Is a famous cisgender man wearing a dress actually good for nonbinary visibility?
In recent episodes of EW's new Pride podcast, Untold Stories: Beyond the Binary, host Tre'vell Anderson has given a crash course in all things nonbinary and asked guests to reflect on the fictional characters who inspired them to embrace their authentic selves. For the show's third installment, subjects turn their attention to popular culture with a more critical eye.
Nonbinary people are more present in the mainstream today than ever before. But plenty of artists who don't identify as nonbinary, including Harry Styles and Kid Cudi, are engaging in gender play and presenting themselves as gender nonconforming: on red carpets, on magazine covers, in television performances, and sometimes in everyday life. How do nonbinary folks feel about cisgender folks expressing themselves this way? The opinions of Beyond the Binary guests vary.
Artist and musician Shamir welcomes all forms of gender experimentation but bristles at the idea of cisgender, heterosexual men — or "cis-sies," as he and Anderson call them — being placed on a pedestal. "Gender is a construct, but why is it that it's the cis-sies getting all the credit and getting the covers and the flowers when we were the first ones to really be like, 'We don't give a f---,'" they say. "We're not mad, but you're getting the claps while we're getting the kicks. And there's a reason why: because you're cis and there's privilege in that."
Tuck Woodstock, a consultant and the host of the podcast Gender Reveal, is both supportive and skeptical, questioning whether or not Styles and Cudi's gender-bending is a genuine expression of the artists' identities or simple publicity stunts.
"My hope is that those men… are doing it because it feels right for their gender and not because they know that it will get them headlines," Woodstock tells Anderson. "Because if they're doing it because it feels right and good for them, then I'm actually stoked that that is a space that we're creating. But we also know that that will get them a lot of attention and headlines — like, 'Oh my gosh, Harry Styles in a dress! Oh my gosh, Kid Cudi in a dress!' I think it's just this sort of tentative hope that we can one day move towards a space where men are able to wear those things without it making headlines."
RuPaul's Drag Race winner and We're Here star Bob the Drag Queen suggests that acts of visibility from high-profile figures can, at least in the long term, be beneficial to everyone. "I think that having these cis, het people come out and do these things is actually going to be able to help other cis, het people see what that means — like what it actually means," Bob says. "That it's not some perversion, that it's not a left agenda. I think that it could really help a lot of people out actually, especially when it's someone really prominent."
Author Jacob Tobia is optimistic as well, saying that they relish seeing anyone in pop culture exploring their gender expression. "When I saw the shoot with Harry in a dress for Vogue looking sublime in a field? When I saw Billy [Porter] at any red carpet he's done… living his best life, feeling so free, so joyous? When I see Jaden [Smith] in a skirt, like, twirling for a campaign feeling fierce and beautiful and punk and interesting? When I see people celebrating and luxuriating in femininity and in a trans feminine way, even if they don't share the language with me, I am just still really happy."
Tobia continues, "I love watching people be happy in that way because I also know that ultimately we are chipping away from opposite sides toward the same thing, which is gender self-expression, gender self-determination — and a world filled with it."
Anderson also discusses nonbinary fashion with writer and activist Devin-Norelle, who longs for a more expansive definition of the term gender-neutral. "I think most companies think that de-gendering fashion is just defaulting to pants, sweats, jeans, baggy sh--. Like, 'Oh, we got a sweatshirt, so now it's gender-neutral,'" Devin-Norelle says. "And it's like, 'Damn, this is hella boring.' I remember specifically critiquing Abercrombie & Fitch when they came out with a children's gender-neutral line. The first thing that popped out to me was the fact that they did not have any skirts. And I was just taken aback because it's like, all right, so masculine items are gender-neutral, but 'feminine' stuff is not? What are we doing here? What are we really saying?"
Listen to the third episode of Untold Stories: Beyond the Binary below, and be sure to subscribe to hear our upcoming episodes on Apple Podcasts every Wednesday during the month of June.
Check out more features from Entertainment Weekly's celebration of LGBTQ pop culture.
- EW's Untold Stories Pride podcast Beyond the Binary launches
- EW's Beyond the Binary podcast guests celebrate the fictional characters who inspired them
- EW's Untold Stories: Pride Edition podcast celebrates drag and ballroom heroes
- Russian Doll showrunner on spearheading Star Wars TV series as a gay woman
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