[Written by Charlotte Turner]
[Image Credits: Puramyun31 (accessed from creative commons). Edits by Florence Bridgman]
In 2016, a notable movement emerged within the LGBTQ+ community which sought to clarify the distinction between sex and gender, bringing to light the presence of non-binary and genderless people. If you were fortunate enough to have lived your life entirely in the Brighton Lanes, the war of sex vs. gender is perhaps unknown to you. For the majority of human existence there have been categories of clothing that fit exclusively into the restrictive slots of “male” and “female”. We have adhered to this model so rigidly that even after landing on the moon, eradicating smallpox and ‘Love Island’ managing to run for four seasons, seeing a man casually wearing a skirt seems to be something of the distant future. Though not all of us were born to be Elizabeth Smith Miller, in some of the places with the most restrictive laws against the LGBTQ+ community, the genderless clothing scene is blossoming.
If we take Russia as an example, there are cases of repression and violence against those who reject traditional views towards gender. Even in cities deemed as more progressive, these communities usually meet in private and the topic of sexuality and differing gender identity isn’t openly discussed. A law was passed in 2013 that criminalised “propaganda promoting non-traditional relationships to minors” , which has been used to persecute and silence LGBTQ+ people. Despite this, fashion designers like Olga Vasyukova are breaking out of the boundaries her society has placed on clothing. Her brands have been geared towards men but, feeling that rules should be left to the past, she ran one of last year’s genderless fashion shows. With architecturally bold shoulder pieces and a sense of new age rebellion , her determination through her work showcase the perfect trailblazing ideas to smash out of the confines and expectations of a society suffocated by its gender traditions.
Anyone who follows fashion closely will be no stranger to Japan’s Harajuku district, but may be surprised to learn about the new trend known as ‘Jendaresu-Kei’ that is gaining popularity in the alleyways. Japan has a long history of same-sex relations and cross-dressing but currently does not legally allow same-sex marriage or adoption . Men want to break out of the rigid roles they feel pigeon-holed into, many seeking to experiment and express themselves with the fashion women have such ready access to. Often dismissed as gay, they aren’t attempting to convey a certain sexual orientation insofar as they’re liberating themselves from gender normative conventions. In ditching the ironed suit and venturing into the world of the gothic and ‘lolita-esque’ followers of Harajuku street style, they refuse to conform to the idea that they are wearing ‘feminine’ clothing; they are, instead, wearing ‘genderless’ clothing.
When we walk down the street and come across another person, our eyes scan them over like heat-seeking missile trackers measuring the sharpness of their jawline, width of the shoulders, beard or no beard, and then finally categorise them into the groups we’ve been taught to place them in: male or female. Can the draping of fabric over our frames really remove our conceptions of entwined sex and gender, one or the other and nothing in between? The media often pokes fun at genderless people, for instance, Vinny Ohh becoming the target of jokes in 2017 whilst journalists used their wrong pronouns repeatedly . And this being only one example. How can we establish non-binary communities when so many people will dismiss these movements as a current aesthetic that can only be achieved by shopping at the latest grungy indie stores?
Most importantly, will this outbreak of genderless fashion aid non-binary people in becoming part of the standard in society, or will it be used by individuals slavishly following the latest trends, to one day be condemned to the uncomfortable fate of our grandchildren saying: “You used to dress like that?”