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I’m writing my first blog, I don’t know where to start, but here’s what I do know. I’m sitting at my desk, I’m shirtless and I feel ‘right’. No big deal for some of you I’m guessing? But for many of my friends, peers and the 1,100 plus who attended the DapperQiD fashion show for NYFW last week, feeling at ease can be an incredibly long journey. An agonizing one, one of bullying, rejection, one we don’t always understand, one of not quite fitting in, of not feeling right. Today I feel right.
Two years ago I attended DapperQ’s ‘(un)heeled event in Brooklyn. I’d heard about it through their blog, and I knew I had to be there. It was the first time in my life that I walked in to such a large space where I felt like I belonged. Completely. To say the evening was transformative for me is an understatement.
Fast forward two years and I was fortunate enough to be not only at DapperQ’s 3rd annual show for NYFW but also to be there in a capacity to promote the Ties to Love™ Campaign through my Company and be giving back, through my work, to the Transgender Youth Clinic at the world famous SickKids Hospital in Toronto.
I wanted to hear other people’s narratives about their experience of navigating identity, queer fashion and representation and what the future might look like for us. Yes there were beautiful people walking the runway and in the crowds.
Yes it was an atmosphere of celebration, of love, of protest, of solidarity and respect for our diversity and histories. But I wanted to see where we were when the lights were switched off and the show was over.
I got a chance to talk to some of the people that make this event what it is, from the organizers, the designers, the models and the volunteers – over a 100 of them. Speaking from experience, having being one of the organizers of the first queer fashion show in Toronto, putting on a show like this (which is crucial to advancing visibility and discussion) is a tremendous amount of (largely unpaid) work.
You invest A LOT of time, be it physically, financially, or emotionally and usually after your day job. So I have nothing but a serious amount of admiration and respect for Anita Dolce Vita, Deeba Zivari and everyone else involved in iD and all of those who so generously gave of their time to discuss themes centered around identity. Here’s what they had to say.
Anita Dolce Vita and Deeba Zivari. Photo credit Jack Jackson
Fashion is one of the most visible markers of our status in society's hierarchies and is political, whether or not we consciously recognize this. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City, where people not only cared about fashion but also dressed intentionally to make various statements, did I fully begin realize just how political fashion truly is. Since becoming more aware of this, I have reflected on the role of fashion in shaping my own identity. For example, I recall not being able to afford designer clothing growing up. During my pre-teen years, some of my friends and I would have sewing parties at which we would affix Guess and Calvin Klein labels to clothing our families had purchased for us a discount retailers. I was too young to be remotely aware that I was brainwashed into being ashamed of my class, and that my shame was manifested via clothing.
After coming out, fashion became a major part of my identity again. In my hometown (Albuquerque), women's queerness was viewed by many in the community as being in direct relation to how masculine one presented. I was seen as a fraud. It took me a long time to realize that it was not my problem that society conflates sexual orientation and gender expression. I am a proud femme. A boss femme. My femininity is mine. It is not for the male gaze. It doesn't make me less powerful or less queer. And, I am here to say that I will not perpetuate the idea that masculinity is superior by conforming to queer-normative litmus testing.
Growing up, I was obsessive about certain clothing items. I staunchly refused to wear anything that had zippers or pockets or was the color blue (that makes me sound like I was invested in the gender binary, but I like to think that it means I was a high femme right out of the womb). This obsessiveness was about exercising autonomy over my own body and identity, and reclaiming femininity as a queer woman. Misogyny extends beyond how women are treated in the work place or on the street — it systematically devalues anything feminine, including our style. Clothing has allowed me to reclaim femininity in a deliberate and empowering way.
Alex Berg, photo credit Debbie-Jean Lemonte of DAG iMages
Having the freedom and strength to wear masculine presenting clothing as an adult has been life altering. In a way, lifesaving…..For a long time I was bullied for “looking like a boy,” chased down by other boys, held down and called a “faggot”. I was always hurt and confused as to why people were so upset that I was wearing “boys” clothing. Why was this a “bad” or “wrong” thing?.... Fast forward to now where I'm walking runways as a professional androgynous model, celebrated for breaking the binary and being 100% me. Clothes truly can free you or imprison you. THIS is why giving maximum exposure to androgyny is vital to our youth. I try to be the Shero I would of wanted as a girl.
