On this International Transgender Day of Visibility, we recognize all who defy gender constructs, including those who identify as genderqueer and non-binary. The interview and gallery below celebrate all gender expressions, whether in a wig and tie or a mustache and stilettos.
The friendship and trust between photographer Jayden Becker and musician/model Ari Tibi shines through in the magical moments Becker captured one crisp morning; while each photo may not have been strictly candid, the entire shoot was done on a courageous whim. This is the debut of Tibi’s drag persona, Ari M., and the following conversation marks their first public statement since coming out as non-binary. They caught up with Becker over the phone to bask in the euphoria that they both felt after their collaboration, all while Becker happened to be on the road headed to a pre-op appointment for top surgery; together, they spoke about existing nowhere near the tightrope of the gender binary, loving your body, Alok Vaid-Menon, and so much more.
The gender spectrum is vast, and there is much overlap between non-binary and trans stories, though just as trans experiences are not a monolith, neither are non-binary ones. And not all non-binary folks identify as trans, either. I personally began using they/them pronouns before settling on exactly which label I preferred, and I still think there is room for growth. This piece reflects the vulnerability that comes with attempting to sculpt the idea of gender into something that resonates in our soul. But regardless of our appearance, pronouns, or other identities, non-binary is beautiful.
Today we also highlight, see and celebrate all BIPOC trans individuals whose experiences may not be at the forefront of the mainstream fight for equality. As this community is intersectionally marginalized, we stand alongside them as allies today and everyday.
Ari: What does the term non-binary mean to you?
Jayden: Non-binary means to me existing outside the spectrum of gender, this social construct idea of male and female. If gender was on a line, you have male on one side and female on the opposite side, I feel like I don’t exist on that line. I feel like I exist outside of it.
When I first came out, I identified really strongly with being agender. As I’ve thought more about it, I still feel like I exist outside of that line…but I feel a lot more comfortable with identifying as transmasc non binary. When I say that even to myself I feel so seen and grounded!
I always see it in my mind as a line. Male and female. And I’m just wandering very outside of that. Not on it in any form.
Not even on the road. I fully support that.
Haha there we go! If you have, like, the main road, I’ve just created my own little tunnel in the dirt.
I love that, and I think that is really brave. For me, I grew up with the idea that there was male and there was female. Even if you were born in the wrong body, and I was introduced to that idea, then you would still become one or the other. There wasn’t any kind of in between. And that’s because I grew up in California, in Los Angeles. That’s a very Western civilization kind of idea. The notions of gender expression that white Western civilization came up with is very binary and doesn’t really account for humanity…whatsoever, I think!
So I love that you describe it as a line because that means it can go back and forth and in between. Is that road you’re talking about analogous with the Western civilization ideas of gender? Or is the line sort of all of the genders and you’re like, “I’m still over here.”
I think I’m still figuring that out, haha! Definitely it’s more-so the westernized white version: This is what gender is. You are either this or that and that’s that. I think there’s part of me that is fully rejecting that because for so long I didn’t know one non-binary or trans person. I didn’t even know what non-binary was until I moved to LA. I started to learn about it like end of high school, but it wasn’t until I moved out of my tiny town that I learned, same with sexuality, that there’s a whole other world of people who exist in themselves rather than existing in the binary.
And then slowly unpacking my loaded, internalized, homophobia and transphobia towards myself. It’s been a really beautiful fucking challenging scary and wonderful journey to be like Oh shit, I actually am just starting to know myself and that there’s more points for me to grow, always.
Omg side-note: the most Oregon thing; this person in their car has a bumper sticker that says “OREGUN” — it’s spelled GUN at the end. Shoutout to Central Oregon.
Ha! Ok Oregon. So in terms of coming into yourself and realizing this, I would love to hear more about your unique process. Cause you know, not only is the world still getting used to the idea of there being more than two genders but we can’t really come into ourselves, our true selves, if the outside world has already made up their mind about who we are. So, since you’ve discovered this about yourself and were brave enough to be yourself outside of all of that…what is one thing that you do that feels affirming to your identity?
Letting all my hair grow out!! My arms. My legs. My armpits. My sideburns. My mustache. My eyebrows. Something I used to be so self conscious of, and bullied for. Now I want more and feel so empowered by it! Also I’m pretty stoked on my wardrobe. I finally wear what I want! My outfits, and my mullet haha. I’ve realized a lot of non-binary people that I follow or know have some variation of a mullet and I love it. My hair, my clothes, it took a long time to really morph to myself. I forced myself into thinking that I needed to dress to be desired. Which is so fucked but it was very much before I realized I was so queer. And I finally feel like I’ve found something for me. Which is a very full feeling. I’m just dressing for what feels comfortable in my body rather than conforming to what the outside world wants.
