy where I’m making the book to try to get everybody in the book. Before we go back to the participants, I really want to say— and this is the most important thing with the whole project— is that this is not only a fight for nonbinary people, trans people or people outside the binary. This is really not only their fight. This is a fight for everybody. And this is something I really, truly feel because with as much harassment there is in the rollout even in Norway, I just feel like all of us have to talk about it. We have to do what we can and really also support the community as much as we’re able to do. Really. I also wanted to say that Koyo is part of a group that’s called 71 Bodies. It’s artists, dancing, poetry group, I don’t know, maybe you can say better. And they have like, now they have a show. You can go into the webpage, we can send it out in the emails after, but it’s really, really a great project. Maybe you can say something about it, Koyo.
Koyote: I also want to say Christer Andre’ is also part of 71 Bodies, and in fact, was part of that. Christer Andre’ is a trailblazer. So, they were the first one in your project. And they were in 71 Bodies before I was part of it too. And it’s a trans inclusive dance and performance company run by a dancer called Daniel Mariblanca. So yeah, and you can go and look at the web page. And then also find us on Vimeo where there’s quite a lot of video content from another part of this in first person project that we did that we did last summer. So…
Linda Bournane Engelberth: We will send out the link in the email. You can also— a lot of videos on their web page and it’s really great. Benny is also working for an organization in Kenya. Do you want to say something about the organization, Benny?
Benny: Yes. So, I am the founder and the director of Coast Women for Women. Coast For Women is an organization that deals with lesbian, bisexual, queer, intersex, trans or gender nonconforming who are parents and those who wish to be parents in future. And in bracket, we deal with a rainbow families. And this is because we realize that people think that if you fall under the bracket of LGBTIQ community, then you don’t deserve to be a parent. But we’re here to change the norms that, whether you are an LGBTIQ GNC, you can also be a parent. So, we’re here to cater for the needs of the LGBTIQ GNC parents, and those who wish to be parents in future, the rainbow family. Thank you.
Linda Bournane Engelberth: We will also—we don’t have your email here, but when we send out a letter afterwards, you also put your email if people are interested in contacting you. Thank you, Benny. Okay, let me see. Thank you.
David Campbell: Thanks, Linda. That was a great presentation. And I wanted to start by asking Koyo, Benny and Kushy, each of them might want to reflect on this. I mean, how did you feel seeing yourselves portrayed in Linda’s project? What was it like to be represented by Linda’s portraits? And do you feel those portraits are countering a negative representation that exists in society generally, or do you feel that they’re actually giving you a representation for the first time? Are they, those portraits, competing with something, or are they actually, as it were, presenting people outside the binary for first time? I’d be interested in thoughts on that.
Koyote: Yeah. I was animating myself to say, “Who wants to go first? Benny?”
Benny: Let me go first, then. I think, to me, I’m so happy. I am so glad that, I think that, for the first time, the world is shifting to realize that the human being doesn’t conform to any gender, that people exist that don’t conform, for any young person, when you’re growing up, or everywhere, it is printed in everybody’s mind that we only have two genders, which is a man and a woman. But we have been, you know, been silent for so long because talking about nonbinary itself is not easy. Because there is no data, clear concept that can, you know, bring it out that a gender nonconforming human beings look like this. But we talk the kind of Linda’s project that is now bringing it so clearly that, and to me, it’s also helping us to hear our voice out there to be heard that, yes, we do exist. And we don’t only have a man and a woman, but we also have those people who are not conforming to any gender. So, we don’t have this, she and he, but we also have, they. So, I think the pronoun is something that is also good to talk about, people to know that we exist. So, to me, I’m so excited about the Linda’s project. And it’s such a wonderful project. Thank you, Linda, for the project.
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Thank you for participating, I must say also that many people are making this kind of projects now. And I’m really happy about it. Because as more project, as more people are getting out in the world, you know.
