A male dancer in a black shirt laying back as he's lifted by his peers

Photography By Kirsten McGoey / Trinity Design Photography

“When I was young, I looked at dance as something I had to hide”

How Canadian photographer Kirsten McGoey is celebrating the fact that, yes, boys can too

Sometimes, one small act can alter the trajectory of many lives. Kirsten McGoey’s photography project #aboycantoo is one of them. “Originally the project was simply meant to connect me and my son, as well as being a chance for me to practice my work,” McGoey says.

A professional photographer just east of Toronto, McGoey was trying to fill the post-Christmas work lull with something new that would flex her creative muscles. Inspired by another photography project, Kate T. Parker’s Strong Is the New Pretty, McGoey realized that although there was a movement to support girls who didn’t fit the conventional feminine mould, there wasn’t an equivalent movement for boys. The #aboycantoo project blossomed out of a desire to even out the representation. “People have always pointed out that my middle son is different,” McGoey says. “As a visual storyteller, I felt driven to use my talents to celebrate what’s beautiful about him.”

What began as a short series of photos on her social media accounts soon turned into a long-term project that took McGoey to Sweden to exhibit the collection. She’s currently raising money to travel to British Columbia to photograph more boys and expand the scope of the endeavour.

With #aboycantoo, McGoey showcases boys of all ages doing and being things that aren’t traditionally “masculine.” Boys with long hair, boys who are figure skaters, boys who wear nail polish and hair barrettes. “How these boys are so wise already I think is just so inspirational,” she says. “They already get that 100 years ago, boys were wearing pink and dresses and its just no big deal.” McGoey has photographed 22 boys so far, found from all over. She started by canvassing her clients and other dancers in her sons’ dance school, but soon people began reaching out to her on social media.

Brenden Elliott, photographed when he was 15 during the first year of the project, says the experience helped him own the part of himself that loved to dance. “When I was young, I looked at dance as something I had to hide,” he says. “It wasnt necessarily something I could wear on my sleeve. #Aboycantoo was this one big step of me saying, ‘Hey, this is me dancing,’ and got me to open up about it confidently.”

A male dancer in a black shirt laying back as he's lifted by his peers

Above: Lattrell Lyttle, a dancer in the Performing Arts Program at O’Neill Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Oshawa, is lifted by other dancers. Lattrell is still dancing, several years after graduating from the program.

An older boy in a white shirt and black tights helps a younger boy with a dance pose

Above: Brenden Elliott helps a young boy in an arabesque. “This project helped me see that roles are reversing, and that I have the power to show these photos to other kids who maybe aren’t as confident and give them someone to look up to, someone to follow. That is incredibly powerful in my mind.”

Boy with white shirt black pants multicoloured hair tapdances

Above: For McGoey, this project isn’t about celebrating the one or two boys who excel the most. When she chose her subjects, it was their passion and joy she was drawn to. “Its more about everyday boys dancing just for the sake of their love of dance,” says McGoey. “My middle son still dances non-competitively just because he loves it.”

atmospheric image of boy in white shirt silhouetted while performing dance pose

Above: When McGoey approached her local MP, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, with the idea of photographing her son, who studies ballet, she was happy for him to take part. “Johnny always knew that he wanted to dance,” McGoey says.He rejects the notion that certain things are for boys and others are for girls. This boy knows what he wants and defends it with critical thinking.”

Young boy snuggling a doll in a baby carrier on his chest.

Above: Originally, McGoey had placed another, more aesthetically pleasingdoll in this boy’s baby carrier for the photo shoot. When he objected fiercely, she and the boy’s mother gave in and replaced it with his own doll.He was absolutely transformed!” she exclaims. “The pure joy on his face, reuniting with his baby, was just so authentic, and I’m thrilled to have captured that.” 

Meanwhile, the project satisfied McGoey’s desire to give back to her community and offered her a chance to communicate her support for the people who are “socially influencing the narrative of equality and representation.” For her middle son, #aboycantoo reinforced a sense of pride in his choices. “When he starts to feel badly that there aren’t enough sports medals in his room, we talk about the impact he’s had by being a role model for other boys,” she says. She feels that now more than ever, these types of differences need to be celebrated, not hidden, and she’s received emails from people all over the world thanking her for showcasing these boys.

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