Kyle Jackson’s New Series, American Queen, Shatters Gender Binary
By Kyle Jackson
“Why wouldn’t you want to be masculine… you’re a man?”
I was once asked this question about why I consider myself feminine and proud. Even with today’s progressive gender fusion in the pioneering cities in the United States, there is still so much the general public doesn’t know regarding gender nonconformity. I am an openly gay commercial photographer. Since I was young, I’ve always been more feminine than the rest. My unique gender and sexual expression as a child was apparent at an early age. When I was 4 years old, I went up to my aunt at a birthday party and said, “Aunty Jess, I’m not like other boys, I’m a girly boy.”
Even as a photographer who feels empowered by his atypical gender identity, I am constantly meeting new people who do not understand the importance of embracing in your own gender expression. Sometimes its out of ignorance, and other times its because they were never exposed to any individuals who break through the gender binary. I knew I had the power to combat this lack of knowledge using my photos and I could help the voice of my gender-nonconforming brothers and sisters be heard.
In search of this outlet, I started to document queens at drag bars. The queens were so open and expressive of their gender identity. I knew they would be the perfect figureheads for this concentration showcasing nonconforming gender expression and empowerment. I wanted to document the pride and self-acceptance of the drag queens and use the photos to show this to the mainstream. My ongoing series, American Queen, does just that. The images are inspired by drag queens and showcase icons of female self-empowerment. Now I’ve spent the last four years documenting drag queens in-between their performances at drag bars all over the United States. Female impersonators are photographed as a campaign for gender equality. The message is clear: be yourself, love yourself, and feel empowered.
When people combat the series or the need to be proud of who you are, I explain to them that people should be encouraged to be themselves, regardless of society’s projected gender binary. There is nothing wrong with being a feminine boy or a masculine woman.
When combated further, I explain that if they don’t see how the pressure to fit into a gender stereotype is toxic, consider this example: when your 5-year-old son fancies barbies instead of tonka trucks, what are you going to do? Will you allow him the freedom to express who he is, thus teaching him to be proud of himself? Or are you going to teach him to be ashamed of who he is, instilling a childhood worth of fear for what other people think, repression of who he really is, and anger at you for trying to mold him into something he’s not? Are you going to teach him that fitting into society is more important than embracing who he really is? This proposition leaves them thinking. With American Queen’s message of self-empowerment, I intend to use the series to give a voice to feminine and nonconforming individuals who, through their stunning display of self acceptance and empowerment, deserve to be heard.
Kyle Jackson is a portrait photographer based bicoastally out of Los Angeles and New York City.
Kyle Jackson’s photography fuses romanticized portraiture with captivating narratives to inspire his audience. As an image-maker, Jackson’s goal is to encourage positivity in his work and personal life. Jackson focuses on narratives portraying underdog protagonists in their moment of triumph.
The conceptual subject matter in Jackson’s work is complemented by a pop-inspired visual aesthetic. As Jackson recounts, “I grew up in pop culture. I was fascinated with music videos, advertisements, and MTV.”
Jackson’s aesthetic suits his goals well as a photographer in the entertainment advertising industry. Jackson details, “In my images, I aim to reach out to the mainstream. The loud colors of American pop culture provide a backbone to the graphic elements in my photographs, while stereotypes and cultural norms are some of the subject matters that I look to evaluate. Above all, a conceptual subject matter and genuine interest in spreading positivity help to shape the narratives that I look to translate into motivational imagery.”
Kyle Jackson is a graduate of the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Jackson’s images have been recognized with a variety of collegiate accolades and regional and district ADDY awards. American Queen was also chosen as a winning series in the Photo District News International Photo Annual 2013. If you are in the New York City or Los Angeles areas and would like to be a part of American Queen, please contact Jackson’s studio at [email protected]