Koyote: I’m going to jump in. I think the short version of how I feel when I look at Linda’s picture of me is— it’s a bit embarrassing to say, but surprisingly beautiful, or handsome, or whatever word you want to use. And, and a bit naked, because I think that Linda succeeds often in her ambition to capture something that isn’t just about the visual. I mean, her photographs are visually very beautiful. But that’s not—she’s trying to photograph something that has to do with presence or essence or, and I think doing that also captures something about what doesn’t have to do with gender or can’t neatly be boxed into gender. So there’s something that happens there in the method of photography, and I think both, yes, it’s it’s showing— it is representing something that has often been hidden or silenced. And it’s doing it in a different way. Because one of the things I loved about working with Linda, is she is genuinely interested in how do you want to present yourself? And how can I use my photographic skill and my facilitating skill to kind of bring that forth? And how do you want to tell a bit of your story right now. And to me, that’s a really different experience from some other media experiences I have, where, as a queer person, or as a nonbinary person, I’m asked to be a token of something, or to kind of fit in and illustrate a bit of a story that somebody else has already decided, or to explain myself in, kind of, in terms of a model that doesn’t make any sense to me. So like when people say, oh, but what were you to start with? Or, you know, how can you kind of define yourself in relation to the binary? And it’s like, no, because then I make more sense to you. But you have to expand your imagination and not invite me to do violence to me and my experience and the experience of other gender fluid, nonbinary gender people. So, for me, that’s a very different thing about this project and the fact, I mean, there’s just all these amazing people, so looking at the other pictures makes me very inspired and heartened…Kushy, please say something so I don’t feel like I talked to much.
Kushy: Okay, I’ll go ahead and say, well, Linda’s project really contributed to changing people’s perspectives, I’d say, and perception of gender as a whole. And to me, that was a first-time representation. I’ve never been represented that way or even being asked anything about my gender, like, in depth. So that was a great experience with her as well, we had a really nice conversation, I got to know an amazing person. And we always, we will always keep in touch, we are always in contact. And I’d say that the project has connected me to the community worldwide, like I never knew that— I knew people like me existed, but I never knew that I’d connect with them or get to talk to them someday, like I am doing today. Well, and it has also brought up awareness, I’d say, to the world, because I see her posting exhibitions or showing her work in exhibitions. And that brings awareness to even the binary people worldwide, like people who only know of man and woman in a society, you know. So it has really brought a positive influence to the world I’d say, and as for the portrait, I really liked it, because it, to me personally, it portrayed a lot. On my picture, on my portrait, I see the ocean behind me, and the ocean that represents home, like, I’m in Texas right now. And I don’t really, although my family’s here, I’m reconnected with my mom after two, three years now. Because she left for the US and she left me and my siblings in Tanzania, but we are all together with her right now. So the oceans, but still, the ocean represents home. As much as I feel back home right now with my mom and my siblings, but I really miss home and the portrait brought back memories of the ocean. And the ocean to me also represents our fluidity like, yeah, with gender, like gender fluidity. So, seeing the ocean, because the ocean is water, water is fluid. So that’s fluidity as connected my gender. And I noticed something, the T shirt I was wearing on the portrait has Texas on it. So, it’s like, yeah, it connects both my homes, like home, back home, and home right here with my mom and my siblings. Yes. And I also liked how she captured my personality, that, you know, I’m focused and all of that. So, she got to capture that, the neutrality as I am, and I’m really grateful for that, like, I’m even out of words to like, express my gratitude to her and how grateful I feel connected to her and the nonbinary community worldwide. So yeah, that’s it.
David Campbell: Great, great. Linda, at the beginning, you described this as an activist project, that you clearly saw it as something where you wanted to, not only you are portraying a number of activists in the project, but that you, yourself, were being an activist. How do you want your portraits to be used? Where would you like to see them used? What sort of impact are you hoping that they have?
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Of course, I will dream to have it all over the world, like in different places and galleries. But I must say, I got some requests that I said no to because I feel like to make this project, it is also a lot about trust in between the people, between me and the people I’m photographing. So, I always said that it’s going to be a book, exhibition, and probably in newspapers. And I contact people if something different happens. But I said no to a couple of things, because I felt like it was wrong. Like a television program that wanted to show the pictures in the back without the names or anything. So ,I stay very true to the idea in the beginning, that the voices…it is not only like a beautiful picture, because it is, but the voice and the text are also like very important here. But I mean, as much as I can get it out in the world, and outside Norway, since I live there, then that will make me happy and also to be part of conversations like this. I think that’s very important. And also to make the people in the project connect with each other. But it will be a book in the end and I hope that will be good representation out in the world.
