(Fashion talks is part of Fashion Clash, which had “gender”as this years theme).
Good afternoon to all of you, on the gender spectrum, especially the gender outlaws
My name is Willemijn da Campo
I thank fashion clash for the invitation to present my take on gender codes and prescribed identities. Since gender is what makes my world turn, It’s rather daring instead of easy, as fashion clash suggests, to let these issues go,
So, Let me go into my world of gender first
I am a woman of transgender history
Which means in my case that I was assigned male at birth, but in my heart and brain i identified as female. I do not feel I grew into a man, though I performed it. I walked the spectrum between genders and saw some perspectives. My experience is that now, there is a little space between the two dominant genders, male and female. I lived part time as a female for 5 years and full time for nearly 20 years.
I have come home to myself. I am a trans*feminist, activist and advocate, Lesbian, but potentially bisexual, queer, and not fitting the binary. The labels that are meant to communicate myself, do not contain all of me.
Being assigned boy when you feel you are a woman means trouble.
Therefore, I have a question for you: I hope you can answer it at the end of these 15 minutes.
The question is: what privileges could I lose in my transition?
It was even more trouble in the time I grew up. As a child with gender issues I observed meticulously in order to copy behaviour and pass and behave in my birth sex. But still I was readable for peers and I faced lots of bullying.
I once, until age 5, was a kind, smiling and sociable child. At age five I could secretly still dream
of the dress I would wear at communion.
I pulled my sweater to my knees and voila, it felt like a dress.
I Threw a towel over my head and had long hair.
Enveloped my legs with a blanket and was a mermaid.
and things would feel better.
At age seven I knew my birth sex was accountable for who I was supposed to be, I withdrew and became an observer. In order to feel what I needed I took stored clothes from others on the attic. Outdated, the wrong season, worn or your mothers clothes because they fit more easily, I was very aware that it was not fashionable, fitting or meant to do. And as I grew older, the clothes simply didn’t fit. At age 15 I secretly burst out of my mother’s wedding dress, after I got into a panic because someone nocked on a closed door. The presence of the torn wedding dress in the box laying there to be found by my mother inspired fear for years. My only luck was, that my sister refused to play the wedding dress fitting sessions anymore with my mother.
My body grew in a shape and size where I did not fit in those secret dressing sessions of my own. At age 21, I could not fit hats, rings, gloves, bracelets, shoes and upper clothing. I felt like having a life sentence in my body shape and size. I had a sample size for male clothing and everyone loved it, except me. The fitting was easy but I was not in it. I felt like a clothing peg.
As I started transitioning, I panicked when clothes did not fit, especially when I couldn’t take them off when they got stuck around my chest. In my female identity, I am hardly sample size though some envy my length. Clothing and the binary presentation of it were often an enemy.
But, I tried eh, once, winning a fashion show with 5 models in a secret trans* meeting.
It is a long way where I come from, to where I stand now. It took a lot of balls to go where I needed to. I strongly identified cross gender and was obstructed for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I did not have malicious parents. Who I was, was simply unthinkable. No words, no repertoire, no space.
Being normalised and receiving reparative treatment was my part. That’s a long time ago and now I can be a fierce woman who knows her way in trans*issues. I also was around when gender variance got a name and diversification of trans*identities became visible. My own expression and possibilities changed too. I grew out of being a stereotypical binary woman. In the last 10 years we leap forward as a community.
Let me take you for a minute to what holds diversity back :
There is a very strong gender normativity used by the mainstream that rules this world, to police what is right and wrong, and affects me, other variant people, women and a lot of other people.
Gender normativity is a binary construct
The birth sex is defining, , intersex is wiped out
Behaviour is installed and policed according to birth sex
And should be masculine or feminine
differences between the sexes are created in this process
Masculinity is superior
You can’t switch or linger in between
It is a lifelong commitment.
Be hetero, mate the other sex, stay together, be monogamous and have children. Fitting in has a bigger societal survival rate and it comes with privilege. Non-conformance is punished.
I have often felt like a litmus test, I colour red in acid environments.
Transphobia hit me the hardest, definitely, female colleagues saying that they are disgusted changing clothes next to me.
Misogyny is a second, buying a car is startling now, they suddenly try to sell me a colour on wheels. And having an opinion as a female is rather inconvenient to others. I definitely know why feminism is needed.
As a lesbian, some men think they can join in, or that I need them to convince me of loving men.
I want to turn my head towards fashion now.
As an industry for the consumer market, I feel that the majority of it still produces for the binary system, and subscribes to it.With separate colour schemes, prints, materials and designs and sizes. I had hope of dropping walls when the skirt for men was propagated in high end fashion several times but it never became a reality.