Once I discovered my dapper style I realized that I had found "my style" and it didn't really have anything to do with my identity. What I learned was that my clothing style didn't shape my identity, it accented it and that everyone should be able to express themselves through fashion without having to fall inside or outside the gender binary and without having limitations because that was the beauty of fashion... It’s constantly evolving just like people.
NiK Kacy Footwear and Sharpe Suiting models. Photo credit Jack Jackson
Fashion is an artistic representation of one’s identity. People should feel free to wear whatever they want with pride, whether it’s a suit or a gown (or even undergarments), it should be an authentic expression of who they are. My experience with clothing was first negative before it became positive. In college, I was pledge captain for my Asian-American sorority pledge class. While all the other girls ecstatically discussed the gowns they borrowed or bought for the next formal occasion, I felt extremely uncomfortable, often holding off until the last minute to procure my look for these events. After these experiences, I pined for opportunities to explore and embrace my masculinity. My post-college girlfriend bought me my first set of boxers and briefs, showing support for my masculine-identity; she thought it was sexy. Around that time, I joined my first drag king troupe and met other trans-identified friends who really helped me find myself. We created masculine costumes and looks together, and my talent for designing and styling masculinity (or any gender) expression took off from there.
Photo credit Jack Jackson
Clothing has shaped my identity in that it's been this vehicle for me to express who I am. I spent a lot of time experimenting and exploring the gendered poles of fashion as a youth, wearing both boys and girls clothes …. I began concerning myself less, with what my other straight female friends and queer lesbian friends were wearing and started to follow my own compass. Once I did I found I really started to understand my relationship with gender, my body and my queerness. I'm not a hyper feminine woman, I'm also not very masculine. Sure I'm a gay lady, but that doesn't make me feel intrinsically butch. I'm somewhere in the middle I feel. A whole person with many dynamic sides blended together. Learning that through fashion has made me feel comfortable not only comfortable in my clothes, but comfortable with my body, gender expression and queerness.
Clothing has been both my shield and my sword. As a trans woman, it protected me in femininity at a time when being feminine was the only way for society to accept me as female. Now clothing is my blade. I often wear clothes perceived as “boy clothes’ and ‘masculine wear’ as a post op Trans woman. This allows me to hack dead the idea that we as trans girls must be all feminine to the core.
The first time I was ever totally present and conscious about the way clothes fit me definitely had to be after I started my transition (28 and beyond). My body changed a lot in size in the first few years of hormones and that meant a lot of clothes shopping. I still feel incredible when I find an article of clothing that just fits right. I attribute a lot of this to my being trans and having a different body type than most cis guys, but what I've come to realize throughout my transition is that there are actually a ton of different body types (cis and trans) in general and that clothing is really focused on the average or traditional figures. Since I am on the more compact side of things I tend to look for athletic cuts.
I suppose having found theater at such a young age, when clothes began being something to think about, I saw them more as costumes. Something that helped convince people the part I was trying to convey. I stumbled around for a few years in a haze of dresses and a “femme phase” but it wasn’t till I was about 21/22 that I found freedom in exploring my masculine center. For a while there, I thought being completely butch was my only option, but that didn’t fit quite right either. Finally, at about 25 or so, I found comfort in both, and presented daily as androgynously since.
Landon Cider, photo credit Mariusz Michalak
When I was 24, I had earned a spot to be guest conductor of an LGBT symphonic band. I had cut my hair very short for the first time, and felt bold enough to finally try on a suit. My first suit was a fancy black tuxedo with a silver vest & bow tie. The local Chicago tux shop was reluctant to help tailor me when they saw a female walk in. Despite the push-pull to get them to tailor me, the tux fit great in the end. During the concert, I had never felt so empowered and alive while conducting on the podium, finally looking as masculine as I had always felt inside.
