A conversation about gender identity and fashion
by Alex Farr and Alta Viscomi
Disclaimer: There is nothing in this article about Daddy Issues. If that’s what you’re into, move along.
Double Disclaimer: Both people in this article, Alex Farr (F) and Alta Viscomi (V) use they/them pronouns. Alex identifies as agender (having no gender or a gender identity that is neutral) and Alta identifies as genderfluid (having a gender that varies based on season, mood, occasion, etc.). Alta wanted to present this conversation to shed light on the role of fashion and presentation in nonbinary identities. Alta has long admired Alex’s style and is certain they are a budding fashion icon.
Viscomi: Will you describe what you’re wearing and talk a little bit about it?
Farr: I’m wearing high wasted black skinny pants/jeggings, a crop cowl neck sweater—gray—and high heeled black boots. What was the other part of that question?
V: I guess like why are you wearing those things, and what do you think about when you get dressed?
F: Oh well actually I was wearing some platform Doc Martens and switched. I just like being tall. When I was putting them on, I was thinking about something my partner said about me being femme because I was wearing lipstick, and now I’m certainly more femme than usual with the heels. How do you feel about that, because you’re wearing lipstick?
V: I mean I recognize the problem of wanting to be like oh this [lipstick] is femme, this [sweatshirt] is masculine. But at the same time I feel like the fun of dressing up is invoking those for me. Although I don’t think you should have to feel femme when you’re wearing lipstick, I do put on lipstick to feel femme.
F: I think it stood out that I intentionally put lipstick on because I was dressing very masculine and androgynous and I was like I wanna fuck with this. And I like doing that with my clothing, just fucking with gender.
V: Yeah! And that can be frustrating about other people when there are intricate things going on with the way you’re dressing and someone’s like, “Oh today you’re butch,” and it’s like, “No, I am all of the things.”So because you brought up a conversation with your partner already, I’ll ask you: do you think the way your partner identifies, and maybe more so like the way they present [presenting is how one’s dress, hair, demeanor suggests certain gender identity] and what their style is… like does that influence your style at all? Whether or not you want it to?
F: Well my previous partner, yes. But this was before I came out with my pronouns as they/them. So I was still going by she and I still felt like I had to act more feminine. But this current partner—well I mean he’s a dude, like cis. And he doesn’t fuck with gender in any way in the way he dresses but he has very feminine qualities, which I appreciate. So I feel free to just be any way I want to dress, but it does influence how I’m interacting with him.
V: Yeah, I think I’ve wondered what it would be like to be dating a cis person because I’m also dating a nonbinary person and that itself has caused some interesting questions for my identity and style. Like they just cut all of their hair off and it was so funny that I had this instant reaction…where I was like, “Ok. I’m growing my hair out now, now we need a femme.”
F: Like restore the balance.
V: Maybe this could be like the lipstick idea, where yes, my identity is so not straight and cis, but that’s why it’s fun: like we’re pretending to be straight, but is so clear to everyone that we’re not.
F: So do you feel like when you’re dressing more feminine you’re pretending to be straight?
V: I guess so… but almost in a dressing up way.
F: Like a costume?
V: Like a costume!
F: I mean clothing is costuming. I separate my identity and my gender expression and I don’t feel any obligation to have them match. I know that’s confusing because then people don’t know how to address me or they’ll misgender me. But at the same time I’m like, “Fuck that.” I don’t want to feel like I have to be dressing a certain way because of my gender. My gender is not a thing… I mean, agender is an identity, it’s not what clothing I’m wearing.
V: You said that your gender and your identity expression, they don’t have to sync up and they aren’t really a reflection of the other. So what is your style communicating? Is it measuring something inside of you?
F: I don’t know. I don’t know if it is measuring something deeper than what feels comfortable and what makes me feel sexy, or strong, or just like…I was lazy that day? I think definitely when I was exploring my identity, I was using fashion to figure it out. I thought that because I felt more comfortable in masculine clothing that meant something. And maybe it did, because I didn’t know any other way of exploring myself. Because they don’t teach us about [gender identity]. I really had to figure out myself and figure out my identity and learn about gender fluidity and gender non-conforming identity because no one was telling me. And you don’t see it, there’s no representation of that. How do you represent something that doesn’t conform to gender, when all of our clothes are gendered?
V: That’s so true. Society claims an interest in clothing that is so superficial, but clothes are always the first access point. It is the most visible.
F: But after you came out, was there a conscious change?
V: Oh you mean like… I have to bind [to flatten one’s boobs], or I have to look like it, whatever “it” means? I definitely felt that pressure. It made my default clothing change. I notice that if I have twenty minutes to get ready for class, I was suddenly dressing a lot more masculine than I used to. It suddenly becomes my thoughtless choice. But I think I’m starting to move away from that. I’m starting to become more comfortable in becoming feminine again, and that expresses itself in really small ways, like, often, some days it’s just the underwear I’m wearing. Like feeling that I can wear feminine underwear or lipstick. It’s funny how coming out as genderqueer actually suppressed a part of my gender expression for awhile. What about you?
