Words: LM Makgoba | Photography: Lewis Pagoriwan
“Fashion has always been my voice. When I was still in the closet, it was the only way I could express my true self. How queer people dress is our voice. It is how we speak. It is who we are.”
It took me 23years to accept my sexuality. When I finally did (it took a while even though I have been out for years now) I realised that the fashion industry had a large role to play in me potentially making the biggest mistake of my life. I later realised that my desire to transition stemmed from me believing that I had to be of a certain gender to express myself a certain way. (DISCLAIMER: I do not mean that all people who transition have made a mistake. This is just my personal experience.)
So there I was walking around inside Ackermans with my Christian, tongue-praying, African mother. She asked me what I wanted. Mind you, at the time, Jabaroo was the hottest thing after sliced bread. Me, being an innocent four year old, who knew nothing about this world, pointed at a red Jabaroo t-shirt, and matching pants from the boys’ section of the store. At the time I did not see anything wrong with that; I just chose what I liked.
I was then labelled a tomboy. I had no idea what that was but I knew I hated it. After being called all sorts of names (gay, lesbian, butch, stud, dyke, stabane you name it!) I believed in order to wear certain clothes, I had to be a boy. As a result, I started forcing myself to dress like a girl. Fashion was the most powerful tool I had to express myself when I had no voice. It was taken away from me by society fuelled by advertising campaigns, movies and fashion shows which never recognised the queer community. I felt like I could not exist in any space.
When I was four, there was no such thing as androgynous fashion. It was either you are a boy and you wear this or you are girl and wear that. Breaking the gender code was social suicide.
The fashion industry is an industry based on trends. If people are talking about it, we will do it! However, one thing that irks me about the fashion industry is that it continuously proves that there is no limit to how far they are willing to go to keep with the trend just to fatten their pockets including appropriating ‘queer culture’.
“Fashion was the most powerful tool I had to express myself when I had no voice.”
In recent years, we have seen a rise in the call for equal human rights across all borders. With calls for equality getting louder and louder, there has been a rise in society’s attempt to accommodate the queer community. As advocates for equal rights continue to galvanise, it was only a matter of time before the fashion industry jumped on that wagon. Boy do they continue to make a meal of it! This industry continues to, “slip up” as they insincerely push queer campaigns. Vogue is one of the latest culprits. How can one of the industry’s top publications, make the ‘mistake’ of using Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid, two cisgender heterosexuals as a cover story based on gender fluidity? This is nothing but appropriation; straight from the mine and in its absolute purest form. Not only do Gigi and Malik represent a Western idea of what beauty is, they further perpetuate society’s tendency to fetishize attractive queer couples, by using two pretty-eyed and tanned Caucasians.
“It’s not about gender, it’s about shapes. And what feels good on you that day. And anyway, it’s fun to experiment,” said Gigi Hadid. The same Hadid who claims to stand for LGBTQ rights. Since when does stealing your boyfriend’s hoody nonce in a while make you gender fluid? Gigi Hadid is the fashion industry’s ignorance personified. If there was an ounce of sincerity in their campaign, they could have used what’s real. Why couldn’t they use Ruby Rose? Or even better, Amandla Stenberg?
All the industry cares about is profits. They have no understanding of the true meaning of being androgynous, queer or non-binary. By fetishizing my reality- they further perpetuate the idea that all non-binary people are skinny, androgynous people who can pass at being male or female. If the fashion industry REALLY understood the depths of what it means to be queer, they would consider portraying something closer to reality. Using two skinny blonde girls making out, creates a sexual fantasy out of my reality which is definitely NOT the privilege of being little Miss Muffet.
Where was the fashion industry when I was four years old, where is it today? Not much has changed! When will plus size models and fashion be elevated? This industry will do anything to make a quick buck, even if it is at the expense of an entire community. Using thin, tanned white girls creates a sexual fantasy which society is so willing to praise and describe as ground breaking. Would they still accept it if it was two thick African women? Asking for a friend…
The fashion industry has stolen that voice and used it to convey its own message. Not only have they fuelled society’s ignorant ideologies of what it means to be gender or sexually fluid, but they have also turned the reality of many, into sexual fantasies. If they really cared- there would be some form of true representation.
Fashion has always been my voice. When I was still in the closet, it was the only way I could express my true self. How queer people dress is our voice. It is how we speak. It is who we are.