Eons ago when early humans invented clothing, they didn’t have a clue about the extent of its cultural impact in the future. Binarified by patriarchy, the seeds of divide were sown and their ramifications are faced by those living life outside of the binary. The industrial age too made class distinction crystal clear due to the different garments of the working class and the regency, quintessentially widening the divide of society even more. Today clothing is not just a covering to protect one’s self; it is an integral part of your overall personality, so much so that it holds a sizable power over our identities. This power is of course magnified for those who do not submit to the preconceived notions of the society, be it gender, sex or sexuality.
It would be apt to say that it was not only womens’ waist that was trapped in a corset nor was it just a torso bound in a fitted tuxedo.
Ironically, this unified symbol of every divide ever recorded in modern history is still an exclusionary force weaponized by cisgendered heteronormative society to keep the marginalized away from well-deserved spaces.
Though it was the Victorian clothing reform that bridged the gap and addressed the issue in an indirect way, it wasn’t until a black, gay drag artist named Marsha P Johnson threw a brick back at the police in 1969, resulting in what is known as Stonewall riots, that the powergrip of fabric loosened.
Given this context, it isn’t hard to understand why the LGBTQ+ community, which struggles with representation and identity in broader society, has found a sense of solace and freedom in the fashion industry, thereby creating an external locus of identity around it. Prime result of this need to express oneself freely and explore is the extrapolated, obsessive stereotype of gay men being fashion icons (which is such a generalization!). Then comes the ‘champion allies’ who seek to be celebrated for doing the bare minimum on the silver screen or the cis-het influencers who are credited for introducing “gender bending” styles by a massive media platform, for which correction was later made, but not before the damage was done; entirely erasing the identities of gender non-comforming or the transgender people.
Their allyship is appreciated; but acts like this, in one way or the other, support the binary heteronormative nature of the society.
If one doesn’t think life is a war and fashion your armor in the 21st century, some serious soul-searching needs to be done on their part. Used to oppress, fashion does hold the key to opening spaces for those who are cast out for not conforming to the norm (which is not “normal” per se, just more common!), just ask the likes of Calvin Klein, Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani who monetized it.
When a trans person like Alok V Menon decodes how gender expression, body hair policing, trans or homophobia etc., find their traces in colonialism and racism, they are ruthlessly trolled and shamed.
If a Stanford graduated celebrity with a massive following can face such visibly vile and vicious attacks, it can be safely assumed that the ground reality is much worse (memento TikTok?) and tokenism just won’t cut it anymore.
“Every time I do anything with a mainstream platform, I am flooded with comments about my appearance. People like me are rarely — if ever — regarded for our intellect and our contributions, because people are so fixated on what we look like.” – writes Alok, highlighting the hate received by those who dare to tread out of the deliberately created nexus of state, society, and more often than not, family too.
“It would be easier if you tone it down.’ Gender non-conforming people are framed as the problem. Not gender norms. The onus is on us to modify what we look like to make other people more comfortable. Never them to stop attacking us.”, writes Alok in one of their blog posts. For Alok, it is not just being unapologetically themself anymore, it is political. So if and when a cis-het person is credited for bringing androgyny in the so-called ‘mainstream’, it is offensive and will always be.
An unpopular yet powerful idea is that the infringement on the spaces that should be for queers by cis-het folks is a form of active and not passive transgression. Reasoning being that it might be a small step of allyship by ‘imitation’ but its repercussion is that of stripping the identity of those who might feel or be different. Simply put, it is neither their place nor right to represent someone who has faced horrors that are alien to their lives. Time and again this has been proven to be correct by films like Laxxmi (a stereotypical disaster) or Harry Styles-inspired “gender bending” (the audacity!) couple Komal Pandey and Siddharth Batra, where the intention might be noble, but the result ends up doing more damage than good by imposing the dreadfully assumed binary yet again.
So when Demi Loveto sings ‘Let It Go’, listen to them! The world has got bigger problems than boys applying nail paint or girls kissing girls or Alok feeling happy in their unique way. Fashion, thus, is not just a choice of clothes adorning the corporal body, but is a holistic extension of being and like all that is good, should be left to personal choice, because the only way Alok is harming anyone by their fashion choice is by making hearts skip their beat.