For most people, the subject of fashion is fairly lighthearted—hair, clothes, makeup, the latest hot color-combos or vogue accessories. For trans individuals, though, personal style can take on a more serious meaning; it becomes a way to express their identity.
In our current society, deviation from rigid gender norms is frequently met with hostility, and an individual’s fashion choices can play an important role as a means to exert control over how they’re seen in a world that harshly judges anyone who doesn’t conform to what is considered acceptable.
Personal style choices can be a powerful tool in alleviating dysphoria even when those choices don’t adhere to a strict masculine-or-feminine dichotomy because “gender-affirming” and “gender-conforming” are not necessarily synonymous
Even with trans models like Lea T and Laith Ashley becoming a more common sight, there is still a very narrow idea of what kind of self-expression is acceptable for trans people. There is a commonly-held belief that a trans person should try to to ‘pass’ as cisgender—i.e., hormones, surgery, and strictly masculine or feminine clothing choices, hairstyles, and accessories. Even with the popularity of androgynous fashion on the rise, trans people are still frequently expected to firmly adhere to either masculine or feminine styles of presentation.
While many trans individuals do stick close to the gender binary and base their gender presentation mainly around passing—and there’s nothing wrong with that!—there are also plenty of trans people who don’t fall strictly within the male-or-female categorization, or who will never fully pass, and they’re often ignored or ostracised for not properly fitting the mold.
The idea that cis beauty standards are aspirational— and that trans people should strive to meet these standards— is a harmful idea, because it both reinforces cisgender standards of beauty and gender expression as “correct”, and delegitimatizes the experiences of nonbinary, non-passing, and gender-nonconforming indviduals who already struggle to have their identities respected.
Personal style choices can be a powerful tool in alleviating dysphoria even when those choices don’t adhere to a strict masculine-or-feminine dichotomy because “gender-affirming” and “gender-conforming” are not necessarily synonymous. Much of the power in how someone chooses to dress comes from the fact that fashion gives a sense of control over your appearance, allowing you to feel more confident and secure in how others perceive you.
Sometimes it’s not about trying to align perfectly with male or female, but rather about simply taking what you feel inside and making an effort to project that out into the world. It might mean styling yourself to make people second-guess their initial assumptions about your gender, or presenting yourself in a way that twists and blends the concepts of “masculinity” and “femininity” into something new and beautiful.
The world doesn’t make much space for bodies like ours. Being openly trans, in and of itself, is an act of rebellion against a society that would prefer to pretend we didn’t exist. To go beyond that, to cultivate an aesthetic that embraces a deliberate rejection of cis standards of beauty, is a powerful statement of defiance and individuality. As Francis Bacon wrote in his 1625 essay “Of Beauty”, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”