We Exist and That’s Pretty Radical
wherein I disagree with a recent article from Slate

A recent article from Outward: “Slate’s home for coverage of LGBTQ life, thought, and culture.” by Delilah Friedler entitled Gender Collusion poses the following question in its subtitle: People living outside the binary used to be outlaws. Now, gender nonconformity is fashionable. Can the GNC community still claim to be radical?

The article hones in on the appropriation of gender nonconforming identities by corporations – especially in the fashion industry – and calls for a rejection of this superficial victory. Friedler’s article has two main points: 1) “As a genderfluid person myself, I’m concerned that our normalization comes at the expense of our radical edge.” and 2) the urging in an investment in “the things that make us different and strive toward forms of liberation that will never be for sale.”

I’ve got some issues with these, so let’s address them one at a time.

“As a genderfluid person myself, I’m concerned that our normalization comes at the expense of our radical edge.”

“… our normalization…” Say what!? Seeing representation in high-end, runway-type fashion is great, but I’d hardly call it normalization. For me, a confident adult with a supportive family and circle of friends, living in Orange County (California), things are pretty good – but, still, explaining my identity is a frequent experience, as are weird looks, especially in restrooms. And I’m sure things are pretty great in Brooklyn and Portland. But for so many, just being your true, nonbinary, gender nonconforming self is pretty radical.

For example Lori Duron’s blog, Raising My Rainbow, chronicles the “adventures of raising a fabulous, gender creative son.” Over the last year, many of those adventures have focused on the terrible bullying CJ endured at school – at the hands of one of his (now former) best friends. Just being himself, being happy and healthy, and thriving, is a radical act.

Raising My Rainbow, blog
Raising My Rainbow – adventures of raising a fabulous, gender creative son

Just because a few fashion brands have featured gender nonconforming and/or nonbinary people doesn’t mean we’re no longer radical. Seriously, in many cases, just by existing, we are radical.

“… the things that make us different and strive toward forms of liberation that will never be for sale.”

Friedler includes this fantastic bit of history is included in the article:

A zine distributed at NYC Pride in 1990 argued that, “being queer means leading a different sort of life. It’s not about the mainstream, profit margins, patriotism, patriarchy, or being assimilated.”

It’s followed up with this statement, “For those who agree, representation on the runways of Paris or in a Condé Nast magazine will never be enough. Our power is in our queerness, which is to say, in our distance from the toxic mainstream.”

Again, just because a few fashion brands have featured gender nonconforming and/or nonbinary people doesn’t mean we’re no longer radical. In many cases, just by existing, we’re radical.

We're Here, We're Queer, We Riot
We’re Here, We’re Queer!

Going even further and deciding to act radical, as Friedler is seemingly to ask us to do, is a luxury; it’s an incredible privilege that not all queer or gender nonconforming people have. I would argue that most gender nonconforming people don’t have it (with, perhaps, the exception of tomboys, who have traditionally experienced greater acceptance). Most of us are are just living our lives and many of us are unable to fully express our gender identities/presentations because of social/employer/family pressure.

The appropriation of nonbinary culture by the fashion industry that Friedler hones in on is certainly happening. That we should recognize and reject this commodification is a great call to action, but I prefer to promote following: Be as radical as you can! If that’s publicly raising a fist and saying, “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re radical!” – super!! If it’s cautiously and bravely acting and dressing according to your true identity, that’s just as amazing!

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