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First impressions last and clothing is a statement, presenting the wearer of the garment to the world as a person defined by their appearance and taste. Clothing and style have always been a factor in one’s identity. The length of one’s skirt is seen as a reflection of the wearer’s degree of modesty. The color represents what they identify as, having blue as an indicator of masculinity and pink for femininity. The way one dresses up reflects their lifestyle and interests. In this binary world where man is placed in a mold that dictates man’s preferences and lifestyle, to deviate from such norms and to wear clothes that are not usually specified and directed towards one’s perceived identity sparks question and curiosity towards their gender identity. Gender expression is the display of one’s chosen identity through the use of displays such as clothing and appearance. The role of clothing on the gender identity and expression of a person can either be a tool used to help clarify their expression or a hindrance to their freedom and lifestyle.

Before one can understand the relationship between these two ideas, it is best to clarify the concept of gender. Since the beginning of Western dominance and bias in the field of thought, gender has been a binary, branching off into two classifications: the male and the female. This idea, however, cannot be equated yet can be linked to sex, which is anchored on sciences and biology, or to sexuality, which is the preference of a person towards the other. Gender is a manmade construct which, according to Østergaard (1992), heavily depends on human connections and interactions (p. 6). Gender, thus, consists of tangible or intangible characteristics that encompass a person’s culture which is set upon a spectrum that ranges from masculinity to femininity. Currently, there are three major kinds of gender that can be derived from the numerous identities: the cisgender or the gender dictated upon them since birth; transgender, wherein the person belongs to the gender that was not assigned to them at birth; and lastly, the genderqueer or the midpoint of the spectrum, the classification that consists of those who identify as neither male nor female (Adams, 2017). The non-binary community is a complex structure that branches off into multiple subgroups. Its line breaches the borders of the transgender community as the non-binary, too, can identify as such, considering the discourse on cross-dressers, the intersex, and transsexuals (Doan, 2016). Still, both communities have a shared struggle in gender expression, especially with the increasing enforcement of the gender binary to the point that violence and injustice may arise. This binary, stated by Rahilly (2015), works under a “truth regime” or an ideology wherein the idea is already ingrained into one’s thoughts since their early development stages. A child is educated on the gender binary in order to decrease the possibility of them deviating from their biological sex and dictated gender. Through this enforcement of ideology, the gender binary continues to grow stronger. However, Rahilly (2015) adds that even if one attempts to educate or enforce a child or an individual on remaining true to their initial gender and sex, deviance will eventually still occur naturally in society.

With the emergence of the concept of the non-binary blurring the lines between the once-strictly enforced ideas of masculinity and femininity, the non-binary creates ambiguity in the construction of gender identity and expression. The non-binary choose to deviate from the idea of women having to be feminine and men having to be masculine at all times. This deviation could be seen in their gender expression or in the way they present themselves to society. Commonly, this is seen in the way a non-binary person chooses to dress. However, one’s appearance does not necessarily and automatically give off the person’s identity. In the paper written by Lucal (1999), one has three different identities: the self-identity, the presented identity, and the perceived identity, each kind differing on who the observer is (p. 784). While it is clear that self-identity is what somebody chooses to identify as the self-identity could be projected and perceived in different manners. A person can present to society their desired gender through their actions and appearances. However, as mentioned before, gender is perceived and dictated by society. What the other may view may not be equivalent to the self-identity and chosen or assigned gender of a person. This confusion, this misgendering caused by society towards a person, is a struggle that is being faced by both the genderqueer community and the cisgender and the clothing choices of a person manage to find themselves as a major factor to how one’s perceived or presented identity is taken by both the wearer and the observer.

Clothing and gender go hand in hand. Felshin (1995) writes that the discussion on clothing and identity has focused on the mutual relationship between the two and how customs play a heavy role in the two concepts, unlike the traditional mindset, wherein identity was simply viewed as something biological and predetermined (p. 20). The discourse on clothing choices, fashion, and style does not dismiss the role of gender identity for like art, fashion is a reflection of reality.

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The way clothing is constructed is a factor in gender expression. Ruffles and billowing fabrics are seen to be expressions and displays of femininity and shoulder pads, popularized in the 1980s, worn by women emphasized strength yet still drew itself back to its masculine origins. According to Aspers and Godart (2013), style is created by long-term customs and norms, stretching itself out into clothing and fashion (p.174). Through these styles emerges a binary that strictly separates and dictates humans to display their identity to the public. Clothing is one of the many visual forms of gender display or a way one presents their identity to the public through means like cosmetics, behavior, and mannerisms (Lucal, 1999, p.784). Gender is an important factor in design as clothes express masculinity and femininity through patterns such as florals, fabrics like silk and velour, and colors like pink and blue. Historically speaking, pink and blue as identifiers of femininity and masculinity respectively only began in the early 20th century, the same period when adult fashion trends were enforced on children, thus making the wall between the two ends of the spectrum even higher (Paoletti, 1987, p. 136-137). Seeing the dynamics between society and their perception of gender identity, clothing becomes an indicator and a norm to what defines a certain group of people. Yet as mentioned before, the wider range and more open-minded view on gender breaks this wall clothing has created in between the gender spectrum. Since clothing and style have always been open to interpretation and in constant change, the use of clothing as a means to express one’s gender, too, is in a state of fluctuating uncertainty (Aspers and Godart, 2013, p. 185). The rise of a more masculine approach in women’s fashion abolishes the concept of femininity being a combination of flowery silk shirts and form-fitting dresses. The more accessible these designs are to certain genders promotes a wider range of gender expression and comfort within one’s own body yet can create a detrimental effect to a person’s gender expression as parts of society continue to remain unadjusted to the current openness towards those who choose neither end of the gender spectrum.

