Representing people of all identities responsibly is a core value for VICE. Over the years, as we have published stories focusing on and written by transgender and non-binary people, we have consistently found ourselves limited by the scarcity of available stock imagery that portrays their lives in an authentic way. So, in 2019, VICE’s former identity-focused website Broadly lead an initiative to create some.
The result, the Gender Spectrum Collection, is a stock photo library featuring images of trans and non-binary models that go beyond the clichés of putting on makeup and holding trans flags. This collection aims to help media outlets better represent members of these communities as people not necessarily defined by their gender identities—people with careers, relationships, talents, passions, and home lives.
Stock photos that accompany articles do more than illustrate subject matter. They have the power to shape perceptions of entire communities. When used critically, they can chip away at harmful stereotypes, pushing more accurate perceptions and understandings to the fore. This is why, over the last several years, initiatives have emerged to increase diversity in stock photos across race, gender, body size, ability and more.
Limiting visual representations of trans and non-binary people in media also limits the range of stories in which we imagine those subjects. With this collection, we hope to encourage richer representations of trans and non-binary personhood within society’s most important mode of public communication, visually and editorially.
The Gender Spectrum Collection is a step toward improved representation of one of the world’s most diverse and historically most misrepresented communities, but one photo collection for one outlet is not enough. These images have been made available to other media organizations through a Creative Commons license. We encourage media outlets to use them widely and responsibly, and to commission their own nuanced depictions of trans and non-binary people whenever possible.
Our gratitude extends to everyone who helped us make this project come to fruition: photographer Zackary Drucker, photo assistants Audrey Melton and Alyza Enriquez, stylist Jared Martell, hair stylist Latisha Chong, make up artist Yuui Vision, manicurist Yuki Miyakawa, and all of our fantastic models; as well as Callen-Lorde Community Health Center and the Hetrick-Martin Institute for hosting us and GLAAD for consulting with us throughout the project.
In May 2018, Broadly merged with the rest of the VICE network, bringing its archive of stories, videos, and special projects—including the Gender Spectrum Collection—to Vice.com. If you have questions about the collection, please reach out to Meredith Balkus at Meredith.Balkus@vice.com.
Images of trans and nonbinary people can be used to illustrate any topic, not just stories related directly to those communities. Consider accessing these photos for stories on topics like beauty, work, education, relationships, or wellness. Including transgender and non-binary people in stories not explicitly about gender identity paints a more accurate depiction of the world we live in today.
Per the terms of the Creative Commons license, you may not create derivative work from the images or use the images for commercial purposes. Beyond these basic license stipulations, it is vital for anyone using this resource to make appropriate contextual decisions.
When attaching a photo to an article, think critically about how the accompanying headline could reflect on the trans community. Understanding the stereotypes and tropes that have accompanied transgender media representation—such as trans subjects being cast only as sex workers, portrayed soley in states of apparent victimhood or crisis, and being characterized as deceptive and mentally unstable—can help you to avoid them. If your usage of one of these photos could feed into a stereotype or negative stigma, you probably shouldn’t use it.
Challenge your own implicit biases and assumptions about about how gender identity and gender expression correlates with other aspects of identity such as sex assigned at birth, race, age, sexuality, and class. There is not one way to "look transgender", and no one model can represent the trans and non-binary community. All transgender people look transgender because they are transgender. However, some transgender people are immediately perceived as transgender by others, while some transgender people are perceived to be cisgender. Select photos that reflect this range of expressions.
Additionally, transmasculine people often get left out of media representation. Don’t immediately assume you need to use a photograph of a trans woman to represent the trans community.
Not all transgender people medically transition using hormones and/or surgeries, and their identity is not less valid because of it. Representing people who are transgender but have not medically transitioned helps reflect the diversity of the community.
In this library, we included each model’s gender identification in the caption of each photo, in order to help editors avoid making assumptions when choosing images. In editorial contexts, however, we wouldn’t mention someone’s gender identity in a caption or article unless it is relevant to the story.
As you engage with these images, don’t make these editorial decisions alone. Talk with your teams, work with LGBTQ colleagues who have offered to help, and reach out to third party organizations, like GLAAD or the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist’s Association, to educate yourself and your staff about best practices around media representation of trans and non-binary people.
As with all stock photos, we ask that you use images without identifiable faces for stories on sensitive topics such as sexual health, crime, violence, and mental health. And of course, do not use the images in a manner that defames or casts the subjects of a photo in a false light.
All of the photos in the Gender Spectrum Collection were taken by Zackary Drucker. Please credit The Gender Spectrum Collection in your captions.