DOMA was just overturned and we're headed into Pride weekend here in New York, which means it's time for some #deepthoughts and a healthy dose of swearing...
Conventional. Traditional. Normal. These words stand diametrically opposed to my understanding of queer identity. Not because queer people are walking around wondering to themselves, "How can I be more oUtRagEoUs?!" but because straight people have more or less always been like, "You frighten us, now we shall stone you to death!" Clothing and other facets of self-presentation have always been an important component of identity to queer peoples, either for purposes of more fulfilling self-expression or as a form of discreet coding to let other "deviants" know you were of a kind. Because I process everything in my world through the lens of (men's) fashion, I wanted to start this off by parsing through some reactions to the recent menswear shows and their wider implications.
A slideshow of street style snapshots from the men's shows brought forth a goldmine of assholes (and not in a good way) on popular, hetero-geared style blog, Hypebeast. "I hate it when men act and dress like women," said one commenter. "'Men's Fashion Week' yet there's 4 slides with purses," said another. Two commenters called the subjects "clowns" and one praised David Gandy for being the only guy to give us, "classic menswear." It wasn't as bad as it could've been—someone had the good sense to chime in, "fuck man, it's 2013...get over it," and another said, "How do you usually like your men to act?" But I do think, regardless of the dire state of blog commenting at this point in the game, that the opinions voiced by these few readers are representative of a good chunk of what you might call the "menswear community." They like their men in tailored suits and jerk off to pocket squares and vintage Aston Martins, all the better if you can get both in one shot, preferably in an Italian label's lookbook (sponsored by a Whiskey brand.)
The weird divide this dialogue creates—"Classic" vs. "Clown"—immediately brought to mind a great piece from Susie (actually two pieces, here and here), in which she decries this kind of outcry as "joyless" and "patronising." She had to suffer it during the men's collections in London, which showcase the work of some of men's fashion's most conceptual and boundary-burning auteurs, and she wasn't too happy about it:
Is it physically/spiritually getting in the way of your day that these designers are creating these collections? Can you be 100% sure that there is no man in the entire world that would wear this? Is it not much better that someone is out there creating such clothes so that elusive 'man' does have the option to wear halter-neck tops/lace onesies/floral tracksuit bottoms should he choose to do so?To quote one of our good men in the Hypebeast thread, "Fuck, man...it's 2013. Get over it."
Susie's use of the word "patronising" hits the nail on the head for me, as it taps into the idea that these feelings of revulsion being voiced by the "Classic" crowd are coming from a place that's all too eager to demean and lessen a designer's artistic output for its "silliness." These men daren't condescend to that kind of "feminine" frivolousness. Their angst is rooted in misogyny: the "Clown" camp is an affront to the comfort they take in traditional masculinity and conventional gender roles. I mean, just a theory.
The Independent's Alex Fury wrote a great piece after seeing the above mentioned Mr. Gandy, a "Classic" dude himself, denigrate the apparent frippery of British designers on national TV. (Of note: Gandy is on the council for London's mens shows.) "I can’t help but bemoan the fact that a suited, booted and hatted gentleman is still our stereotypical image of menswear," said Fury. "How reactionary. How antiquated. How downright dull." Serenade me!
I started this blog because I felt like my relationship to my clothes was different than that being discussed by a lot of male style bloggers, gay or straight. It's an emotional connection we have, my duds and I. I love these ladies. They love me back. They know I roll deep—that's right perfect tee, I'm buying you in every color—and that I'll drop a couple bills on 'em if they get ratchet, instead of chucking them out like they're some jumpsuit from last season's Rihanna collection. Does this pair of shoes fit? No? Sort of? Huh. Can I physically get it on my foot without dying? That's a start. 'Cuz I love this shoe, and we're gonna make it. And not like at the end of Titanic when Kate tells Leo she loves him and then is like, "Bye, bitch!" and let's him drop to the ocean floor. No, no. This is Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally and she's faking an orgasm and everyone's looking at her and in the end all Billy Crystal can do is smile and then some old lady is like, "I'll have what she's having," not because I'm particularly great at faking an orgasm, but because I'm pretty into orthopedic-looking shoes.
