By Ari Utria
What is Androgyny?
Androgyny is defined as the combination of both masculine and feminine characteristics—an expression of gender ambiguity.
It’s worth noting that androgyny is by no means a modern concept, though if you look at the current trends among many celebrities, you will see that the notion of blurring the gender lines when dressing oneself has become increasingly popular.
That being said, androgyny within the trans community has a different meaning and importance. Even with popular media “normalizing” men wearing clothes originally meant for women and vice versa, we in the queer community still face prejudice and struggle to find comfort in shopping for clothing and expressing our gender identities.
When I first came out as queer, I needed to shed all the hyper feminine impositions placed on me by society as someone assigned female at birth. As I began exploring, I felt freer to take on a more masculine form of self expression. At the time, the exploration admittedly felt foreign to me—and trying to navigate stores to find clothing that appealed to me was uncomfortable and difficult. I tried to buy the simplest and least form-fitting t-shirts I could find in the women’s clothing sections because I felt scared to venture into the men’s side. Sometimes I would buy things online to avoid the awkward experience of shopping in a mall but things never fit the way I hoped they would and I felt very self-conscious and unstylish. I wanted to have the fun of going shopping, but I didn’t know how. I was in a weird space where I could not dress in women’s clothes but was still too afraid of wearing men’s because I still did not understand what being attracted to masculine clothing meant for me. I needed to find a “safe space” between masculine and feminine self-presentation that represented both my masculinity and my femininity.
I was still not comfortable with my gender and to be honest had not had much exposure to transness, so androgyny began as my way of scraping the surface of exploring gender identity.
Where to Begin?
Funnily enough, I started by changing my underwear! I threw out all the women’s underwear I had, and replaced it all with sports tops and men’s boxer briefs. People would ask, “But why boxers?!” “Why is underwear so important?” And honestly, I never had a straight answer. All I can say now is that something about women’s underwear always felt super uncomfortable and unnatural to me. Plus, underwear is such an intimate item of clothing that for me in a way when I still felt pressured to dress on the femme side it was like a secret rebellion that made me feel more like myself on the inside. I found some at American Apparel and Top Man that didn’t have the “extra space” in the front which I have no need for.
In terms of clothing, I started looking to places like Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration. I would use different versions of androgyny hashtags to find looks that I wanted to try out and started collecting ideas. I felt that if I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to try out, going to stores might be less uncomfortable and stressful because I wouldn’t be awkwardly roaming around. I’d have a purpose.
What I noticed worked best for me, being tall and relatively slim, was to purchase longline T-shirts and other “oversized” styles. Wearing more shapeless clothing that was long and flowing helped to disguise the more feminine aspects of my physique without completely masculinizing myself. I managed to find a couple of affordable stores that catered to this style such as H&M, occasionally Forever 21. When I was able to spend a little more I could try out Top Man.
I never shopped alone out of anxiety over being harassed for being in the men's section or in the women’s dressing room. Having moral support is always really helpful—and if you have someone who is interested in fashion by your side, they can even give you tips! I was very fortunate to have some guidance through my journey of self expression through clothing. We would make shopping more of an adventure and then put together outfits that we could then photograph for blogging purposes. I started gaining more and more confidence in the way that I saw my own reflection and also in the way that I presented myself socially.
What About Body Language?
Changing the way I dressed slowly started to affect the way I carried myself. I no longer felt like I needed to force stereotypically feminine body language. It feels ridiculous to even say the words “feminine body language” because I always felt that a person’s body language was a reflection of their unique personality and perhaps cultural norms—but not their gender.
That said, we are taught from a young age that girls ought to sit up straight with their legs together and boys can sit with their legs open, with a slouchier posture. Girls can use hand gestures to express themselves but boys less so.
But as I began to explore my gender presentation with clothing, I also began asking questions about more subtle aspects of my self-presentation. I found myself asking, “What would happen if I sat in a more relaxed manner with my legs open? Could I do that and still use flamboyant hand gestures?”
The answer, of course, was yes. Embracing my androgyny allowed me to also embrace the kind of body language that felt genuine and natural to me. My posture improved—not because it was stereotypically “feminine” to do so, but because I was more comfortable in public. The fact that my clothing helped conceal my female form, which had always made me uncomfortable, meant that I didn’t feel the need to slouch as much in order to hide the fact that I have breasts.
Gender Identity: My Reflection
Ultimately, androgyny led to the exploration of my gender identity at a more profound level. A common discomfort for many trans-identified people is looking at and coming to terms with our reflections. We probably tend to have an idea in our minds of what we look like, or at least the way we want to look, and so our reflections can function as a constant reminder of the fact that there is often a huge disconnect between what we feel we look like and what we actually look like. Or at least this was the case for me for many years.
The more neutral my style became, and the shorter the haircuts, the more my reflection started to align with the vision I always had of myself but never quite understood. I had limited exposure to the transgender community until I started this exploration of my own identity—and as far as I understood it, unless you were assigned female at birth but identified 100% as male or vice versa you were not trans. This was confusing for me because I knew I felt different than cis-gendered people but still didn’t fit the female-to-!male category. That made the question of my “reflection” more complicated.
Gender fluidity was something that came up a lot when searching for anything related to androgyny, so I decided to look into that term more. From researching that term, I was then exposed to the notion of gender being just as much a spectrum as sexuality. And from that, I landed on the notion of being “non-binary” which essentially seemed like gender identity’s equivalent to what androgyny is in fashion.
Having already found comfort in my style, my gender identity all of a sudden fell into place and made sense and in a way I almost got to bypass the awkward social transition of going from presenting as female to male in a short amount of time.
Fashion and identity can be largely interconnected. Finding that comfort is a journey, a spectrum of realizations about ourselves increase in clarity during the process of itself.
Ari Utria is half Brazilian, half Colombian (but born and raised in Zimbabwe), and works as a Lighting and Compositing Artist for film and television. Ari hopes to make a difference in the way society views transness, and to be a voice for the LGBTQ community. Follow Ari’s journey via instagram at @arifrem.