Pushpak Sen from Kolkata recently made headlines when he appeared in Florence, Italy, wearing a saree. But he is not the only one. A number of men from India have slowly, but steadily come out, breaking fashion myths by draping the nine yards. Genderless fashion has been gaining designers’ attention for quite some years, but suddenly the power has now shifted to the streets.
One might argue that gender roles are socially constructed. Women and men should act and dress in a certain socially construed and pre-approved manner. And fashion is one of the biggest ways of assigning gender.
What Is Masculinity?
But over the last few years, more and more men have come out to expose their desires, styles and create more space for sexuality and gender identity. And one of the biggest ways of doing so is by breaking the division between feminine and the masculine. Genderless fashion is nothing more than the freedom of people to choose how they want to dress, and a few men are doing it in style!
Vinay N, a Mumbai-based journalist and queer rights activist says ‘genderless fashion is the future.’
Excerpts from an interview:
IC: Recent years have seen many queer men create quite the rave by draping the saree as more mainstream attire. Are sarees strictly for women?
VN: In the state I come from, Maharashtra, a saree was not really a saree per say. It was just a piece of 6 metre (saahvari) or 9 metre (navvari) piece of fabric woven in different designed used by women to drape sarees. Men used the same fabric to wear a pheta- a traditional Maharashtrian headgear to drape dhotis. So personally, when I found love in sarees, it was merely this fact of the piece of fabric just being a fabric assigned to no gender. That gave me more confidence.
We Were All Born Naked. The Rest Is Drag
But in today’s world and time when I see myself and fellow men draping them, I see it as a tool of rebellion against these cisgender-heteronormative norms of clothes. To begin with, none of us were born with clothes. Let me quote Ru Paul here: we were all born naked and the rest is drag.
So it’s brilliant to see when men fight it out through fashion, but it’s disheartening to see a lot of social media influencers and celebrities using it only to hog limelight and to pinkwash. None of them should be taking over queer spaces and jump the ‘ally’ bandwagon when they do not understand out history, struggles and the current social needs.
IC: From the time you were growing up to now, do you really think society has changed its attitude towards the LGBTQIA community?
VN: “Life is not fair, get used to it.” I have been listening to this all my life and always wanted to break out of it. Clothes are what we wear daily. They are a human need. They are the perfect tool for me to voice myself, and wear my gender on my sleeve.
Fashion is also my first language of expression and revolt. This is why I picked up. It may sound a little sadistic, but I love making cis people uncomfortable with my presence around and break the queerphobia that they carry. I have to break the bold move for myself and on behalf of my queers who don’t have the privilege and access to do so.
Attitudes have definitely changed to a little extent, but not much. There’s teeny tiny legal acceptance of gender and sexuality so breathing as a queer person has gotten easy. With more education on queer lives through dynamic forms of internet media, I see a significant change in family. Parents want to know more about their child to make their lives better, to support them. It is so unlike the early 2000s when I was a teen. “Log kya kahenge” had killed a lot of us already.
IC: Tell us a bit about genderless fashion
VN: Genderless fashion is created beyond the social boundaries, keeping no cis het norms in mind. It is designed to be able to fit people of all body types, not inherently masculine nor feminine.
Do you think we are heading towards a society where genderless fashion will become the new norm?
In the past 4-5 years, gender boundaries are becoming blurred in the fashion industry, thanks to some millennials and now GenZ showing a growing interest in genderless clothing. They want to create clothes that fit all, bring all of us on a common floor. The world is rewriting the concept of binary in fashion. India too is headed on the neutral way.