David Campbell: And when you have exhibitions in various places, do you find those exhibitions are vehicles for the conversation? Are they, is that one of the things that you’re trying to do with the exhibitions is use them as kind of a location for these sorts of conversations and so on? Are they serving a function beyond people going simply to see the images themselves?
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Yeah, also, because most of the time the newspapers write about it when you have exhibitions, they will also get it out in the newspaper. And then I see, like, there are many people coming to the exhibitions, and also the conversation in Sarajevo, for example, with people that, this is something you don’t even talk about, but I’m also careful, I will not, I cannot, for example, have the exhibition in Algeria, my second country, because there, it will be much more dangerous. So yeah. exhibitions and talks in the places where we’re able to do it.
David Campbell: And was there was there any particular response to the exhibition in the railway station? Because that’s such a fantastic public venue to have the portraits showing in such a public place? What sort of response did you get to that?
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Yeah, I mean, like, because there wasn’t any opening or anything, I wasn’t there. So, I didn’t really talk with the people. But I was there, like, documenting and just like watching people. Koyo was there one day too, and really like watching how people were looking at the portraits. But when I show it in my presentation, that’s an exhibition people really react on. And it’s a great way actually to show pictures. I mean, this is also an art project, in a way. It’s an activism project, but it’s also an art project for me. So yeah, there are different places I would like to show the pictures.
Koyote: Can I make a short comment about the station? I mean, it would have been even better, of course, in this modern reality if they flashed up on people’s screens, too, because a lot of people are doing this so they’re not actually looking, you know, even if they’re waiting for trains. But there were a lot of people looking. I wasn’t part of that… I was watching people look at Christer Andre’, for example. And interesting to hear some people commenting and reflecting on it. And also interesting because those screens are usually full of advertising, which is always enforcing the norm. So, it was an interesting little play then that something shows up that’s odd and that’s a picture of a person and it’s not really immediately apparent what is it when you kind of glance at it on this format, where you’re used to being told, you know, build muscles, shave your legs, whatever bullshit thing that they’re trying to sell you. So that was a really interesting thing, too, you know, that people are kind of encountering it. And in this setting?
David Campbell: Yeah. We have a comment from Megan in the audience. And she’s observing that there is a little bit of progress in some places, noting that in, she’s in Los Angeles, and her nonbinary 16-year-old, was able to put x on her high school identity instead of female or male. So, a question for Koyo, Benny and Kushy. I mean, obviously, it’s very hard to give a global answer about that, because it depends on the location and country and maybe even the city and so on. But do you think things are improving in terms of the recognition of people outside the binary? We have heard through Linda’s project of a lot of the difficulties in a lot of locations, but are there places where things are improving?
Kushy: Well, I’d like to go first. I’m currently in the United States and coming from Africa, Tanzania, to be precise. Things are improving out here. Like, in the first world, I’d say oh, they already have improved, because even when applying for the job I’m working at right now, I had options to feel for my gender. Like, you could say you were in the binary, you’re beyond the binary or you’re not like to identify as anything or you’d not like to say. So, that’s really an improvement, which shows awareness, like, out here in the first world I’d say, but like back home in Africa, I’d say just from the society’s perceptions, with the religions, it’s still very hard to disclose it, you know. People don’t really talk about it, it’s still a taboo to even talk about the agenda. So, I think it’s going to take a lot of courage and a lot of changes back home in Africa, but we’ll definitely get there with people like us and, you know, like, the society out here in the world will probably influence Africa, just like they are influencing them in many things right now, like fashion and music and all that. Probably, it will also come to gender, where things will also change.
David Campbell: Benny, what are your thoughts on that?
