Credit: Elise Rose
Eight trans and non-binary people on personal style
This story forms part of a collaboration with Dazed Digital -- where pop culture meets the underground. The opinions expressed in this article belong to each individual author.
For people like me -- non-binary and trans people -- the way we look and dress dictates both the way we feel about our genders, and the way we will be treated by the media, the world, and the people who refuse to sit next to us on the tube.
For some of us, fashion allows us to pass, and to remove demarcations of a gender assigned to us. For others, it's a way to opt out, to ask questions, to curate a whole new gender away from a binary. For all of us, it gives us autonomy over our bodies. The clothes we wear allow us to make a choice, they allow us to escape the expectation of normativity, and the boredom of homogeneity.
It's here where clothing becomes manifold in its meanings: political, powerful, personal, emotional, insignificant, life-changing, it offers safety or removes it, it asks everyone questions, and it makes us feel dysphoric, wonderful, sexy, worried. It's complicated.
But don't listen to me -- someone who has opted for safety as a style priority ever since I was violently attacked on my front door step two years ago because of the way I was dressed -- take it from some of the most brilliant, bright, and stylish people in our community.
I worked in fashion PR for three years; I've fronted campaigns and closed shows at fashion week. As a model, clothes are a big part of my identity. For better or worse. I grew up being bullied for being black and transgender. As a teenager, and through transitioning, clothes helped me identify the person I have always been, just haven't always outwardly looked.
Shortly after my facial feminisation surgery, I debuted my big pink wig. I was feeling confident and beautiful in my own right. But you don't need to dress up to celebrate yourself. Some days I'm just in a t-shirt and joggers.
When I was younger, I was obsessed with Cyndi Lauper -- I still am. She said, "On my darkest days I wear my brightest clothes." There's a lot of narrative in the fashion industry whereby a trans woman needs to dress sexy. As an activist, I'm all about empowerment and redefining that, changing that conversation -- but I also love to have fun.
Go big or go home, you know?
Kai Isaiah Jamal
Most days, I wear workwear. For me, workwear is the one style that has a really timeless and genderless feel to it.
There's still this constrictive element to clothing and (its) relation to "passing" in the big scary world. I have always drooled over certain looks that, in my current state of transition, I feel like I can't wear. Even the simplest of short tees and low jeans showing my new hairy snail trail. I find myself in this complete perplexing state of wanting to celebrate the changes of my body, the flatness of my bound chest and my slightly broader shoulders, but also having to acknowledge that how I dress is often a signifier of my trans identity, and to ensure my safety.
In QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) spaces, I completely transform: I don't worry about being too femme, or too kink, or if you can see the outline of my binder, so in these spaces I love pulling a look. There is enough respect in the room to know that whether your bag is bought, borrowed or snatched (in both senses) it is your accessory, it is not an explanation of your identity.
From a young age, I used fashion and style as a way to make bold assertions against pressures I was feeling. Male clothes, expectations, pressures, and the heavy gendering on my body (without my consent) that I was feeling when going into adolescence, forced me to find style in order to find autonomy.
I think how gender currently works strips autonomy from people, and I became "good" at style, or dressing myself, or making statements with clothes and colors and patterns and shapes as a way to try and reclaim that autonomy and power. Clothes shouldn't be a protest, but so often style is. Every time I step outside in clothes I desire to wear, I'm shouted at, hurt, abused, harassed, my whole world shifts. They will say I'm "asking for attention" -- but that rhetoric seems so anti-feminist. It's so against the world I want.
My clothes (and the response I get for wearing them), remind me everyday that I want a world that does not limit our safety because of how we dress, a world that allows us to recreate our own stories and narratives on our body, and definitely has more color and print.
I use my style to pose questions to the world. "Have you considered how sexy I am?," or "Don't I look intelligent like this?," or "Maybe I am going somewhere you will never know?"
Before my transition, I tested the boundaries of androgyny. I got an indication of how allowing the spirit of femininity in me to fully flourish could be done safely. If I am honest with myself, avoiding violence has caused me to be so much more mindful now. My main concern is being passable as a woman.
So, I aim for more simplicity and subtle sexuality than I did in my younger, more gender non-conforming years. I look forward to big events -- making natural afro hair look as luxe as I can make it, beating my face for the Goddesses On High. I am becoming so much more comfortable with the body that I continue to craft into what I deem beautiful.
I am falling in love with myself, in spite of the onslaught of imagery and ideas that say I am too dark, too fat, too much. I just can't agree with them anymore. I refuse.
From the floral blue dress in the dressing up box at playgroup, to the rose gold chainmail dress I wore Monday night, style accentuates the femininity I have always possessed.
At the beginning of transitioning, I used style as armor: to distract anyone away from the dysphoria I was feeling about my gender. Around my formative years, fashion and style for me was about finally having a point of reference. I looked up to the model Lea T, who was iconically cast for Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci, in the Autumn-Winter 10 campaign. Then there was the time Jean Paul Gaultier cast Andreja Pejic as his haute couture bride. I remember feeling like finally I had someone I could truly relate to in the media. I now use style to embrace and enjoy the life I strived so hard to live.
My style is one of the most important ways for me, as a non-binary person, to express my gender, and allow my gender expression to flourish, and feed my gender identity. It's a political act of defiance and disruption to exist as a gender non-conforming person, and my style definitely reflects that. When I first started dressing more femme in public, the power and energy that clothes gave me was nothing I'd experienced before. It was a journey of taking slow steps to ensure I felt comfortable, and now it allows me to understand my identity so much more, and in such a more personal way.
I suppose experimenting with clothing was the first way I began to appease my gender dysphoria. I was about 19 when I really discovered women's clothing and alternative fashion images. Rejecting society's perceptions of me as a man came hand in hand with me rejecting male clothes, and instead putting on make-up and dressing in drag, allowing the world around me to see me as I really felt.
However, what initially started as an external practice -- a desperation for outside eyes to recognize my gender identity -- unlocked what was for me something truly internal: the knowledge that I am not a man on the inside, and that my non-binary identity is true, regardless of what I'm wearing. Now, whether or not I am experimenting with female clothes, I'm at peace with the internal truth of my gender identity without needing the external world to validate this state for me.
Changing my style was the first way I started trying to assert my non-binary identity -- at least to myself. When people perceive you as a woman, there is basically nothing you can wear that changes that, no matter how masculine the cut of your clothes.
You can have a lot of fun in the questioning stages, trying on different styles of masculine attire. When I started changing my style it was almost like treating my day to day life as a series of costume parties. I would go round charity shops looking for something that was a bit Oscar Wildean, or Bowie-esque, or like someone I thought looked cool at work. I remember that time really fondly as a sort of heady experimental phase where I rediscovered my relationship with my own body and appearance. It made me less relentlessly self-critical, it soothed my dysphoria, it turned some of the anxiety I had about gender into something productive, something fun.
(Caitlin has a private Instagram account.)