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Gender-nonconformity needs a new face for its movement

Gender-nonconformity needs a new face for its movement

Gender-nonconformity needs a new face for its movement
August 05
14:00 2022

The dismantling of the gender binary is an ever-growing movement that deserves proper recognition and encouragement. Whether it is the rebranding of popular toys or the introduction of new and diverse TV show characters, hope is bright for a more gender-neutral world. Yet as we push for reevaluating our stereotypical binaries, we must also be cognizant of who we place at the forefront of these movements.

Harry Styles received overwhelming media coverage after he wore a dress on the cover of Vogue in late 2020. Some loved it, some hated it, but most agreed that he was pushing the boundaries of gender conformity. This is true, to an extent — Styles’ clothing choices definitely leaped over what anyone had expected from a man on the cover of a magazine.

Actor Brad Pitt shook up headlines similarly last month during the premiere of his new movie “Bullet Train” as he appeared in a brown skirt. The actor has worn dresses before, providing easy photoshoots for the paparazzi. What pulls these celebrities’ clothing choices away from the social relevance that many have given them is the intent that possessed them to wear the clothes in the first place.

“Breeze” is the one-word reply from Pitt as to why he wore the custom-made skirt. The response reveals a nonchalance that is somewhat admirable, but hardly worthy of the celebration that the outfit itself received. Pitt isn’t making a statement— he’s just enjoying himself.

As for Styles, he credits his enjoyment of flashy and fun garments to the rock giants before him: Elton John, David Bowie and Prince. The icons of the 20th century helped change the perception of what a performer could and couldn’t wear, and Styles follows suit.

Even as he helps to push the boundaries of nonconformity in his own way, Styles should not be at the forefront of the movement. There is no larger message from Styles about gender expectations nor a cry of support for activist groups which challenger gender norms either. The momentum generated by the Vogue cover could have easily been redirected towards a purpose, but it was not meant to be.

There are dozens of other celebrities and activists who dedicate much of their time in the spotlight to challenging the systems put in place. Putting all the attention on those disinterested in affecting major change leaves real change-makers without the proper support.

Alok Vaid-Menon, Tommy Dorfman and Hunter Schafer are all celebrities who deserve attention for their activism as well as their individual performances. They don’t need to instantly become the superstars that other actors are, but they should be the ones referenced when discussing celebrities challenging the gender binary.

All of this isn’t to say that Styles or Pitt should be lambasted for their clothing choices. Doing so would be antithetical to the movement. The problem arises due to the inconsistency of representation. Even though they participate on the periphery of nonconforming activism, Styles is the first person to come to mind for many who think about gender nonconforming celebrities in the 21st century.

If we want to elevate ideas and push them forward, we need to find those who are most affected by the current binary systems and those who are heavily enthralled in the push against it. For all the backlash that Styles may receive, at the end of the day, it’s just a choice of clothes. For openly nonbinary celebrities like Sam Smith and Janelle Monae, the gender binary is a restrictive force that hinders their ability to truly express themselves.

The ideal future is one where a man wearing a dress doesn’t make headlines because it’s not as stigmatized. Until then, anyone can step up to challenge the standards imposed by the less-accepting while also recognizing and respecting those who are closest to the efforts to make change.

Featured Illustration by Erika Sevilla

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Ayden Runnels

Ayden Runnels

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