Earlier today, a journalist called Katie Glover published what is known in the industry as a “very controversial article”. Glover, a trans journalist and editor of Frock magazine, wrote a detailed article designed as a response to Louis Vuitton’s casting of Jaden Smith as the face of its SS16 womenswear collection. A cursory glance at the article shows responses that range from “what a load of bollocks” to “please rewrite this article with a more intelligent journalist at the keyboard.” All in all, not hugely positive. So what exactly does the article get wrong? Honestly, there’s so much that probably the best way to tackle is just blow by blow, so here we go.
Paragraph #1. Glover opens the article stating how completely alien the fashion industry is to her, claiming that she is “out of the loop“ and “didn’t even realise Louis Vuitton had an old face!” Her undermining of the fashion industry continues when she states she didn’t even realize Louis Vuitton had expanded further than handbags, proving this woman clearly hasn’t picked up a copy of Vogue in the last year. How, then, should a writer that openly professes to know nothing about fashion feel qualified to write an in-depth think piece on the problematic nature of a fashion campaign?
The author then continues by reinforcing what we already know – that our entire society is based on ridiculous codes of gender which date back decades and still niggle no matter how progressive the world apparently becomes. Instead of fighting the notion that women should have long, flowing locks and keep a wardrobe full of gingham dresses to wear whilst cooking meals for her devoted husband, she instead argues that these visual tropes are handy to us because they help us identify women from men. Because, of course, if women snatch a smoking jacket from the menswear rack or cut their hair short, we all just stare blankly in bemusement whilst questioning whether she is, in fact, a female.
In Glover’s own words, “male-to-female transgender people rely on props like clothes, shoes, make-up and hairstyles to create the gender identity they want because most of the time their bodies alone are unable to do that”. Let us all remind ourselves that Caitlyn Jenner was completely ripped to shreds earlier this this year for claiming that “people feel threatened if you look like a man in a dress” and “the most difficult part of being a woman is choosing which outfit to wear”. Remember why those comments were problematic? It’s because they reduced the identity of transgender women to nothing more than an aesthetic. It creates the impression that trans women don’t actually spend their pre-transition lives in complete turmoil thanks to the same gender ‘ideals’ and ‘uniforms’ that Glover seems to think are so important. It disregards decades of battle for trans human rights, discards the very real threat of physical and verbal abuse and even murder, brushing that all aside to argue that, actually, as long a trans woman follows established visual tropes of femininity, she’ll be alright.
She then goes on to round off her articulate with an extremely insightful quote, stating fear that “men wearing skirts and girly stuff will become acceptable” – a clear sign of the heteronormative patriarchy encroaching on trans territory. By wearing a skirt, Jaden is apparently appropriating the “trans uniform” and is therefore detrimental to progression of the LGBT community. This was the part that truly blew my mind, for many reasons. Firstly, the introduction of gender-neutral clothing will not mean that men encroach on trans territory, it will in fact loosen the rigid codes of masculinity and lead to a mainstream media more accepting of non-binary gender identity. By eliminating gendered uniforms, we can begin to work towards the elimination of gender bias. Secondly, how exactly will “men wearing girly stuff” somehow worsen the world for trans women? Surely the main reason that (SOME) trans women feel the need to assimilate is to avoid judgement and harassment for daring to rebel against society’s toxic gender norms?
Overall, it seems that Glover has managed to piss many people off for extremely justified reasons. The first is that mainstream media is already terrified to touch trans issues because, as I have found in my experience as a journalist, the fear of accidentally mis-representing a minority group is enormous. 2015 is often held up as a “banner year” for trans awareness, meaning that many journalists interviewing trans models and covering trans issues haven’t done so before. It is an EXTREMELY sensitive issue, and it is imperative that the media, the fashion media in particular, does its utmost to dispel the murmurs that trans identities are being exploited as a trend. It is important to talk about the issues plaguing trans women every day, it’s important to acknowledge that a lack of knowledge and judgement still exists, and MORE THAN ANYTHING it’s important to highlight that trans women are more than just a fucking aesthetic. By singling out this campaign and claiming it offensive to trans women, all that Glover could achieve is a) to reinforce the staggering pressure already placed on trans women to assimilate with heteronormative ideals of femininity, b) to erase the issues of trans women and claim that their sense of self-worth is based on their ability to don a ‘gendered uniform’ and c) to strike fear into the hearts of poor non-trans journalists trying their absolute best to represent a minority in a sensitive and beneficial way.