Thu, Jan 10, 2019 - Page 13 News List

The Identity Project celebrates LGBTQ identities through photography

Photographer Sarah Deragon has brought her portrait series to Taiwan for its fifth anniversary

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Participants at the Jan. 4 photo shoot for The Identity Project took a stand against the erasure of Taiwan’s LGBTQ community. This portrait is labeled “Love is Love.”

Photo courtesy of Sarah Deragon

If you could use any three words to describe yourself, what would they be? Perhaps you would highlight your vocation — dancer, scientist, parent — or your place of origin — Taiwanese, Aboriginal, migrant. You might focus on values that are important to you — kindness, freedom, loyalty.

You might realize that some labels are easy to wear, the equivalent of a standard-issue business suit, commanding approval effortlessly. Yet other labels are truthful but more difficult to inhabit, like those that declare gender or sexual diversity, disability and other marginalized identities.

If you insist on authenticity, however difficult, you might be rewarded with an unshakable sense of self-affirmation. That’s the power of being seen on your own terms. And it’s a core premise of The Identity Project, a portrait series by photographer Sarah Deragon centered on LGBTQ individuals and the labels they use to define their gender and sexuality.


The Identity Project began five years ago when Deragon found a way to radicalize an otherwise banal activity — posting a selfie on Facebook.

The selfie in question was a black-and-white studio portrait of Deragon, gaze leveled directly at the camera and hands holstering the straps of her tank top, accompanied by the label “Queer Femme.” The words were picked with care: “queer” for her political identity as an LGBTQ rights activist, and “femme” for the mode of gender presentation that made most sense to her.

Almost immediately, she was inundated with requests by members of the LGBTQ community in California’s Bay Area to be photographed with their own labels. Since then, Deragon has taken The Identity Project around the US and the world, first to the underground Queerfest in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 2015, and now to Taiwan for its fifth anniversary.

Photography that documents the lives of LGBTQ people is not new. Just last year, in tandem with Taipei’s pride parade, Singaporean photographer Leslie Kee’s “Out In Taiwan” exhibition shone a spotlight on out-and-proud LGBTQ individuals here. But the pairing of pithy words with images is unique, and Deragon says that this “doubly powerful” combination is what makes The Identity Project resonate with so many people.

“The thing that I love the most is the way the queer community plays with language. We just make up words and reclaim words. And language and naming yourself is really powerful,” Deragon tells the Taipei Times.

For LGBTQ individuals, creative self-expression is as much a means of survival as it is an aesthetic choice. Homophobic, transphobic and heteronormative cultures can be, and have been, deadly.

According to an informal 2014 poll by the Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association (性別不明關懷協會), as many as seven out of 10 transgender respondents had considered suicide. A 2012 survey by the Friendly Taiwan Alliance (友善台灣聯盟) of LGBTQ interest groups showed that 58 percent of respondents had been harmed by others because of their sexuality, of which 14 percent had experienced physical assault.

This is what makes the interstitial spaces and practices that LGBTQ people have carved out for themselves, where they are able to feel safe and seen, so sacrosanct — whether that means identifying as a “unicorn,” watching and rewatching Blue Gate Crossing (藍色大門) on your laptop, attending cell group in an LGBTQ-affirming church or performing at drag balls. The Identity Project captures this self-invented, do-it-yourself impulse of LGBTQ culture as displayed through the body and labels.

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