For as long as I can remember, I’ve broken the rules. I’ve always felt that I was up against something—and at times, it felt like that something was the world. I’ve stood up for myself and others when we’ve been treated unfairly. I’ve asked for forgiveness when I haven’t asked for permission. I believed, and still believe, that the establishment has so much more to lose than its outsiders. But how we see the world informs how we understand ourselves, and in my youth, I was blind to the power I held in being something others were not.
Today, I know that being a lesbian has been the greatest blessing of my life.
I am drawn to photographing other masculine-of-center queer folx and lesbians, not only to better understand how they navigate their own style journeys but also to give those journeys a space and a voice. The fact is, there’s barely any content generated when you Google butch fashion. Give it a try! While the annual DapperQ fashion show makes a very important appearance, there is very little else to represent this important segment of our community.
My approach to this photoshoot, and to many of my projects that involve the queer community, is collaborative. I want to know the story. I want to tell the story. And most importantly, I want to be on an equal playing field with my subjects; their comfortability is my muse.
A few things were very important to making this photoshoot work:
1. It was critical that I sought models who came from different walks of life, including how they identified: their age, size and race
2. It was key that I worked with clothing companies that are inclusive to plus-sizes and whose customer-centric philosophy challenges the norm
This photoshoot embraces the underdog. It conjures the sentiment that outsiders can play by whatever means they wish. Since underdogs are not held to standards, they learn to do without, and that demands creativity. Self-identifying butches and those who dress male-of-center are often categorized negatively or simplified by their outward queerness instead of for what is truly an expression of inner strength.
All photos by Victoria Cooper
I asked a few of my models what it means to dress male-of-center and to express themselves fully in a world that doesn’t support them.
Alana McMillan, co-founder of JaynesBeard and the new co-host of Transition of Style, a podcast that explores the ways in which style and identity meet, explains, “I remember flipping through men’s magazines and seeing guys dressed in tailored, dapper suits and wondering why I could never find that for me in the stores. ‘Women’s clothing’ in general doesn’t fit me, my personality, or my style. So to me, dressing masculine-of-center means the world gets to see me as I see myself, in clothing that gives me confidence and puts that, you know, swag in my step. I just feel authentically me.”
Corrine Phillips, who is the other new co-host of Transition of Style, shared what she wants to see more of in fashion, “Honestly, at a basic level, I’d like to see more clothing companies that are gender-free and are marketed to people who are non-binary. We need more options that encompass more styles and more fits. There also needs to be a bigger push to provide clothing for people who are plus-sized and identify outside of the binary. Where is the clothing for those people?”
Creating a space for the voices of those who fall outside the norm is essential as we move forward in this wild and often predictable world. We don’t want to pay custom-suit prices to dress in a way that empowers our self-esteem, and the bottom line is that the way we chose to dress is not up for committee discussion. For butch folx, our fashion choices often mean so much more than being stylish, these choices mean freedom.
If you’re on the hunt for this fall’s hottest butch looks, remember to first and foremost support companies that support how you want to look and feel inside. This year, break all the rules and create your own.