Matthew Dean Stewart is an American photographer who is getting ready to publish his first photo book. The book — titled Fragile Masculinity — focuses on gender roles in our society and what it means to be a “man.” Taken over the course of three months in 2017, the book will feature 60 photos of 30 men wearing the ultimate “feminine” article of clothing — the dress — challenging the societal norms that are expected of us and how society tends to divide everyone by two genders.
“This book is designed to show how this simple piece of clothing falls on a male body,” Stewart says in a statement. “Not in an elevated sense of drag or impersonating a woman, but how a stripped-down male body looks wearing a dress. Paired with the exact same photo of them nude to celebrate bodies and attempting to break societal gender normalities — finding the beauty in all types of men with all types of bodies.”
Stewart has launched a Kickstarter to fund the cost of printing — which has already been met in full — with 10 days left of funding. After that, the book will available for sale on his website.
We had the opportunity to ask Stewart some questions about Fragile Masculinity:
Hornet: Do you wear dresses yourself?
Matthew Dean Stewart: In my everyday life I have battled with how I want to dress versus how I actually dress. On any typical day I can be seen wearing a button-up printed shirt and black Levis, clothing that can be found on the men’s floor of a major department store. I have this urge to want to challenge myself, but can’t seem to muster up the courage to do so. So I let it shine primarily through my work.
But I fully support and love anyone who does wear dresses! There should be no limits to how we want to express ourselves and what makes us most feel like ourselves. This book is designed to break the mold of societal expectations and challenge gender norms in day-to-day life.
How did you find your models for Fragile Masculinity?
I reached out to different people who I felt would be comfortable not only putting on a dress but posing completely nude. Standing full-frontal and nude is a very vulnerable place to be, and I wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable with me and with the images being produced.
While looking for people to photograph, I wanted to make sure I was representing as many different variations of men as possible. I didn’t just want to put out a book of fit white men, but try and get all different body types and races.
It is important to me to represent a world where there are different types of people, which goes back to challenging societal expectation and what we have been trained to see. All bodies are beautiful and should be celebrated, and I am happy to be showing a wide variety of men in this book. We need to constantly be reminded that the world is a melting pot of different people and we are all trying to co-exist together.
Describe your own experiences with masculinity in gay culture.
Within the gay community we have many men who identify in many different ways, but even we have an idea that [since] we are attracted to men, men should be “masc.”
Over the past few years we have been seeing more and more people discriminate against feminine men, especially on gay dating apps. These apps might have been designed for something initially, but now in a social media world many people use them as ways to connect to like-minded people. If you are a femme-identifying boy who is trying to make a connection, masculine-identifying men should not shame you for just trying to be who you are.
Just like we should not shame masculine men for not wanting to be femme. We need to know that we are all just humans trying to coexist on this planet together, and none of us have all the same views as anyone else.
We are a culture that strives for equality and acceptance, but we are so divided within our own community. How can we expect anyone outside of us to accept us when we can’t even accept our very own? It’s a very toxic and negative climate out there, and we need to stand together as a united front to fight for our rights and equality.
Where did you shoot the images in Fragile Masculinity?
I shot all of these within three months in five different cities, where I was in some of them for only a few days. I spent most of 2017 traveling and shooting, and I was lucky enough to find participants in Portland, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
Every shot is different from the other, and I wanted to combine outdoor shoots with indoor shoots, to make every page of this book completely different from the last, giving a strong variety.
What do you hope readers take away from Fragile Masculinity?
I am hoping to shift people’s minds — even slightly — with this book. I talk a lot about what society expects of us, but I really believe this is a major flaw in us as humans. We are so drawn to the media and what the media tells us. So if our whole lives we have seen that a man is only a man if he provides for his family, dresses in a suit and calls the shots, how can we continue to grow and strive for equality?
This idea not only falls into the straight community, but to the gay community as well. That’s where the idea of fragile masculinity comes into play — being scared of losing something you think makes you a man. But in reality all it does it distance you from experiences, and from meeting amazingly beautiful humans.
I want us all, straight or gay, to be able to look at how we view ourselves in this world. And I want us to challenge ourselves to try and be more open and understanding of everyone and how they identify. We’re only on this planet for such a short amount of time, and we all have the opportunity to make a significant change for future generations. It just takes looking a little beyond what we think we are supposed to be, and to push to be more than we are expected to be.