Of course there is more overlap than 40 years ago, which I feel predominantly as a broadening of the possibilities for females to express themselves.
Why is the male repertoire still more narrow in its expression?
I feel from my experience, both my own and what I learned from a lot of trans*females that femininity in males makes you lose a lot of credibility and your male privileges. Whereas masculinity in females is much more appreciated and less scolded. Males in general prevent to signal femininity.
I felt space in the androgynous aspects of high end fashion and the designer stages of fashion
at the same time, they are permanently presented by models of sample size and not available for mainstream society nor fitting for real life. It seems more of an expression thing for those that are rich and beautiful. Even this is not new, the upper class and powerful could always act out their individuality. And that’s a general impression I have, that all is boiled down to agency. If you are privileged in being white, have a conforming body, a big bank account, heterosexual, are young.
Nevertheless, there are some exciting aspects arising in fashion.
People with trans*identities are becoming more present in fashion shows.
How about it?
Caroline Cossey, was the first transgender model I heard of and saw in the boulevard press around 1980. She was what I longed for, but the reason she was in the news was, that she was outed as “a deceptive person, not the woman she claimed to be, but a man”. Her career diminished. To me it was a bummer.
Since 2010 the presence of women of transgender* identity is on the rise. Let’s have a look
What do they have in common: They are beautiful, but most of them fear rejection, to be detected when they are not out, and a diminishing career and an interpretation of their identity that portray them is deceptive and neglect of the female identity in favourite of looking at body parts.
Let me show you some of them: Andreja Pejic, Geena Rocero, Lea T, Isis King, Jenna Talackova, Arisce Wanzer, Valentijn de Hingh and Hari Nef.
I welcome that my soul sisters are given space to work as the beautiful professionals they are, and it’s wonderful to see their success. Most of the women I showed look like beautiful and extraordinary women to me and deserve their place as a model.
I ask myself if there is more space in society and if it opens up to trans issues? From the comments of the models I have stumbled upon, they voice concern that their identity might obstruct or diminish their career. Their presence does not necessarily mean there is an interest in identity, but an interest in features that are interesting.
I turn to Casey Legler and Hari Nef,
Those who state political things out of the personal and that’s how it operates for me too.
Casey Legler Is a genderqueer female bodied model showing men’s cloth. Being political on the reception of trans*identity in fashion who clearly identifies and voices a problem:
“We are only too familiar with the mainstream’s difficulty in celebrating difference (when it’s not being entirely destructive to it). Corporations and the traditional media have not yet learned how to resolve this: in the public discourse the celebration is often sanitised and white-washed (sometimes literally) for profit – and by this I do mean corporate profit”.
The signal that 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQI identified cannot be overseen.
Hari Nef says
“I don’t think fashion is interested in trans issues. Fashion is having a moment with trans aesthetics, not trans issues”.
Then I turn to the trans masculine? Where are they?
It is hard to comment on the absence of something, but it must have a reason. I can’t go into it just now. But it sticks out as contrary to everyday life.
I will conclude this talk with some remarks:
I definitely see more presence and awareness on trans issues in society in general.
I see a society where there is more blurring of gender lines in presentation and expression, but mostly in the realm of western oriented territory only.
I welcome facebooks initiative in the USA to give more than 50 definitions to choose from how to identify yourself.
There is no question in my own mind that the interest of fashion in trans is more esthetical. I can only hope it is not voyeuristic in nature.
The androgyny in fashion is long time present as far as I can see, but I do not I am the person to answer why.
A good way to work for specific groups with a certain identity is to customise on demand of the group
A. I see that Gender ambiguity in clothing on the street is achieved by recombining fashion items from different times, style and expressive nature. This recombining is more a personal thing. It might be a chance for fashion advisors to assist people how to dress in a more fitting way for your identity by recombining.
B. Fashion might go into specific demands: Fit clothing to their size and expression. customize their clothing to cater to a specific group. A good example for this is:
Haute Butch Who customize their clothing to a specific group. “Handsome apparel for women, butches, studs, bois and transmen”.
I return to the question I asked earlier.
What privileges could I lose in my transition?
Having a normative body.
Finally I want to thank the pope for its contribution. ( I showed the pope in a cartoon wearing a Marilyn Monroe dress flying up and rainbow nickers )
The pope stipulated on the danger of transgender identity for traditional society, referring to an neutron bomb of the 21st century,
and damn, we are
Willemijn da Campo
Thanks for your attention, and I hope it contributes to a discussion
Picture by K. van Egmond