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15 photos that show how gender isn't the most important thing about us.

There's a lot of talk about gender lately, which is great! There should be. Still, I think people forget sometimes that though we may be curious about gender, there is A LOT more to people than the labels we place on them and/or the labels they feel comfortable identifying with. Here's a photo series that challenges our stereotypes and makes us go beyond those labels and see people for who they really are.

Rhys Harper created this project because he felt like the "media and society in general is starting to discuss trans issues more, and there is more awareness, but so often, the focus of discussion is about bodies and what is underneath our clothes, instead of who we are and what we have to offer the world."

Guess what? We're all on the gender spectrum. Gender is a made-up thing that we all should get to define for ourselves. I don't fit in your box, and you don't fit in mine. That's one of the awesome things about being a human.


Take a look at these striking photos Rhys took and captioned, and consider this —

If you were being photographed, what would you want to showcase about yourself?

1. Aiden

"Aiden is a taxidermist and Native American two-spirit tribal artist who lives in Boise, ID. 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 soul mate, 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 pow wow dances." (Photographed in Salt Lake City, Utah)

2. Andrea

"Andrea is an activist and cartographer who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was just featured in the Arkansas Times. She is also a stilt walker, as seen in this photograph." (Photographed in Little Rock, Arkansas)

3. Arin

"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." (Photographed in Catoosa, Oklahoma)

4. Chris

"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." (Photographed in Leflore, Oklahoma)

5. Eri

"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." (Photographed in Orem, Utah)

6. Estelle

"Sister Estelle is an Episcopal nun who is currently renovating an old Victorian home as a safe home for people in transition." (Photographed in Indianapolis, Indiana)

7. Fallon


"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." (Photographed in East Schaumburg, Illinois)

8. Kaleb

"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."(Photographed in Cullowhee, North Carolina)

9. Kallie

"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."(Photographed in Longmont, Colorado)

10. Lana

"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." (Photographed in Columbus, Ohio)

11. Landon


"Landon is a former US Sailor and trans military activist. His story made headlines when he was discharged from the military for being trans after being up from 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." (Photographed in Washington, D.C.)

12. Mattee

"Mattee is a Native woman living who is doing HIV/AIDS work for a Native nonprofit health center in Albuquerque. She identifies first and foremost as dine', which is a Navajo word that means 'of the people.'"(Photographed in Albuquerque, New Mexico)

13. Natalie

"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 outdoor, she volunteers her time with several national organizations, including an organization that helps survivors of domestic violence." (Photographed in Random Lake, Wisconsin)

14. Tracy

"Tracy is a transgender-expressive novelist from Dallas/Waxahachie, Texas. She is also a blogger, reviewer, former actor & artist. She writes true-to-life stories, novels, & 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." (Photographed in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

15. Zoe


"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." (Photographed in Cleveland, Ohio)

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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