In our case as queer womxn and non-binary folx a lot. Whether intentional or not, it is inherently political. Its very existence in a patriarchal and heteronormative society is political. “Lipstick and beards shouldn’t exist together. Boobs and bespoke suits together are an atrocity,” , and so forth…”
Even when something is seemingly conformist and non-political such as heels and frills on a cisgender feminine presenting queer womxn, it is still political. Consider what Shannon Weber says of her queer femme style in an interview with Hi Femme (a project celebrating contributions that femmes make to queer fashion), “For me, as a queer woman who isn’t attracted to men and who is typically read as straight, embodying a type of femme-ininity that is 110% not for the male gaze is tremendously powerful.”
Our dress is transgressive and that makes it powerful and liberating, which makes me wonder why most times we work so hard to adjust the hemline and take out a few sequins to make it more heteronormative. Despite years of fighting over labels and the increasing visibility of non-binary identities, there are still unwritten problematic rules that govern how we explore fashion and gender presentation in most queer circles;
Feminine aesthetics are not considered androgynous, non-binary or queer enough coz… oh well, masculinity is always the norm even in queer culture! When we think of neutral, non-conforming, blank-slate kinds of identities or expressions, we tend to think of masculine aesthetics without considering what they could mean to different people.
Feminine aesthetics are considered apolitical and not radical enough. In my opinion, to be feminine presenting in a world where you’ve been told all your life that femininity is inherently weak and lesser, both by mainstream and queer culture, is so damn radical and political. It’s about autonomy and reclaiming femininity away from the heteronormative gaze.
Androgynous presentation is reserved for masculine-of-center womxn and non-binary folx, because as much as we go around chanting that ‘clothes are genderless’ at the back of our minds they are still gendered. We still expect to see a clear distinction between femininity and masculinity even though it should be clear by now that these identities do not exist in boxes but within a spectrum, and thus their expression also exist within a spectrum.
Masculine-of-center individuals ‘fail’ themselves and everyone else if they adopt ‘feminine aesthetics’ in their presentation. Somehow, it shows that they are confused about their identities or even sexual orientation. Yap, such BS! Again, how does a wand of mascara diminish one’s masculinity or femininity? Oh and lest we forget, womxn and non-binary folx policing and shaming each other for signs of ‘effeminacy’ is rooted in toxic masculinity where femininity is deemed undesirable.
Your gender presentation determines your label and roles in your sex life, interactions and relationships. Hmmm are we all familiar with the good ol’ ‘man in the relationship’ crap we borrowed from cisheteronormativity? The masculine presenting half in every relationship is the provider, decision maker and ‘top’ during sex, the feminine presenting half is the homemaker, caregiver yada yada yada…Our labels may have helped some of us put things into perspective and find our places in the queer community when we were coming out, but now they are more than just labels, they are boxes. They have become like gender in a patriarchal society, prescribing how we should be rather than recognizing how we are and anyone who dares to stray from these prescriptions is punished.
Trans womxn are always expected to present in a ‘traditionally’ feminine way. They should work every waking moment to prove to us that they are really womxn and what better way to do that than to look as ‘real woman’ as possible, right? WRONG! Trans womxn don’t have to prove shit to you and especially not their ‘authenticity’. Moreover, Trans identities fall within a spectrum and so do their presentations.
(*This list is not conclusive)
So, what could it be, our obsession with boxes and heteronormativity? It’s so easy to blame it all on our socialization, but isn’t that kinda lazy? We may not be responsible for where we come from, but we are responsible for who we become especially, when we are no longer ignorant about our shortcomings. The awesome thing about human beings is that you can only put them in a box for so long. Though the circumstances and timing may vary from one individual to the next, eventually, they break free if they want to.
It’s not all bleak though.
It does not happen every day but I am increasingly finding myself in spaces where labels matter less and identities matter more, spaces where reclamation and exploration of gender presentation is encouraged and even celebrated. Seems our queer dress is still being sewn to transcend time and space after all.