Benny: I have something to say on that, especially that I’m coming from Kenya. In Kenya, as much as they recognize the transgender, and intersex human beings, these are just things that are on papers, because the issue of gender nonconforming, it is something that even in the LGBTI community is something that people are still talking about. Because even in the community itself, people are still struggling with who is a nonbinary human being. So. the government only recognize them, the intersex and the trans community, but they don’t recognize the gender nonconforming. So, as much as they even they recognize the intersex and transgender, but it is just on paper, so the doc in that, but in the documents, we only have two genders, which is the male or the female. So, you only have two boxes, two ticks. And I think with nonbinary, you realize that that is the most torturing moment when you are forced to tick a box where you feel like I don’t belong here. But simply because you needed you need services from the government, then you need to tick either of the boxes. So, because there is no any option for the third gender, as much as the activists down here, we are trying so hard and so difficult to make sure that we don’t just stop, but also change the policies change the documents that— if I’m going to, you know, to process my ID, do I have freedom to choose within the three genders or we only still have the, the two boxes, two ticks, between the genders. So, it is a journey. But yeah, our hopes is, if the government now recognize the intersex and transgender, nonconforming and trans people, then it gives us hope that slowly by slowly, we are going somewhere. And with time now, we will also push so hard to make sure that these things also happen on the documents, not just by the word of mouth and just on papers in the documents in their offices. Yeah.
David Campbell: Koyo, from your perspective, are things changing?
Koyote: I want to make a brief comment on something I’m not going to get into because I realized we don’t have time for it. But I think it’s important to also recognize that, you know, part of what Kushy and Benny are describing as well is, is I mean, the gender binary as a model is hugely connected to a massive history of colonialism and racism too, that’s erased, right, a lot of previous recognition over a wider spectrum of gender identity from a lot of places in the world. So, there’s a thing going on there too. So that things are kind of presented as some, like, weird new invention, that in fact, they’re not, right. And in the Norwegian context, I mean, absolutely, yes. Some things are moving forward here more in the social context, whereas on paper, and as far as access to health kinds of health treatment, and so on, still a long way to go. And kind of a weird discrepancy in some ways between a lot more social acceptance and yet, this lag in regards to any kind of legal recognition or, you know, the access to important health care, I would say,
Linda Bournane Engelberth: I think actually, we don’t have time to discuss it too much, but you’re saying…
Koyote: There’s also this thing that when it becomes more visible, you also get the more virulent backlash, the reaction to it, then I think we’ll just have to…
Linda Bournane Engelberth: I think what he was saying there with colonialism is a very important aspect here. We can’t go into too much, but you have like from ancient time communities all over the world. You had the third gender. And it was, yeah, many different kinds of gender identities. And very binary man and woman was also introduced by the colonialism, but that’s a very long talk. But I think it’s important that you said that.
David Campbell: So, we are coming towards the end of our time, we still have, if anyone in the audience wants to put a question in, they can put a question in the Q&A. Christer Andre’ is in the audience and has made a couple of nice comments. And I just want to acknowledge those because they were talking about the project. And the way it gave in their words me the place to where I can show a representation of nonbinary identities to be a voice for those that can’t. And they say I’m super, super happy about the project, and very humbled to be mentioned to be part of something, and the first one, so I just want to acknowledge Christer’s comments. So that does bring us towards the end of our time, I don’t know if you want to anyone wanted to make any final observations before we conclude.
Linda Bournane Engelberth: I’m always so, like, sad to leave because I, yeah, I really love them very much. all of them. And we had the, yeah, we still have contact and I’m very, very grateful for that. And I’m so grateful that you’re all part of the project, and also grateful for the people listening and the other participants. I must say, for me, this has been like one of the really important projects that I’ve been making and I don’t know if it’s ever going to stop to actually because it’s important, and the people I’m meeting are amazing. Thank you.
David Campbell: We do have one final question from Charlie, a question to the participants. Do you feel a tension between the desire to be visible and seen as yourself? And in certain occasions, the need to go unperceived or unread? If yes, how do you deal with that personally, that tension?
Koyote: Benny? Yeah. I’m curious… Benny you have to do on behalf of your kids, sometimes, I guess, right? How you’re seen by other people, so.
Benny: I think it is the most difficult experience because we get all this kind of attention, and this kind of abuse and all that. And now you can imagine when it comes to the parents’ perspective, when the different voices coming asking, “Are you a man or a woman?” in front of your children or in front of the family, then it’s more challenging because when you come back home now, the children have different questions to ask you. So I’m that kind of a parent who expects any kind of questions from my children. So, too, I think the mechanism that I use to cope with all this is to love myself and actually that kind of attention shows me that I am so special that anywhere I pass. I’m that kind of a human being that people want to look twice. And that kind of a human being people want to talk about. And that kind of a human being who is so special that everybody has something to say about me. So, yeah, it’s not easy, but it’s sweet because attention, I love attention personally. So yeah.
