For many of us, how we present ourselves means so much more than “looking good”, being “fashionable” or “fitting in”. In the queer experience, expression rarely looks like fitting in – because we haven’t fitted in, we’ve been pushed to the outsides, and we, as individuals, are trying to make sense of our own identities, and to love ourselves for who we are.
On the days where this goes well, where we find and display even just that little symbol that says we’re proud of our identity, this expression can be an incredibly liberating experience. Most of us, however, will be only too familiar with looking in the mirror, thinking about how we will express that identity, and then feeling the doubts creep in. Many of us will remember having silenced ourselves, because that bit of concealer or lipstick, or t-shirt, or trainers, or hairstyle, or whatever else, would have risked provoking the hatred which permeates the world we live in. Some of us, myself included, still regularly face this dilemma, when we visit family, or go out at night, or even just when getting ready for a 9am lecture.
And when you’ve tried – when you’ve spent so long trying – to express your queer identity, you are perhaps a bit surprised to see that bit of concealer, which once filled you with excitement and terror, become @cishetgymlad_bigv4p3’s go-to going-out hack. Indeed, if the algorithms of social media ever land you in the “soft” cishet section, prepare for a never-ending line of people promoting their “revolutionary” style choices which, while, yes, would have been pretty much unthinkable in cishet society a few years ago, have actually been staples of queer expression for generations.
In fact, fashion as a whole is being remoulded by gender fluidity, seeking to escape the constraints that, in European societies, have dominated for so long. Type ‘androgynous’ into British Vogue’s website, for example, and you’ll be offered a seemingly endless supply of entries, with subjects ranging from fashion shows to hairdressing, from young stars like Harry Styles to older actors like The Crown’s Imelda Staunton. On the catwalks of the high-fashion scene, we see an ever-growing taste for androgyny, and for the freer art that it enables; fashion weeks are going gender-neutral; even still-defined “menswear” and “womenswear” categories seem increasingly less afraid to play with stereotypes. This, of course, filters its way into actors and musicians, then to high-street retailers which, whilst still reluctant to break with gendered “sections,” are increasingly keen to cash in on the desire for (at least mild) fluidity.
And on the whole, all of this is great. Cisgendered and heterosexual society, it seems, is more willing, less scared, to pursue more rounded visions of masculinity and femininity – in all sorts of areas of life. And, for cisgendered and heterosexual people, this, again, is wonderful.
But when you’re queer, when you’ve faced all sorts of abuse, for daring to not conform to the life that was planned for you at birth, sometimes this “revolution” in cishet culture just seems like a bit of a kick in the teeth. Because they didn’t have to “come out”. They can mildly break with gender norms, or at least follow a fashion for mildly breaking them, and be viewed by their elders as simply a younger generation, free of the scorn which most queer people know only too well. Of course, rule-breakers of all expressions of gender and sexuality face hardship, but it’s just hard sometimes to see people who don’t face those never-ending microaggressions - ever present in the queer existence - lauded for wearing a bold pair of boots or a little bit of make-up, without the slightest acknowledgement of the struggle of our queer ancestors – or our struggle in the present – which made this fluidity possible.
You know what, though? Surely these changes just prove further that we were right? Not, of course, that cishet approval is what matters, but the reshaping of mainstream trends - which, needless to say, should benefit everybody - ought to serve as a reminder that our ancestors were right to pursue their true identities, and we are right to do it today. We are right to not let ourselves be defined by the restrictive gender binary, not least by damaging gender stereotypes or heteronormative boundaries. We are right, ultimately, to let our individual beauty shine through.
And of course there will be days where you just have to put your own safety first, where the struggle of expressing your queer self just seems like too much. But, when the time is right, when you say “yes, today, I’m going to let the world see me”, maybe you can draw strength from the fact that your beauty, your expression, and your individual identity, are helping to create more inclusive fashion – and, who knows, maybe a more inclusive world too.
by andi (they/he/she)