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Smashing Gender Binaries With The Queer Kids Of Today

M. Sharkey's photo series "Queer Kids" documents a new generation of queer youth across the U.S. and in Europe.

For the past eight years, portrait photographer M. Sharkey has traveled across America and Europe to document a new generation of queer youths and their childhood stories of perseverance.

M. Sharkey writes, "I think I'll always be drawn to this amazingly brave group, their strength is a continual source of inspiration for me. It's their defiance that I want to capture in the portraits."

Mars, 18 - New York City

"I'm somewhere on the trans-masculine spectrum between gender-queer and binary. I think I started realizing [I was different] in 10th grade. I went to an all-girls Catholic school; it's a little hard not being a girl there. I think the problem now is that other guys don't see me as a guy. I'm not particularly masculine, and I don't really try to be."

Po, 23 - Mons, Belgium

When did you realize that you were gay?

"I began to think about this when I was 18, but I know that stuff was happening in my head when I was about 5. At first I really prayed to god that I did not have this problem as I was already a woman, black and disabled, so I had enough to deal with."

Who knows?

"Some close friends in my hometown. My best friend had some problems with it. We spent a few months not talking. But since then, I am the president of the LGBTQ association, so it's impossible to not know that. My family does not know."

What do you think will happen?

"I think we will not see each other for a long time after that. I think I will not be in touch with my parents and my family anymore. My parents will ask me to not make a lot of noise about it because in the Congolese community a lot of people talk. Family is important. They don't like anything about marginal people and its important to be normal. For them, this is not normal."

Patrick (Pat), 22 - Glastonbury, Connecticut

Tell me about an average day in your life.

"After class it's basketball, basketball, basketball, every night."

When did you realize you were queer?

"I realized I was gay from a young age, maybe when I was in the 9th grade. But I realized I was 'queer' this year, actually. I view those two things as very different. I like 'queer' a lot more. I feel like it's a more confrontational identity that's necessary when you are in such a marginalized position. Queer is in your face and tough and calling people out and not being afraid to speak your mind and that's more me, more of what I'm about. I like 'queer'. I am queer."

Faye, 21 - New York City

"I identify as a woman. But I think there's a lot of preconceived notions as to what feminine means, and as to what female is supposed to look like. Sometimes I identify as queer in the sense that gender is not super-relevant to me. It's just not a priority. I'm not happy with the way that the gender binaries are so apparent. It ostracizes people and makes them feel bad about themselves, or that they're not normal. I just think this strict patriarchal society is slanderous, and it's dangerous, and it hurts people."

Jérémie, 20 - Namur, Belgium

Who's the most Important person in your life?

"My mother is the most important person in my life simply because she is the person I admire the most."

"When I gave her and my dad the letter where I was coming out, she first feared it was a suicide letter because I asked them to no open it before I leave for the train to go back to my university. In the letter, I was explaining that I wanted to do it that way to give them a week to swallow the news. When they read the letter, she texted me to say that she loved me, that the only thing she wanted for me was to be happy in my life but that she was also scared that my life may be more complicated because of that. She also thanked me for giving them the time to swallow the news."

DeMarques, 18 - Aurora, Colorado

When did you realize you were gay?

"I guess I always kind of knew when I was younger but I really didn't know until my freshman year in high school and I was dating one of my best friends and it just didn't feel right and then I broke up with her and that was that."

What do you think the future holds for gay people in America?

"It is sad to say but I don't think we are going to get anywhere as far as rights and the respect we deserve as people. I don't think it's going to get anywhere if all of us don't come together and unite for something that we can all agree on. So, it's not going to go anywhere."

Pierce, 15 - Hartford, Connecticut

When did you first realize you were gay?

"Eleven. At first it scared me but after a while I got used to it and realized you can't really stop it."

Who knows and how did they find out?

"My mom, my dad, my sisters… pretty much everyone. My mom and my sister knew first and I came out to my dad a few months later and then my grandparents. My friends kind of knew so I didn't really have to come out to them."

Who's the most important person in your life?

"That's a tough choice but I'd have to say my mom. She's always been there for me, always. It doesn't matter who I am or anything she's always supporting me."

Jay R, 18 - San Francisco

Do you like school?

"Yeah, because I want to end up getting a job at Pixar making art and you need an education to do that."

Try to imagine your life ten years from now. What do you envision?

"In ten years I'll be done with college and have a teaching credential, and working at DreamWorks."

What do you think the future holds for gay people in America?

"It's going kind of slow right now, but after awhile they are going to get tired saying 'you can get married, you can't get married' and they'll let us get married. People will not be afraid to come out because there are many more people who identify as queer."

Ethan, 17 - Port Orchard, Washington

Who's the most important person in your life?

"That's a tie between two people: my mother and Leonard Cohen."

Junior, 22 - Brazil (living in Brussels)

When did you realize you were gay?

"I always knew it. I remember when I was 4, I was in school and my friend asked me to get under the table to play, and well that day something happened. I never looked at girls the way I looked at guys. When I was 14 I was with someone for two years and that was when I told my family. Since then everyone knew I was gay."

What do you think the future holds for gay and lesbian people in Belgium?

"I think it will be good. People here are learning to understand us. I remember when I first moved here I met a girl and when I told her I was gay she said 'Oh you fag, that is disgusting'. Three years later, things changed, she thought differently. That's just one person, but think about everyone else. I think it's going to be great."

Nancy & Marie, both 18 - Brussels

Tell me about an average day in your life

M: We wake up, She goes to work and I go to school. We meet up again after.

When did you realize you were gay?

M: When I saw her. Whether she was boy or girl, it was Nancy.

N: Always.

What issues matter to you most?

N: Cooking.

Mar: To get my degree is the most important thing for me right now.

Do you consider yourself political?

M+N: No, absolutely not.

Try to imagine your life 10 years from now.

M: We'll be together, to start with. Nancy will have a bakery, and we will have a house, a garden, classic stuff.

M. Sharkey is a photographer based in New York City. To view more of his work, be sure to check out his Instagram at http://instagram.com/msharkeyfoto.