by Jack Qu’emi Gutiérrez
The Independent published 2 articles in the last week about Jaden Smith starring in Louis Vuitton’s newest womenswear campaign. One lauded his ability to have a fluid gender presentation, while the other admonished his encroaching on “transgender territory”. Both miss the mark, but for different reasons.
Gender presentation refers to the ways in which we express our gender. This kind of expression can be through how we move, the way we do our hair, and the clothes we wear. While gender presentation is able to do a lot to project a person’s personal gender identity, it doesn’t have to. Meaning wearing an item traditionally thought of as feminine or “for women” doesn’t necessarily change you into a woman. There are women who love to be feminine and love to show their femininity through their feminine clothing choices. There are also men who love to be feminine and adorn themselves with feminine clothing. There are nonbinary people, like myself, who love femininity, wear makeup, and platform heels. All this means is that these people are feminine; not any less the gender (or lack of gender) they identify as.
As far as we know, Jaden Smith identifies as a boy. Too many young men are taught very early that femininity is an undesirable weakness and that expressing any kind of feminine side is unacceptable. It’s doubly difficult to be a young, Black man in femme clothing when Black people are often denied the ability to be vulnerable or soft—traits also closely associated with femininity. To have such a visible male youth wearing a skirt in a video over audio of people whispering “beautiful” and “lovely” is revolutionary!
Young people (especially young Black boys) are going to see that campaign and breathe a little easier because now they can consume a representation of Black male femininity without stigma and without shame.
With all the celebration surrounding Smith’s Louis Vuitton campaign, you’d think those of us who exist in a less than cis/heteronormative space would all be equally thrilled to see this projection of beauty.
One of the Independent articles implies that any presentation that is less than normative is “transgender territory” and that Smith, by being cisgender, is co-opting trans space. But what is “transgender territory” and how does a boy in a skirt co-opt a narrative about something completely unrelated? I’ll tell you—he doesn’t. Because clothing is gender neutral. The same article strings together the words, “guise of gender-neutral fashion”, which rather blatantly erases any nonbinary or gender fluid people from the conversation even though we still fit under the trans umbrella. This says a lot about cisgender and binary transpeople erasing nonbinary folks from existence and how little regard there is for those of us to do not “fit” traditional perceptions of gender. It’s important to remember that clothes are pieces of fabric that reflect socially constructed gender roles.
You want a more accurate depiction of what infringes on “trans territory”? Cismen playing transwomen in TV and film. Cispeople playing any trans role instead of a trans actor playing a trans character is intruding on “trans territory” because these are our narratives. Stories about us, by us, played by people who do not live the lives we do is what really co-opts trans space—not a boy in a skirt. An outfit doesn’t dictate a gender and a transman in a dress does not negate the fact that he is still a man.
I also think it’s important to mention that wearing a skirt doesn’t make Jaden Smith nonbinary either. Calling him an icon is very fitting and highlighting his dissent from traditional gender norms is also appropriate. But, he is not a nonbinary icon because just as the skirt doesn’t give Smith a new gender, it also doesn’t take his current one away. The other article lauds Smith for joining people like Seann Miley Moore, Conchita, and Ruby Rose in “challenging gender norms”, but the difference here is that the latter 3 are actually genderqueer/ genderfluid while, as far as we know, Smith is still cisgender. That could change, if he tells us otherwise, but for now, that’s how he’s identifying. I wouldn’t compare the kind of visibility Moore, Conchita and Rose each give to gender variant people with Smith, because Smith represents a challenge to normative presentations while the others are actually of non-normative genders.
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I’m a nonbinary person who cannot look up to Jaden Smith as a figure for nonbinary people because he simply isn’t nonbinary. I would need an icon who is openly disconnected from binary genders because regardless of how this individual looks, they would genuinely be representing people with a variant gender. I totally admire Jaden’s look, live for the face he is undoubtedly serving, and put all my glittery fondness for him out into the universe. There is nothing wrong with some melanin-heavy flawlessness and we certainly need more of it. I’m just not in the business of dictating other peoples’ genders based simply on their garb.
Seeing men being feminine is beautiful. Seeing a young, Black man unabashedly wearing what makes him comfortable and happy is sensational. Jaden Smith is devastating me with all of his skirt and dress-wearing ensembles. It’s important to celebrate him for who he is without projecting our own internalized insecurities onto his work.
May this young man dazzle us with more campaigns that allow for more fluid expressions!
Jack Qu’emi is a nonbinary femme who has been creating content on the Internet for almost 5 years with a focus on educational material that critically analyzes current events and pop culture. They are based on the East coast, but often work remotely. You can follow Jack on Twitter @jackquemi. For inquiries/ consulting/ work, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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