Another thing is working out. That’s when I feel the most in my body, and bad ass, and feeling strong.
Yes yes yes! I’m really glad you brought up clothing and gendered fashion because there’s a writer/artist Alok Vaid-Menon…
Yes yes yes! Huge inspiration.
…right!! They were actually integral for me at the beginning of all this. I just needed to see that there was another option for me, in terms of self-expression. I needed to know I had options. Jewelry, fashion make up all that is at the core of how we get our insides on the outside. We can literally come out in our clothing, hair, make up, style. You can dress and create outside of the line, outside of the box.
Ugh, yeah. The podcast they [Alok Vaid-Menon] just did with Laverne Cox, it’s so fucking good. Highly recommend it. They talked a lot about how you would be charged, thrown in jail or fined if you were a woman wearing pants. It goes way back into the history of gender, it’s really fascinating.
I just…I think it’s so important that people follow their instincts when it comes to fashion because they’re instincts; it’s what people want to wear that says so much about who they are. Like for instance, gender is not attached to clothing, inherently. Like I’m wearing a flowy two piece and a scarf right now *both laugh* but in my body, I’m feeling waaaay more masculine today. I need to be creative in all aspects of my life and I don’t want it to be attached to this or that. I always tell people, for me I’m both female and male. Not neither. So no matter how you may identify, at the end of the day, clothing is not gendered and shouldn’t be.
Yeah! Yes! Last week — the most affirming purchase thus far — I went to the store and bought myself a pair of boxers. Underwear. And like, I felt so GOOD walking up to the register and just paying for my fucking boxers that I’m wearing right now and it’s great. It was such a….I was just beaming out of my mask as I was walking out. In my mind for so long I was like I don’t get to wear those, I have to wear women’s underwear. For me it’s really affirming; even though you can’t see them, I FEEL them!!
I feel SO sexy in boxers.
UGH. Me TOO!
That’s how I feel with my binder too! For me the binder is huge. The second I freed myself from the idea of conforming into someone else’s idea of how I was supposed to be a female, I was just LIBERATED. Like oh my god I don’t have to do this anymore? All I had to do was let go. And once I did, it was, and it’s still, this liberating adventure of feeling whole. And the binder was one way of looking at myself and seeing who I wanted to see.
So you’re on your way to your pre-op appointment right now! How do you feel? What’s going through your head.
Yeahhhh, so I’m off to my pre-op and I don’t know, I’ve had a really hard time articulating how excited I am. I just can’t wait to feel … at home in my body, and just not have the constant thought and uncomfortability of having boobs. I had a binder for a little bit and usually I just don’t wear a bra anymore, because I hate the reminder that they’re even there. And I don’t want to feel constricted. I just cannot wait, I’m so excited.
My chest has always been a really big thing for me. I’ve always felt a lot of disconnection and discomfort around…a lot of dysphoria. It just feels right. I’m also not getting my nipples sewn back on, which I’m fucking stoked about.
Ugh yes. And woow! What was the thought process behind that, if you don’t mind me asking?
Oh yeah totally! I went back and forth in the beginning, a lot. It’s been a combination of the gender expectation and the binary…there’s so much bullshit around the female nipple…or nipples in general. And I just want to be as genderless as possible in my body. I’ve personally never enjoyed having them and…I plan on getting some bold chest tattoo instead haha.
You are such a soulful human being. Ever since I met you, you just radiate soul. And for me, that means truth.
Aawww thank you Ari!!!
The way that you’re evolving and growing into yourself is that truth. In a world that doesn’t really want to create space for us in the mainstream, it’s really brave to do that.
Sometimes I feel like this whole thing is not that revolutionary. We’ve been living in the binary for so long we’ve just forgotten it doesn’t exist.
Totally. We’ve just created this thing out of nothing. And what about you? When you realized that you had the freedom to wear the binder…since you kind of feel like you’re both, are there some days you feel more or less connected to your chest? How do you feel about your boobs?