Koyote: I think I want to add something. I mean, yes, there’s a tension base because sometimes, because of the stupid binary and people connecting that also to visuals, there’s this thing where to be seen as nonbinary, you’re expected to present in a certain way as well. And so, that can be a thing. And of course, there’s this tension between, yes, wanting to be visible and share existence also as an activist project, and also to be safe. Right? And to not— to allow myself to be situational about that and to not feel ashamed of situations where I simply allow that aspect of me not to be at the forefront or not visible because I’m having to navigate a system or a situation where it’s not recognized or a danger or an, you know, to be A. I think it’s important that we do what we need to to keep ourselves safe. And these systems are systems and they’re not right. So, you know, the fact that I have to situationally play a fucking game to get whatever it is, I need to get, you know, done for me or someone I love. Okay, I suck it up and do it. But of course, I’d prefer not to have to, and that’s part of the activism is trying to change society to make it not so that it’s not safe to be a human in all the different ways we can be human and love for everyone to love, you know?
David Campbell: Kushy?
Kushy: Well, I really like the concept many say that it makes us feel special, it makes us especially in a way that we are different from most people. So that attention, we shouldn’t always take it negatively. We should turn the lemons into lemonade, and, you know, make it a good thing. Well, about the question. Sometimes I feel like both, I feel like screaming out to the world about who I am, but at the same time, I just want to hold tight onto myself and being in my own, in my own shell, because it’s safer most times, considering the society you’re in, but you know, it gives you a dilemma, but it’s up to you to like, know in what occasions to show up in what occasions to stay under your shell so that you’re safe. So, yeah, that’s all I to say as regards to your question. And one more thing that like to say, Linda’s project brought awareness to people to, like, the binary community to rethink and re-evaluate that the idea of gender in a society. Like, most of you say, all that people know is either male or female. But her project, I’d say, although I haven’t participated in any of her exhibitions, I’m sure people rethought the idea of gender in in the society and gave them a chance to re-evaluate their morals, their, you know, their conditioning from the past. And it has also brought appreciation of nature and people as a whole. To many people, I’d say, because you have to respect somebody for who they really are and not for what they stand for, or if they’re male or female. None of those qualities, but a person as a person as they are, you know, so I’m so grateful for Linda and for the chance she has given me to, she’s given me the room for me to be myself and meet people who feel the urge to be themselves as well. So that’s it, thank you.
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Kushy, thank you. I just want to say to that, too, because I just feel like talking about the project to cis people too, there are racism in a way—it functions like race, people will make comments and I feel like cis people also need to fight this fight. And that comes to very small things. Like, if you’re in a group, and people are commenting, you have to stand up and say something. I just wanted to say that too, because I have also presented the project to a lot of cis persons and got comments. And I just feel like in the cis community, people really have to stand up and say their meaning, also there. It’s almost like if you look at racism, if you hear people saying something bad and you don’t say anything, that’s as bad as being a racist. So, it’s the same here when it comes to gender identity, you have to kind of say what you’re meaning in a good way. And there I think the cis community also have a long way that comes to when media are presenting stories. There’s a lot of discussions on social media, but really to try to also use your voice if you’re privileged.
David Campbell: And indeed. I think someone observed earlier that these were issues for all of us, not just for the nonbinary community and I think that’s a really, really important reminder and hopefully today’s event is being a part of that, getting it to that audience and so, our time is up, but I really want to thank all the participants, Linda for that great presentation and the project. Koyo, Benny and Kushy, it’s been absolutely fantastic having you participate. Photographic work is very strong when it’s a collaborative process and the participants help shape that work, but when we can hear from you as well, that also increases the strength of it. So, thank you very much for your time today. And thank you to the audience for joining us. All right. Goodbye everyone.
Linda Bournane Engelberth: Take care, everybody. Thank you, David. Thank you.