Denver Photo Series Showcases Queer Women in a Heteronormative World

Inside the Black Triangle

“You’re too pretty to be gay.”

“Are you sure you just haven’t found the right man?”

These are common questions a queer woman who doesn’t “look like a lesbian” faces. They are accompanied by judgments about the validity of whether or not these feminine women can actually look that way and really be gay, and they aren’t just coming from straight people.

303 Magazine, Gay Denver, Denver Pride, Rachel Zimmerman, Inside the Black Triangle
“When I’ve been dating a woman, it’s made it easier to fit in. When I’m single, I feel like I lose the ability to describe my identity to others. I hate the term bisexual because it’s so sexualized and misinterpreted by both sides of the spectrum. I’m certainly not straight, but I have also felt as though I’m not ‘gay enough’ to be a part the lesbian community.” – Hannah

According to Denver photographer, Rachael Zimmerman, there is a hierarchy among queer women that mimics the one found in the male-dominated heterosexual world. Masculine and androgynous women are in the upper echelons of the system, making it even more challenging for feminine lesbians to find acceptance. That’s why Zimmerman started a photojournalist series called Inside the Black Triangle — to draw attention to the fact that there is inequality in a community that says it wants nothing more than for everyone to be equal.

“I was really feeling for the feminine women who are queer because they come to their own community and they’re like ‘yes, I’m here’ and then everyone is like ‘no, you’re not though.’ These women have to prove themselves and maybe go against who they are to feel more gay and visible and like they exist in their own space so I thought that was bullshit. I wanted to help people share their stories whether they are feminine or not that’s really the inspiration — gender and the hierarchy,” explained Zimmerman.

“After my first experience with a girl my life changed, both good and bad. Being a lesbian is not easy, especially when society wants you to be a hell of a girl, very feminine, and to act like one. I am a girly girl and I also like girls a lot. But what if I want to be a little masculine from time to time? Or what if I just want to act the way I feel comfortable? It shouldn’t be an issue.” – Claudia

Inside the Black Triangle — named so after the symbol used in Nazi Germany to identify people with atypical behavior — features women from all over the world, including Olympic snowboarder, Cheryl Maas, and professional soccer player, Megan Rapinoe. The project started with Zimmerman’s own struggles to fit in. “I was misgendered all the time and I was getting really tired of it,” she said. “I started looking at that and sexuality and I noticed the queer community was playing into the gender hierarchy. Androgynous women are saying they’re gayer than feminine women, but these things don’t relate. Your hobbies and personal preferences don’t play into your sexuality.”

” … sadly my riding didn’t go the way I wanted and failed to achieve my goal, but I still took the small opportunity that I had to show a rainbow on Global TV. It was very controversial and sparked problems but it was received very well in the LGBT community, so it was all worth it! I’m proud I was the first one to take a little action at the Sochi Olympics.” -Cheryl Maas

Now, having photographed close to 70 women, Zimmerman has learned the power of storytelling and the gravity of the project she’s taken on. “It’s been amazing how vulnerable people are and willing to share their stories for the greater good and awareness,” she said. “I’ve met some of my now best friends from the project. The relationship is different because you tell someone so much about yourself and your life and it makes you really vulnerable so it’s a deeper connection in a lot of ways.”

Gay, Queer Denver, Gay Denver, GLBT Denver
“I’ve been continuously harassed and deemed ‘too pretty to be gay’, along with being questioned and drilled on my sex life. I want more than anything to break the stigmas. Society will probably never change, but the way people perceive themselves should never have to be compromised and that is what can be changed.” -Alex

Next up for Zimmerman is a mini photo series that will be an extension of Inside the Black Triangle this weekend during Denver PrideFest. “I just really want to showcase how much diversity there is within Pride. I’m hoping to get an older generation to come through and really keep it fun,” she said. She also recently launched some limited edition t-shirts for Pride season on Shopify. Beyond that, she hopes to travel the world and continue her mission as an agent for change, not only for queer women but for all marginalized groups in need. “This project has been pretty cool because the more stories we share — whether you’re in the community or not — you might relate to something you understand and if you have compassion for it, with that we can continue to be better.”

Zimmerman’s Inside the Black Triangle booth will be at Denver PrideFest at Civic Center Park on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

All photography by Rachael Zimmerman

Lesbian, Lesbian Denver, Gay Denver, Denver Pride
“There is an internal uprooting and finding your place is a daunting task. Family assumed it to be a phase, as though I’m suffering from a temporary neurosis of sorts. I’ve had male acquaintances deny my sexuality for me only to promptly shower me with their grossly sexualized concept of lesbianism. My female friends wanted to make out with me when they were drunk because all lesbians are sex fiends…” -Tasha
Denver Pride, Inside the Black Triangle
“If you are gay, don’t be afraid to be honest with those you love. The hardest person to come out to is yourself. The people who really love you will still love you, no matter who you love.” -Julie

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