Did that make sense? I don't know. I'm just too emotional. My point is that fashion should be fun and you shouldn't be taking it too damn seriously. Your closet is a breeding ground for creativity, not conformity. Who wants to open up an armoire and think to himself, "How can I look like everyone else today?" or "Which outfit will my peers approve of?" Jesus, is this middle school? Who are you trying to please? I pulled two block quotes from a lengthy piece by Charlie Porter that speak to this point pretty damn eloquently:
The young menswear designers who have shown at MAN and LC:M since 2005 are restoring a broken link to the radical fashion halted in the 1980s...with their designs, they are allowing for all that is diverse, different, complex and often unsaid. Sometimes the work is uncomfortable or challenging. Often it is celebratory. But it creates a dialogue, and promotes further freedom and creativity. It’s these things which show the importance of fashion as a bellwether, not of superficial trends, but of actual societal change.
There will be gay men of the right wing reading this thinking, oh shut up. What they crave is masculine normality through tailoring and what is deemed as conventional clothing. Probably because aping normality was the only way for them to gain acceptance and approval from their family, and from their peers, as they grew up in the 80s or 90s.
And this gorgeously brings us to the problem of queer identity in fashion/menswear (but can we take a minute to appreciate Porter's cutting use of the word, "aping"? Nice one, brah.) The trappings of masculinity seem to have created a new cult of getting off on fitting in. Do gay men, accustomed to internalizing self-loathing from a very early age (thanks, society!), seek out "straight acting" men because, oh man, aren't straight guys just so sexy? A Queerty article from a few years back entitled, "Is Our Obsession With 'Straight-Acting' Guys Perverse (And Really Harmful)?" touches on the phenomenon of "discreet" sexual encounters between gay men:
The word 'discreet' comes up in over one thousand postings. It is the new 'straight-acting.' There are two spellings of the word 'discreet.' The other spelling, 'discrete,' means distinct, separate, and individual. That is the antithesis of what these Craigslisters want in a man. Discrete’s double-E’d sister is marked by modesty and prudence—two of my least favorite words.Is there a fetishization of "normal" going on here? Feelings of repression and self-hatred (seeing yourself as inferior and/or emasculated by society) bubble to the surface as a hunt for "masc" fuck buddies. Writer Matt Siegel nicely brings us back around to the idea of downplaying your differences and trying to "fit in," but the idea of normal, normalcy, etc. is itself anti-queer, or at least un-queer. We're part of a subculture—by birth, by choice, whatever—that deviates from the norm in a fairly fundamental way. To act like "normal" is some sort of newly attainable goal that everyone wants to hop on board with—we can get married! we're just like you!—is the complete opposite of progress, something HuffPost Gay Voices editor Noah Michelson discusses in this video. He describes feeling normal as a "privilege" fought for by, "faggots, dykes and gender non-conforming people." "'I just happen to be gay'...that's not something you could say twenty years ago."
And let's not forget that, because "normal" really isn't the point, people. Take, for example, the fight for marriage. It isn't about us conforming to their standard, it's about us being equal citizens who are constitutionally granted equal rights. And equal does not mean the same. It simply means that our differences do not make us second-class citizens. It means you should be able to grow up having a healthy sexual understanding of yourself. You should be able to grow up loving yourself, and loving what makes you different—not hating it. It means you should be able to have healthy sexual encounters that aren't degrading or covert and that don't make you feel like you're hiding something terrible. It doesn't mean you should feel lucky to be able to look forward to one day fitting in or "passing." "I'm just like you!" is not a victory cry.
All I'm asking for is for people to stop being misogynistic assholes. Femininity, however you understand it, is not a diminishing characteristic in a person, man or woman. I know I'm not the world's most queer queer person, as if that's a thing, and hoping to meet my Korean Dream Lover (Bravo, ask about the rights) and get filled up with his babies is not a particularly revolutionary M.O. But for me as a cis-gendered queer male (basically a man who identifies as a man and likes men, FYI) to be able to say something like that on the internet is a pretty big damn deal. I wouldn't have felt comfortable typing all this shit even five years ago. I didn't come out of the closet until I was 18, at least not to anyone who was on my coast. (I moved from the West coast to the East coast in High School and came out to CA friends after the move. Bravery!)
Agh, but this is officially too long...so I will end on this note: put me in the "clown" camp if you will, but at least I'm getting dressed on my own damn terms—and I'm proud of it, snap!
Read more about this kinda isht here, here and here. And here.
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