"Handsome Revolution Project" Explores Masculinity Through Incredible Photos Of Gender Non-Conforming People — PHOTOS

Bay Area-based lifestyle wedding photographer Miki Vargas began exploring the evolving meanings of masculinity and femininity through a personal photography project in 2012. Her project, now called the Handsome Revolution Project, features images that, according to the project website, “celebrate the beauty and diversity of masculine of centre and gender-non-conformist individuals.” The project does the important work of investigating masculinity – and, by implication, femininity – as cultural constructs that carry different meanings for different people and that function separately from biological sex.

Vargas explains on the project website that a major impetus behind the Handsome Revolution Project is to give representation to people who don’t often see themselves reflected in the images that make up mainstream culture. She writes,

As I got older my masculinity matured with me and I struggled with it. I struggled with acceptance and the lack of images that would help me identify with who I was beginning to define myself as. I went from identifying as a butch to the boi I am today and began thinking that these images were needed not just for myself but for future generations.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Vargas remarks that she hopes that the project will spark conversation and expand viewers’ conceptions of beauty, saying,

I hope that these portraits will start or continue the much-needed conversations about acceptance, respect, love, community, unity, feeling of belonging, self love, self respect, self celebration and an overall respect of people as valuable lives in this world. I would love these images to engage the viewer, to seduce them, to intrigue them, to confuse them, to make them smile, to make them reflect, but most importantly to help them recognize that the beauty in our differences is so infinite that it cannot be categorized.

Scroll through to see the portraits and read testimonies from Vargas’s subjects about what masculinity means to them. These images and statements fascinatingly illustrate that masculinity, as a concept, has room for a diverse collection of meanings and purposes.

Dean, New York, NY

For me, masculinity and femininity aren't necessarily opposing forces. I feel most comfortable when I can use fashion to fuse these two and create my own space somewhere in between. I love the freedom that comes with rejecting tradition and being able to encourage people to define their own femininity or masculinity.

Saby, Minneapolis, MN

I think of my gender nonconformity as gender euphoria. In my female form, I am at ease in dapper attire and “professional drag” fit for the academy, playing with the endless possibilities of female masculinity. I am often allowed to navigate spaces and not be held to the standards of purely feminine or masculine gender norms. I get to exist outside of both, carefully examining their existence and power in our daily lives.

Teri, Portland, OR

While I have been very comfortable with the attitude of being a masculine woman. I have not always been so comfortable in dressing the part. In the past I have wanted to don a very masculine suit and tie, but being fearful of being judged and labeled a “bull dyke” I have settled for the more feminine versions of these clothes in general because society still cannot understand the difference between gender and sexuality.

Emi, Minneapolis, MN

Masculinity has so many forms that present themselves both internally and externally. It is a voice of self expression that some of us display in the ways we dress (or don’t dress), the way we style our hair, wear make-up (or not) or simply in the way we carry ourselves. For many of us, appearance of masculinity is a way to identify with our inner selves. It is a way to stand out, feel strength and look beautifully handsome while doing it.

Lindsey, Boston, MA

Utilizing fashion as a means of gender expression has liberated me from insecurities that have surrounded my gender since I was a little girl. In my adult life, reclaiming the socially constructed “masculine presentation” in a uniquely feminine way has finally allowed me be read by the outside world in such a way that is authentic to my true self.

Ada, Chicago, IL

Masculinity is the embodiment of one's character. That also includes womanhood. Sure, clothing attire can be attributed to "determining" factor to an outsider looking in. Yet, the adjective is more than that. Masculinity is touch, feel, care, and energy.

Kate, Portland, OR

I don't think masculinity necessarily has anything to do with maleness -- and I love that I can stride into a room wearing boots and jeans, my breasts just as out there as the tie I'm wearing, and I can be masculine as hell. Women feel it. Men certainly feel it. I walk an edge between genders and worlds. And I like it.

Ailey, Minneapolis, MN

Masculinity to me is something that defines my center. It allows me to break down social constructs and educate people on a daily basis surrounding the "normative" ways women should act and dress. It empowers me as an individual.

E, Chicago, IL

My masculinity is rooted deeply with how I love. In being true to my authentic self, my masculinity manifests itself in how I love myself, how I love my chosen and blood fam and my community and how I live in my day to day.

Micha, Boston, MA

Since I have been dressing myself, I have toiled with how to present myself. As a masculine presenting female bodied and identified person, I grew up proclaiming myself as a tomboy. In this space I was able to reclaim my womanhood as I gravitated to masculinity.

Angela, Chicago, IL

I want my middle school students to know that it’s okay to blur gender lines, and to be comfortable in who you are.

Joe, Portland, OR

To me, masculinity isn't about the clothes I wear, or my haircut. It's about the way in which I walk in the world, the privilege that I am given, and the challenges that I face for daring to be who I am. ... My masculinity is a set of responsibilities that I hold for myself, to my community (past and ongoing), and to those who are near and dear to me.

Vargas hopes to eventually produce a book based on the portraits. You can find out more about the Handsome Revolution Project and how to donate at the project’s website.

Images: Courtesy of Miki Vargas(13)