Gender in the Raw: Presenting Outside of Your Gender Identity
Written by Katherine Villa
Photographed by Elizabeth Torres
Contemporary western societies typically consider gender to be a binary.
Male or female. Man or woman. One or the other. Same old story.
It is usually how people determine who wears what piece of clothing, who walks a runway, or what bathroom stall someone should use.
More recently, there has been increasing recognition and visibility of gender noncomforming people who do not identify exclusively as either male or female. However, it is vital to acknowledge that non-binary gender identities are not recently discovered identities or new concepts, and have been recognized throughout civilization for “as long as gender has been a conscious identity of humans”. (American Psychological Association). The term non-binary refers to somebody who does not fall within the strict gendered categories of Western society. As non-binary identifying, I’ve had to create my ideas of self expression and self accceptance because of the lack of representation in media and culture. We see this changing, as stars like Indya Moore, Sam Smith, Ezra Miller, and countless other celebrities openly denounce identifying within the gender binary, but what does this mean for the world of fashion, self expression and visual presentation?
Self expression is a crucial piece in how we function in society. Despite one’s identity, we can present ourselves in whatever way we please. Our presentation does not determine our gender or sexuality. Presenting outside of your gender identity has become easier than it’s ever been before.
Just because a person paints their nails a certain way does not mean they are going to develop or suddenly take on a specific gender identity. However, clothes, makeup, hair, and even accessories seem to be “manifesting this change” (New York Times). Because if people are no longer subject to existing within this binary, why should fashion?
It’s true. The first time I wore men’s jeans was not an instant realization of my identity. But rather a journey into what made these specific pants for men and why I felt comfortable being seen in them. Perhaps I liked the way in which they complimented the length of my legs, or the way they presented a masculine appeal despite the female makings of my body. Either way, gender binaries allowed me to understand which forms of self-expression I was comfortable in.
This newly found sense of self expression has had a multitude of effects on the world of fashion consumerism, prompting many successful and unsuccessful attempts at gender neutral clothing lines. Most notably around 2017, fast fashion companies such as H&M and Zara fell prey to old and outdated ideas when it came to their gender neutral clothing line. The company got off with “selling oversize men’s denim and hoping to capitalize on existing social movements and the political consciousness of their consumer in a move that stands to insult the very transgender and gender non-comforming individuals it seeks to reach.” (The Fashion Law) Apart from their boring beige, grey, and denim color schemes, the garments were essentially made large as to fit every body type. In that sense, every clothing line could be gender neutral if their sizes were big enough. The concept seemed underdeveloped, and made to “cover bodies, not celebrate them.”
Other independent clothing labels have taken it upon themselves to create an inclusive clothing realm. On a more high end note, brands such as 69 World and Rad Hourani attempt to tackle what high end unisex clothing can be, offering ready to wear avant-garde pieces with no real emphasis on gender specific styles. While Gender Free World, a UK-based label has a mission to fit bodies in a way that other clothing does not at a more affordable price. And while all of these companies stray away from strict gendered labels such as a men and a women’s section, they do not completely erase colors or styles that are typically attributed to one gender. Both 69 World and Rad Hourani offer dresses, skirts, and accessories to anyone who sees themselves in them. Gender Free World’s floral prints and bright colors are made for everybody. Compare this to one big collection of neutral toned trousers and t-shirts.
Gender diversity in fashion does not have to be the disappearance of any and all gendered markers. It should be dynamic, exciting, unique- and most of all authentic. The evolution of fashion and consumer culture is powerful, because a change in culture stands to support a larger conversation of a widening gendered world. A world in which everyone feels comfortable presenting however they desire.