Gender doesn't mean the same thing today as it did ten years ago. You know this. You go on the internet. You've seen.
With this progress comes challenges: TERFs obsessed with telling trans women they're not allowed to "be" women, but also discrimination from newspapers, TV presenters and your general run-of-the-mill dickheads, which has led to a horrendous rise in hate crimes against trans and non-binary people. But with more visibility comes more acceptance , and – slowly – more hope for a future in which people can identify how they want, without the fear of being abused by strangers.
Documenting the more hopeful side of things is the Italian-born multi-disciplinary artist Veronique Charlotte, who's behind Gender Project – a photography piece that began as a collection of 100 candid portraits of people from across the gender spectrum, and has since grown into a multimedia project, shown everywhere from east London galleries to film festivals in Milan.
I sat down with Veronique to find out more.
VICE: Hi, Veronique. What inspired the Gender Project?
Veronique Charlotte: People. They are my ultimate resource. London is an amazing playground – it's full of different experiences. There are spaces where people can actually express themselves, even though we still have many taboos and problems around gender and gender identity. I've been aspiring to create an educational tool to help those that don't know what gender fluid means and what gender identity is. There is still a lot of confusion, and some people might not know what we're talking about.
What was it like photographing the 100 people?
It involved a cathartic moment and meeting with the subject. It was an open call. There was a lot of connection between humans, asking why are we together in this room? It's an activist project, so it doesn't just stop as a piece of art, it explores other topics too. I want to create an open space for people to let themselves feel free and talk about things they might not talk about elsewhere.
What did you capture?
My open call was specific – I asked people to come in and pose half-naked for me. This was a vulnerable situation for some people. We talked about gender, sexuality, what they're connecting with… there was a lot of emotion; it's been a tough journey. I had 100 different lives, 100 different experiences, 100 different energies. It has been really interesting research for me.
Is the project collaborative?
I was doing it alone until I finished all the portraits, then the exhibition was co-curated by Michelle Cook. My team helped me set up the exhibition and I collaborated with some musicians – CC Honeymoon, Lucia from Glasgow, they came down to play, along with different visual artists and body performers.
I'm also part of a dance collective. We did performance art at the V&A for a different project called Frontleft – about gentrification and other problems that are happening in London. One of the guys I did that with is an amazing artist, Riccardo Suazo. He really helped me on this Gender Project. I chose the people I worked with because they're all doing their own things and I really connect with them. For example, Minerva Amis and Ranny Cooper did naked painted body pieces at my exhibition about invisible disabilities, which is also something that people don't talk about very much.
How has it been received?
The response has been amazing – I've honestly enjoyed every single part of it. I've received so much beautiful feedback. We filled the exhibition for two days and we had a roundtable discussion on the second day. The discussion was with many different people; some were from universities and schools. More than 100 people showed up to watch the talk. We had drag queens, artists... it was different people from different experiences, which made it easier for anybody to ask questions. It was really great – I was super surprised.
Brilliant. What's next?
I want to create a chain of multimedia exhibitions. My intention is to bring this project to nine different countries. I want to bring this project around the world and see what happens. I want to discover different possibilities and see how other countries respond to a call like this one. I'd love to do this in a Muslim country – it would be amazing to see the responses from people there. I'm no longer taking photos, so if anybody has photos for this then I'm putting them and myself on the same level.
Finally, what have you learned throughout this project?
I've learned so much, and there is no better research than people. A book or Google search can tell you some things, but people can show you sides that you can't learn in a book. They can give you emotion. I learned about myself and my limits – it's a constant research. I want to go deeper and make these educational tools for people that live in judgmental ways, to help people be more respectful, and for people that don't know who they are yet. So many people don't know what gender they are because nobody has shown them how to find themselves. They might even be afraid to come out due to homophobia and other things. It's a harsh world out there.