I see queer fashion being on the forefront of pushing boundaries, both as art and a form of visual activism. With respect to the former, queer fashion is preserving fashion as art in a world where reality show, Kardashian-celebrity, Instagram fast fashion is destroying true design. With respect to the latter, queer fashion is steeped in a long history as fashion as political resistance. I see it continuing to be a powerful tool in our fight for LGBTQ liberation, dismantling gender binaries, which benefits society beyond the LGBTQ community.
I'd like to see that fashion no longer has to have labels confined or defined by identity or gender.
I would like queer fashion styles to be available to the mainstream market, so everyone can have access to them. Specifically, I’d like to see gender-neutral clothing in major department stores and online retailers…..I wish the queer fashion industry had more capital or monetary support. There is so much passion and talent within this new market segment, but queer designers need access to more investment funding to market their designs on a much wider forum.
In 5 years, I hope that we've broken down the binary in the way we talk about gender identity and expression. If feels as though the mainstream media finally has a grip on what it means to be LGBT, so in a few years perhaps the Q will be widely understood. I frequently see t-shirts that read "The Future Has No Gender," but I hope we don't embrace that notion because it doesn't address that many of us feel empowered when we claim a specific identity. I hope the future tagline is "The Future Has An Infinite Amount of Genders (And We Affirm Them All)."
Thomas Thomas, photo credit Mariusz Michalak
The defining moment of my career was when I made the decision to come out on-air in June 2013 and subsequently made a personal commitment to create queer and bisexual visibility in the media. The first segment I ever hosted was about what being queer meant to me, though it was at a time when my family was grappling with my sexual orientation. Since then, I've sought to address LGBTQ representation, as well as racial and social justice, in all of my coverage, whether I'm on the campaign trail or interviewing a celebrity.
Black Lives Matter, photo credit Mariusz Michalak
Since founding Sharpe over four years ago, every day has been pretty remarkable for me. If I had to choose just one moment as an artist and entrepreneur, presenting as a designer with NiK Kacy Footwear at DapperQ’s iD NYFW fashion show was incredibly meaningful. With my presentation partner, I had the opportunity to blur gender lines and create avant-garde styles for the runway along with my fellow queer fashion designers, all of which was publicized in the mainstream media just hours after the show.
Do what you need to feel love for yourself, that's all that matters.
There’s a place for you and it’s a BIG loving DapperQ community standing with you.
Pretend no ones looking and love yourself completely.
One day, your life will flash before you, and by being true to you, the show will be worth watching.
Photo credit Debbie-jean Lemonte of DAG iMages
So we’re taking queer fashion off the runway and back on to the streets and every day we do that it’s still an act of vulnerability, bravery and empowerment. It’s time for mainstream society to stop staring and start caring. No, I mean actually caring, actively caring. Diversity is, after all, key to human survival and growth. Feeling comfortable in one’s body and identity is not something that should be happening in our late 20’s, it’s time for change, to nurture and encourage exploration and acceptance of the many facets of our identities from a much younger age.
iD is over for this year, but the conversation will continue and it’s already made its mark in queer fashion history. I know that three of the eight featured runway designers were trans identified and there were many trans people both walking the runway and within the audience. As a trans person, I won’t stop saying this until something drastically changes – 41% of trans people attempt suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population. Just let that sink in a moment.
Research has shown that trans suicide is largely the result of societal, systemic and legal discrimination and family rejection and nothing whatsoever to do with being unhappy about being trans. Events like iD bring much needed awareness and representation of queer and trans visibility and are now attracting mainstream media attention which is testament to the years of dedication and hard work by our community. We’ll continue to raise awareness of the issues affecting trans and gender non-conforming peoples lives through fashion, but ultimately, it’s no longer our responsibility, we’ve done all of the hard work for years and for free – now it’s your turn.
It think Eddie Izzard puts it simply enough.
Photo credit Jack Jackson
Photo credit Jack Jackson
Elliott Sailors walking for Thomas Thomas, photo credit Jack Jackson
Photo credit Jack Jackson
Photo credit Jack Jackson