Not everybody finds clothing as a carrier of ease and convenience. With gender expression often being interpreted by not the wearer of the garment themselves, misinterpretations may arise and one may be perceived to belong to the gender they do not actually identify with. Misgendering is a situation wherein a person is mistaken to be of the wrong gender. This could happen by using the wrong pronouns, whether intentionally or not. In relation to clothing, misgendering happens when a person is perceived to be of a different gender due to their appearance. A woman may prefer to be clad in a style usually worn by those who identify as males and thus may have a chance of experiencing being identified as such. Local (1999) narrates in her research her experience as a woman who was constantly thought of as a man due to how she dressed up in public and how misgendering became troublesome for her everyday life, from being barred from restrooms to having to undergo long lines, questioning, and clarifications when availing for public services. Misgendering is an inconvenience as it hinders people from having the lifestyle they wish to have. Even if one chooses not to identify with a specific gender, society continues to dictate their gender expression due to the displays being projected and the norms being created. In addition, deviating from the norm and expressing one’s self-identity to the public poses a high risk of being subjected to oppression and inequalities. Common gender displays and the gender binary imposes people to dress and appear to be the gender they are not, thus creating an inequality between genders forced and expected by the normative force or in this case, the heterosexual community (Brower, 2013, p. 496-499). The continuing imposition of the norm and the binary through the strict enforcement of assigning clothes to a specific gender ensures the strength of the common ideology of gender as a binary.

As the strict enforcement of clothing customs and cultures invades the lifestyle of each individual, the non-cisgender community relies heavily on clothing in order to identify with the gender they lean more toward. From years of experiencing discomfort within one’s own body, clothing serves as a way for one to formulate their own identity and be comfortable with their own body. In the case of gender-neutral, clothing becomes a symbol of defiance and deviation from the norms society and those in power, such as the patriarchy, have accustomed us to follow. As stated by Stachowiak (2013), the gender binary is broken by the gender expression of the genderqueer (p.118). This idea of empowerment through comfort isn’t just an idea experienced by the LGBT but by those who choose to wear clothes that are usually designated for the opposite gender, breaking down the concept of masculinity and femininity. As times progress, fashion slowly stops becoming a set of rules and standards yet a choice one can make. With changing styles and trends, clothing becomes a more inclusive product that accommodates all gender identities and responds to the growing needs of the non-binary.

Looking at how clothing and gender interact with one another, it is seen that gender expression and identity heavily rely on one’s external appearance and on the perception of society on the person who knowingly or unknowingly chooses to deviate from society’s standards of fashion and expression. As stated in the research written by Stachowiak (2013), “Clothes make the queer (p. 162).” To deviate from the norm can pose a benefit to the wearer as it strengthens their pride and reinforces their identity in a community they chose to be a part of. However, due to the truth regime and ideology of the gender binary, deviation may lead to violence or insecurity and struggle within one’s own body. As stated by Lucal (1999), the dominant gender and power, which is heterosexuality and the patriarchy, is the center of the creation and the enforcement of the binary and the rules surrounding gender expression and identity (p. 794). Seeing this situation, these norms enforced onto society by fragile masculinity and the patriarchy continue to slow down the progression of society and the hopes of a gender deviant to find comfort within and without.

References:

    1. Adams, C. (2017, March 24). The gender identity terms you need to know. CBS News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/transgender-gender-identity-terms-glossary/
    2. Aspers, P., & Godart, F. (2013). Sociology of fashion: Order and change. Annual Review of Sociology, 39, 171-192. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.engglib.upd.edu.ph/stable/43049631
    3. Brower, T. (2013). What’s in the closet: Dress and appearance codes and lessons from sexual orientation. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 32(5), 491-502. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.engglib.upd.edu.ph/10.1108/EDI-02-2013-0006
    4. Doan, P. L. (2016). To count or not to count: Queering measurement and the transgender community. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 44(3), 89-110. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.engglib.upd.edu.ph/10.1353/wsq.2016.0037
    5. Felshin, N. (1995). Clothing as Subject. Art Journal, 54(1), 20-29. doi:10.2307/777502
    6. Lucal, B. (1999). What it means to be gendered me: Life on the boundaries of a dichotomous gender system. Gender and Society, 13(6), 781-797. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.engglib.upd.edu.ph/stable/190440
    7. Østergaard, L. (1992). Gender and development: a practical guide. London: Routledge.
    8. Paoletti, J. (1987). Clothing and gender in America: children’s fashions, 1890-1920. Signs, 13(1), 136-143. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.engglib.upd.edu.ph/stable/3174031
    9. Rahilly, E. (2015). The gender binary meets the gender-variant child: Parents’ negotiations with childhood gender variance. Gender and Society, 29(3), 338-361. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.engglib.upd.edu.ph/stable/43669975
    10. Stachowiak, D. M. (2013). Queer(ing) gender: A critical analysis of thinking, embodying, and living genderqueer (Order No. 3592838). Available from ProQuest Central. (1436287532). Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.engglib.upd.edu.ph/docview/1436287532?accountid=47253

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