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The LGBT community has made enormous strides since June 28th, 1969 and with our increasing visibility and acceptance into mainstream culture has come a greater understanding of the nuances and shades of human sexuality and gender identity. Some would like a Q added on, as Queer better describes a fluid and malleable sense of self where concepts of male/female mix freely like sample scents at the Saks perfume counters.
Of note was the recent kerfuffle around Mx. Justin Vivian Bond’s profile in New York Magazine. Admittedly New York is a publication catering toward an urbane and educated readership, but this was still quite a mainstream outlet to be addressing something as niche (even in the gay community) as a type of gender fluidity that is beyond even Trans; not being born in the wrong gender, but essentially having no gender.
My own social circle casts rather a wide net: variety being the spice of life and myself being a rather curious individual who is absolutely fascinated by people. I pride myself on having friends from all walks of life, and count many persons with no self-identified gender as intimates and associates. From boys who love heels, to girls who bind, to the explosive diversity of the (often tiresomely narcissistic) Club Kid scene, I have more than a handful of people in my life who change personalities as often as they change their jeans.
In the Downtown milieu (Downtown now also includes Brooklyn) waifish androgyny is a social cultivar and there are lots of pretty boys that look like pretty girls, and vice-versa.
So it was on a lazy Sunday after a dinner party, watching movies with my friend Jess, when I was flipping through the past two issues of Vogue when I was delighted by, among other things, a series of spreads for the Fall ’11 campaign for Dolce & Gabbana.
Initially the advertisements appeared to contain the usual multitude of heroin-chic vaguely androgynous models popularized by the likes of Calvin Klein and David Sorrenti in the mid-1990’s. In my Sunday morning THC haze there seemed to be nothing innovative about some pretty girls sitting on the laps of pretty boys in fedoras and tight black pants. I can walk down the street to a bar in my neighborhood and see the same thing on any given weeknight.
Then I looked closer and was delighted to discover they were all girls.
What looked in fact like a standard issue designer spread in an over-hyped self-important glossy rag was in fact subtly inverting that tableaux to subvert traditional gender roles. Even this second cursory glance could be brushed aside by someone with no knowledge of the concept of Gender Queer (this fact in and of itself also rather subversive) as a lark ‘oh they dressed them like boys, how darling.’ But there are a good five or six of theseads, with lithe young women in men’s clothing sitting with legs splayed and aggressively grasping the waists of the models portraying the role of the traditional female. It went beyond typical androgyny to an aggressive stance and assertion of masculinity on the part of females.
And while it is true that Japanese Vogue ran a spread of Lady Gaga as a Drag King, that was an editorial choice of that particular magazine and something that was viewed as yet another piece of her Performance-Art-Fame-Machine. I’m not undermining the fact that it was actually very provocative, and one of the more interesting iterations of Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, but it was not an unannounced well-manicured ad in Anna Wintour’s Bible for Bored Housewives With Aspirational Lifestyle Fantasies. The very lack of fanfare and the fact that it was in American Vogue is what I find to be the most intriguing elements of the campaign.
I mean, Marc Jacob managed to get his ad featuring two men kissing banned from Men’s Vogue, but again the very Under the Radar nature of D&G’s Fall 2011 Campaign is what I find most appealing about it. I almost missed it and only upon further reflection did I realize how it undermined traditional gender roles using a fairly standard and well accepted visual language for fashion advertisements.
Fashion, art, and culture bubbles up from the streets of New York on a regular basis, be it Hip Hop, Punk, or one of half-a-dozen iterations of one or the other (and yes, I know we stole Punk from the British but they stole Hip Hope from us, so I call even-Steven). With the increasing visibility of the Gender Queer community in mainstream culture (at least ‘New York mainstream’) perhaps gender-play is the next hot commodity in art and fashion?
A relatively safe glossy spread in Vogue may be a pebble in the pond, but every cultural ripple has to start somewhere.