Developing a Personal Style Through a Transgender Lens
By: Atira Feliciano
Developing a signature style can take years to accomplish and can be an important part of expressing one’s identity. From the time children are able to dress themselves, they learn what makes them look and feel like their best selves. If someone has a strong sense of self, this can be an easy task. But for a person who is struggling to accept or figure out who they really are, the seemingly simple act of picking out clothes can be difficult.
It’s certainly not an easy task for someone who is transgender in Oklahoma.
Emmett Chisenhall is a junior at OSU and has had a unique experience with how clothes and style can affect a person’s identity.
Chisenhall first began to notice he wasn’t a straight, cisgender person when he was around 12 years old. Growing up he primarily went shopping with his family, who always took him to the girl’s section of different department stores. He didn’t realize he didn’t have to dress like a girl until around middle school, but he still tended to stick to the girl’s section.
“I didn’t want my mom to ask any questions or my parents to start any conversations I wasn’t ready to have,” he says. “I wanted to be like a regular person and dress like the other people in school thought I was supposed to.”
The first time he felt truly himself and comfortable in what he was wearing wasn’t until his freshman year of high school. The feeling of confidence came when he was doing cosplay with his friends and tried on a binder for the first time. Binders are worn under clothing to compress the chest and reduce the appearance of breasts. He had heard of people wearing them when dressing up as male characters, but had never used one himself.
“It was a completely new experience for me,” he says. The summer after graduating high school, he got his first personal binder. “I felt a complete shift in how I viewed myself.”
Having a binder changed his attitude toward shopping as well.“It just helped me feel more comfortable dressing how I wanted to dress and finding my own fashion sense without feeling worried about how I would look or if people would see me a certain way.”
Today Chisenhall does much of his shopping online, not worrying about which section he shops in. In person, he still says it takes a conscious effort to go to the men’s section.
“Now it kind of flip-flops and depends because I’m getting into the space where I just want to wear things I’ll feel comfortable wearing, so I don’t really pay attention to if they’re from the men’s section or the women’s section.”
Recently, brands have begun to put less emphasis on a product’s designated gender and instead market to everyone. American Eagle released a fragrance line called “For Him, For Her, For All” and Target has a gender neutral section online.
Chisenhall says that he has seen stores begin to be more inclusive in recent years, which makes going shopping much easier. He mentioned that many stores now have sections without gender labels, like tee shirts. “It’s…just really refreshing to see because that alleviates a lot of the stress about going into another section and being worried that someone might not think that you should be there.”
Recently there has been some controversy surrounding celebrities who do not identify as non-binary or LQBT and are endorsing less restrictive gender roles in fashion. When asked about how he felt about cisgender celebrities “challenging” gender stereotypes in fashion, Chisenhall says he feels like that is a good thing, for the most part.
“Better known celebrities or models do help with breaking down barriers in the fashion world since that’s been a very gendered and very divided thing before,” he says. Sometimes however, Chisenhall feels like celebrities embrace these non-binary fashion trends "more for a publicity stunt or a marketing plot rather than to make trans, gender fluid and non-binary people in general feel more comfortable with shopping.”
While many stores are becoming more inclusive, Chisenhall says that marketing plays a huge role in determining where to shop.
“Whenever I see a lot of places that target more to, or only really have thinner models that are exclusively either really masculine or feminine, I’ll typically just stay away from those.”
Chisenhall emphasized that he thinks diversity plays a large role in successful marketing.
“It has a lot to do, I think, with including LGBT people within these kind of campaigns and ads or really talking to them about how they present themselves because then the ads can start using very coded language that might only be okay to use in certain communities.”
The fashion industry has begun to make strides in creating stores with accessible and comfortable places for all customers, but there is still a long way to go.
“I don’t see enough back-and-forth conversation within fashion communities and fashion industries with a lot of trans, gender non-conforming or LGBT individuals that makes me feel satisfied or comfortable.”
Clothes are a way for people to show the world how they want the world to perceive them. For someone who is LGBT this can be especially impactful. Being able to fully express yourself takes courage and it is important to recognize and celebrate those who have been able to make being yourself possible.
Cisgender: A term used by some to describe people who are not transgender. "Cis-" is a Latin prefix meaning "on the same side as," and is therefore an antonym of "trans-." A more widely understood way to describe people who are not transgender is simply to say non-transgender people. (GLAAD)
Non-binary and/or genderqueer: Terms used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as non-binary and/or genderqueer. (GLAAD)
Gender identity: One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One's gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth. (HRC)
Gender non-conforming: A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category. (HRC)
Gender-fluid: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a person who does not identify with a single fixed gender; of or relating to a person having or expressing a fluid or unfixed gender identity. (HRC)
Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. (HRC)
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