A few Sundays ago I performed at a gay club in East London, my first time DJing there, and at the end of my set I went to a quiet corner of the club to have a drink with a friend who came to cheer me on. I was amped up about my performance so we drank celebratory cocktails and really just felt the fantasy. Out of nowhere this guy sits down next to us, looks directly at me and goes, “I think you’re really attractive. But I normally like guys.” Oh ok. I didn’t actually ask what he was normally attracted to, so TMI, but I probed anyway.
That night I had on an opulent silver earring, small leather poom poom shorts, Doc Martens and this amazing long sleeved sequin top I found at a vintage store in Dalston. My 5 o’clock shadow was in full bloom. It’s fashion!
“But I am a guy,” I told him.
“Yeah but I mean like classic guys,” he specified. I immediately understood what he meant: he was one of those gays who always says “masc 4 masc only” or whatever, or if not that then he was clearly referencing traditional definitions and expressions of masculinity.
“Is it easy for you to meet guys like this” he genuinely wondered, probably curious about how a guy in a women’s sequin blouse and an earring meets guys.
He had a valid point.
There is so much unbridled misogyny in mainstream gay male culture that anyone who veers too far away from classic masculinity can get cut out of the loop in certain spaces, though certainly not all of them. But despite our difference in opinion I got the sense he was actually curious about someone exploring and expressing gender in a way he probably wasn’t used to seeing, and this was shocking to him. Queer theorist José Muñoz did say that the power and beauty of queer aesthetics is in its ability to astonish, to surprise, and it’s in these moments of surprise that hegemony can be reshaped, where we are pushed to rethink what we thought we already knew.
I told him that I wouldn’t even be interested in someone who was turned off or bothered by the fact that I might occasionally wear a sequin blouse or something else that doesn’t fit neatly within the gender binary. It’s a fucking shirt and it comes off with exceptional ease.
For as long as I can remember I’ve known that I was interested in non-normative expressions of gender, bored by what “masculinity” means culturally and what it is supposed to look like visually. But I am comfortable enough in my anatomy and unbothered by cultural norms to wear sequins or skirts or whatever. I identify as male, with “he” and “him” pronouns, with a strong desire to queer gender altogether.
And I’m not alone. Genderqueer is a term used by people who are also attracted to non-normative expressions of gender, knowing that their relationship to how they do gender can and may change over their lifetime. This can be expressed by how they feel inside, in their dress and also in their use of gender pronouns.
Currently, one of the most talked about gender fluid or Genderqueer celebrities is Jaden Smith, who has been seen wearing dresses, skirts, and was even cast in the 2016 Louis Vuitton womenswear campaign. The fashion industry has a history of bending gender in editorials and campaigns. Of course, the roster of celebrities who have expressed gender differently than they are supposed to stretches from Dennis Rodman and EJ Johnson to Prince and Grace Jones.
But the social reality is that people still want to categorize you even though you don’t actually want to be categorized. Keep doing you — don’t collapse to the pressure to be legible. What I don’t understand is why so many people are comfortable playing by the rules every single day. Doesn’t it get boring?