*both laugh* Ha! Yeah I mean, I’ve just always felt uncomfortable with my chest. It is a daily thing, unfortunately. Surgery has been on my mind since I was young, but it’s just not for me at this moment in time. Some days I desperately want to hide them but also don’t feel like constricting my breathing. Or as a singer, I physically can’t afford to wear the binder. Just the other day, I was really, really male Ari, but when I went to get dressed, I had a bit of a breakdown. It was blazing hot outside and I couldn’t find a single thing that covered my boobs. I spent the whole afternoon horribly uncomfortable. I clearly need to go shopping?
But, I do love my body. Even in those moments of emotional discomfort, the inability to get my insides on my out, I still choose self-love. It took me a really long time to get there. It’s been a journey. I had an eating disorder in high school that carried on through college and that was shame. I didn’t connect with my body; it was an avoidance thing really. I was just avoiding getting to know my body and acting out on the surface. In the process of healing that, I found ways to tell myself I loved myself every single day, no matter what. I would look in the mirror…and just say to my body, I love you. You are here, you exist. You’re nourished, you’re functioning. Even if I was feeling kind of lethargic that day or whatever. And I think that practice of saying I love you unconditionally to myself really helped me get used to my breasts and my chest. I’m getting used to the duality of Ari; the dynamic experience I inhabit.
Totally. I feel like it’s the 21st century. They need to invent a velcro boob. This is so woo woo and off the ground; but what if you were born like a ken doll, no differing body parts; and when you want you should be able to go to this free store and if you want to change, you can fuckign change it!
And it’s not such an ordeal. In the process of getting top surgery, it makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me. I wasn’t treated like this when I went and got a breast reduction., at all, and now when I want full top surgery because its affirming for my gender, rather than a physical ailment – which people can empathize with – but the moment I’m like these don’t align with my gender, they’re like You’re mentally ill. It’s been a challenge to deal with that from external people and then it comes into my own mind here and there. All of that to say, we should just have a store, all free, where you can change out your parts whenever you want.
Ha! God. Yeah. I love that. Because that’s along the lines of what we’re trying to implement in society. The fact that we should have the space to change! To evolve. And not have to come out every single time we do.
I’ve been painting on a mustache since 2013, roughly, and I would only do it for close friends, or entire strangers; LIke I would go down to the muni station in drag and perform down there and no one knew who I was. So I was completely fine with it. And it was San Francisco, haha. But then I moved back to LA and felt like that wasn’t an option anymore, so I went the opposite direction. You know, and joined a female trio. We were the Luci ladies. I even hyper-sexualized my woman-hood. Now I’m bouncing back, sober, and discovering the truths about myself; and that was a huge one that I neglected. This part of me. And I’m so glad he came back. I missed him. Painting on my mustache, allowing myself to feel a certain type of way. And that was restricted to my close circle of friends…until YOU baby J showed up in my life again. And I started to think like, I want to express him more, in a shoot and just have it for myself. And there’s only one photographer I feel comfortable seeing me this way.
But like Alok says, to bring it back, Self-expression sometimes requires other people.
Agh! I’ve felt that too. There’s an interesting experience when you come out about anything. There’s always this “That is it. Ok you come out as non-binary, then agender, that’s who you are forever.” And maybe I’m wrong about that perspective. But I don’t know, I just want to exist. I look forward to a time in our world where you just ARE. And you can constantly change and flow.
They accept the humanity in each of us.
Yes. I’ve had a family who…it’s been a journey for sure, but overall I’ve felt supported but some people don’t have that privilege. And how fucking incredible it would be for people to be like this is who I am, and for everybody else to love and accept them.
It’s so strange. Because you ask the question why…why can’t I wear a mustache and heels? And the answer always goes back to a rule society made up. It’s not natural; what’s natural is masculine and feminine energy existing in one body. We just exist.
So. I love you. Is there anything else you want to say? It’s also Trans Day of Visibility!
*Hehe* I love you. Well I finally feel comfortable identifying as a trans/non-binary person.
Even a couple years ago I didn’t feel empowered by how I identified…but now it’s been very freeing.
Also — my DMs are wide fucking open if anyone needs to talk about gender or a safe space to talk about their identity. I really wish I would’ve had that. @jaydenhbecker
I want to thank you for this experience because it was so magical. It was one of the best days of my life? Probably. You helped me create this space…I wish I could explain it with words but I can’t.
Wow, oh my god. It was such a pleasure to photograph you in your comfortable skin. I love you.
I love YOU and your comfortable skin!
Art Hoe Collective
story / Zoë Elaine (they/them)
Photos / Jayden Becker (they/them)
Model / Ari Tibi
Styling / Make Up: Ari Tibi
Hair / Jayden Becker
Shave Design / Dre The Barber