F: Its been a very long process, but I think being in For Colored Girls [a recent CC production] made me realize how much I don’t identify with being a woman. Well, obviously I understand what its like to be a woman because of my body, and how I am perceived. But it was so much saturation of femininity that made me realize, “Wow, this is not who I am.” The identity that makes me most comfortable is one that is gender-less. I feel a freedom to explore other fashion, but I did always have a desire for androgyny. But I read something that was talking about how much that idea [of androgyny] is mass produced… that genderqueer is always like, super androgynous female. But that’s not the only identity, and that’s not the only way to be genderqueer and it’s kind of fucked up that neutral has to be something that is masculine.
V: As much as we were just saying that there’s no such thing as genderqueer representation, it does seem like the only thing we get is like skinny, born-female white people who transition to being androgynous with feminine facial features. I agree that as a society, we respect women acting more masculine because it seen as like, “You’re getting serious, you’re discarding your femininity and all that frivolity, and now you’re gonna be a serious person in the world,” while the other way (masculine to feminine) is like weak, or less respected.
F: I think we also have restricted definitions of how someone who is trans should look. And I felt that pressure. I feel like I need the most neutral body type, but at the same time that’s just going to generate so much hatred of myself to strive for that. And that’s fine for others who need that physical change to feel comfortable with who they are. I saw some other thing about a person who transitioned from male to female where they kept their body hair, and were somehow seen as less feminine. But [cis] feminist women who keep their body hair, are just being feminist and empowered, but when trans women keep their body hair its somehow seen as less feminine. Its almost like we’re reverting back to strict definitions of femininity for people who are trans and I feel like that’s bull crap.
V: I think as two people who have experienced female beauty standards, especially talking about hair removal… I guess that’s always something I’ve empathized with in male to female or trans femme [when a person is nonbinary and wishes to present as feminine] transitions is having to remove your facial hair every day being so exhausting. Like…how can you live? I totally respect people who want to do that and have time for it but Jesus how unrealistic of a standard is that to be held to? But I think that’s interesting how For Colored Girls was a turning point for you. Was it because the content was woman focused? Or was it being in an all female cast?
F: I think it was all of it! Content, cast and costuming. It just felt like a very long, very feminine month or two. I almost felt a little guilty. I felt like I couldn’t… it made my identity stand out to say, “This isn’t me. I understand this story, I have lived this story, but this is not who I am.” Maybe it was something about those long braids… I did want them initially so we created a whole look. It was interesting that having the long hair gave me the freedom to pull off very feminine looks. Like this hair I have now, this short buzzed fade, I would feel awkward in the clothing I was wearing when I had long hair. Which is weird. I should be able to wear whatever I’m feeling but at the same time I was more inclined towards femininity with long hair.
And you have to wonder, was that the aesthetic or the socialization? How do you separate those? I met the person I’m with now when I was super feminine, so there was a little bit of anxiety around coming out. I was a woman to them when we met and I think we still need to have conversations about my identity. It’s complicated. It’s really hard to explain something that someone else has not experienced. But if you’re cis you don’t have to explain your gender. “Why are you genderqueer?” I just am. I don’t know how to explain it.
You know, funny thing, a guy I was dating, his name was Grayson, well his name is still Grayson, but now they identify as female. And that made so much sense to me, that I was attracted to them. I think I am definitely attracted to the femininity in all people.
V: What about in terms of theater and performance for you now. Do you think about it differently now that you’re genderqueer? Like your identity as a performer and the roles you want to do, has that changed at all?
F: It’s a hard situation because I still physically look very much like a woman so I can obviously play those parts. I think it has to be a separation of myself and the stage. I don’t think I would be cast in any male roles, and there certainly aren’t any genderqueer roles, which is unfortunate. But that’s the freedom of writing for theater is that you can write those roles. And I feel a strong desire to write those roles.
V: That’s what you’re writing right now in your thesis?
F: I am. It’s called, “Limbo.” It’s a play about two people, Ella and August, and Ella comes out to their partner as being trans and yes, it’s about them coming out, but is also about, this is so cheesy, but discovering yourself with another person, and how you fit into another person’s life. And to be comfortable with yourself enough to need someone, but at the same time, to be OK if they were to leave. And that’s what’s going through Ella’s head as they are coming out to August. And there are troubles, obviously. It’s not all roses. I don’t want to give away anything, also I haven’t finished writing it.
V: Right, well thankfully you can’t give it away if you don’t know what happens. But it sounds like those are all of the things we were just talking about.
F: Right, I just write my life.
V: I only recently learned that doing that is not cheating. I thought for a long time that you were a terrible writer if you were just changing the names and writing about your own experiences.
F: Well, you have to understand that what you are going through is certainly relatable to somebody and it’s the most honest thing you could put on paper… Do you want to talk about what you’re wearing, and your decision?
V: I am wearing ankle boots that everyone at CC wears, with the elastic band and the rubber soles. And then I am wearing my super gay green khakis and an athletic shirt that makes me feel like a British boy, and a sweatshirt, and a jean jacket, and dark red lipstick, which is very hard to apply. When I was cis I had no interest in lipstick, but now it seems like the core of my queer fashion. Lipstick is almost a genderfucking [intentionally fucking with expected gender roles] hack. Like if you dress masculine and then you put lipstick on it is just like…
V: Yep, genderfucked.