Identity-Fashion

Photographer: Molly – Photoessay: Queer Fashion Week 2016

Gem Webb is a pan, poly, nonbinary transfemme human of uncertain academics, questionable ethics and dubious intent. She writes articles of varying quality upon request, or of poor quality if unsolicited.

I remember being four years old, curled in a ball in front of the television. I was watching Labyrinth, starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie. David Bowie, O David Bowie. Youthful crush, God amongst men, and soon-to-be deity of my sexuality and gender expression. Teased hair and winged makeup, sparkling shirts and tight pants – I was transfixed.

Queer fashion, and by extension queer identity, is focused on being seen. Society is all too willing to shove us to the margins, and being visible is our armour. That’s why queer fashion is discernable from a mile away. Extra-visible fashion has a long history in the queer community. These days you’ll see us wearing docs or bright colours, wristbands and accessories; hair meticulously preened or completely ignored; pierced, tattooed, backcombed; armoured from head to toe. Not everyone is loud and proud, but for the most part, you can tell we’re queer because we choose not to look like other people. Yet where did this come from – what is the DNA of queer fashion?

(Pan)sexual appetites and androgynous formulas have dominated the past 50 years of euro-centric media. Many queer icons double as trendsetters and style icons – sometimes celebrated for it, often ostracised. In recent history figures such as frontmen Freddie Mercury and George Michael, musicians Bjork and Moe Tucker, and actress Candy Darling have been figureheads of the queer community – and they looked so good while doing it. Even non-queer-identifying icons like Madonna or Prince have played their part.

The idea of the gender-defying persona that these stars borrow from has existed in Western media for time immemorial. The 19th century dandy was known and ridiculed for both femininity and lasciviousness; the punk movement of the 20th century was based around a similar flagrant rebuttal against masculine stereotypes – even the term ‘punk’ originated as a slang term for a prison bottom. Thanks to queer women’s bars and butch/femme social codes back in the early 1920s, even today it is perceived that a lesbian in some way must demonstrate masculinity.

Alternative sexualities are inherently linked to gender performance, especially in the eyes of a largely heterosexual-cisgender society. Yet as society begins to change so too do our sources of inspiration. Though some of our queer style icons remain celebrity – Cara Delevigne and Chloe Sevigney come to mind – by and large, we have now moved into a private, individualised sphere. Instagram and YouTube celebrities now provide our external examples of queer culture, and in a way, it’s a shame that the greater visibility is being lost.

We’re told what to look like, how to act, and what’s right and wrong about who we are. In this world, to be assigned male at birth means to grow into a man – and so, expressions of femininity are the utmost form of rebellion. By embracing our otherness, we reaffirm it, and in reaffirming it become comfortable in ourselves. Through style, we embody our revolution: for gender, for sex and for ourselves.