Despite an upsurge in dialogue about creating queer-inclusive clothing spaces for desi queers – in reality, finding such spaces is a rarity reserved only for the privileged elite who can afford to source queer-inclusive items internationally, or invest in expensive products, customized specifically for their queer needs.
It’s essential to account for the fact that a vast majority of queer individuals in India are born into humble middle-class backgrounds, thereby, restricting their ability to invest large amounts of money into gender neutral clothing or queer-specific products.
As the world changes, every second of every day, making clothing brands/ stores inclusive has no longer remained a luxury available to merely a privileged few; it’s now a necessity, which must be accessible to all.
Amongst several others, here are a few ways in which clothing brands/ stores can be made more queer-inclusive:
Get rid of gender-based divisions:
As queer individuals, almost all of us have experienced the struggle of entering a clothing store with a distinct Men’s and Women’s section, oscillating aimlessly between both sections, eventually deciding to visit a section which doesn’t align with your physical self, and receiving flummoxed glances from salesmen as they ruefully inform you, “Madam, Ladies section uss side par hai. Yeh gents ka section hai.”
Removing gender-based divisions can ensure that all
individuals (whether within the community or not) feel safe and comfortable
whilst assessing clothes, which aren’t typically manufactured for their gender
The erasure of these rigid divisions is also a stark reminder that clothes are primarily a means of personal/ artistic expression. The selection of the attire one chooses to don, is a decision which should be made on the basis of comfort and personal style – and not on the grounds of gender or physical body type.
Instead of gender-based categorization, clothes must be segregated according to their individual types – for instance, pants, shirts, dresses, shorts, etc. must all be sorted into independent sections, which would enable customers to simultaneously view all the potential pieces of their choice, irrespective of gender identity.
Include a variety of fits/ shapes for the same garment:
Traditionally, most clothing brands manufacture garments with specific, socially-defined prerequisites. For instance, women’s clothes are generally slim-fitting, whereas men’s clothes are baggy and box-like.
Stereotypes like these are often harmful, for they insinuate that people belonging to certain gender identities must wear clothes of a certain fit/ shape, despite discomfort or dysphoria. They also bear irreverence to the idea that two people belonging to the same gender identity may have vastly different body types. Additionally, this means that genderqueer people are often not accounted for, or taken into consideration, whilst manufacturing clothing.
Including a variety of fits/ shapes for the same garment can go a long way in ensuring that queer people find an outfit tailored to their comfort and personal preference.
Use numbers in place of letters to indicate clothing size:
Clothing sizes, in the form of S, M, L and the infamous XL are often a source of intense shame and guilt for queer individuals with atypical body types. Transgender and intersex individuals, in particular, are at greater risk of experiencing physical dysphoria in trial rooms – due to the fixed sizes available, which are often unaccommodating of misproportioned bodies.
Whilst changing the parameters of garment sizes to numbers, may not necessarily mitigate the dysphoria experienced by genderqueer individuals – it could definitely help to reduce our awareness of the size we’re wearing, and the shame associated with certain sizes. This could be due to the fact that letter sizes (XS, S, M, L, and XL) are laden with fat-shaming sentiment, to a far greater extent than numbers – which are often not as indicative.
Include underwear for individuals with atypical reproductive structures:
It’s imperative for clothing brands to realize that reproductive structures aren’t merely confined to a penis and a vagina. Intersex individuals, in particular, may have several variations in sex characteristics; which makes it essential for clothing stores to create underwear to accommodate multiple combinations of biological structures.
Customizable underwear could also go a long way in ensuring that all queer individuals have access to specifically manufactured underwear – suited to their biological needs.
Incorporate queer-centric clothing and accessories:
High-quality binders, drag costumes, and other queer-specific clothing are often difficult to attain at nominal prices. Clothing brands could offer support and solidarity to queer individuals by manufacturing products specifically customized for their needs.
A‘queer section’, for instance, would be a great addition to clothing stores – and could also help in alleviating minority stress or general discomfort experienced by queer individuals in public spaces.
Include rest rooms and trial rooms for ALL people:
Not only can independent trial rooms ensure the comfort of queer people, but are also a prerequisite for the safety of vulnerable individuals. Visibly queer people are often discriminated against, harassed, misgendered and assaulted in public spaces – thus, a trial room exclusively for queer-identifying individuals, can provide a safe space for people to express themselves and perhaps, celebrate other members of the community as well.
Alternatively, trial rooms can just be trial rooms that are not gendered and just used for all genders and people to do what they came to do- try on clothes.
Employ queer individuals in various capacities
Employing queer people has numerous benefits – the most obvious of them being, a surge in the job opportunities available to members of the community, alongside a potential raise in their living standards.
In addition, queer customers may experience a greater level of comfort, if a certain proportion of the employees of a clothing store – are queer themselves, since the presence of a larger queer population would serve as a protective factor against discrimination or harassment.