My gender is not a fashion statement. I can't believe I even have to write those words. The whole idea sounds absurd. But here we are. And, weirder still, we have Vogue - of all things - to thank.
The so-called "Fashion Bible" recently apologised after publishing a cover story tastefully titled "Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik Are Part of a New Generation Embracing Gender Fluidity."
In it, they claimed the celebrity couple were genderfluid because they "sometimes swapped shirts." As Gigi Hadid so eloquently explained what genderfluidity is apparently all about: "It's about, like, shapes."
Cue the eye roll.
Just because you sometimes swap shirts with someone does not mean you're genderfluid or genderqueer. While it's great that there's more awareness of the fact people such as myself exist, the bottom line is the appropriation of the queer experience is incredibly offensive at best, and outright dangerous at worst.
There's another problem here: by running a story with glamourous celebrities posing for glossy photos, it makes the genderqueer experience seem "fun" and "exciting".
News flash: it's not. At least not when you request an Uber and the driver pulls away without picking you up after seeing you're wearing a floppy hat and makeup (which has happened to me). Or walking up the streets of Auckland, Invercargill, or Boise, Idaho (and every other place I have lived) and having people slow down in their cars to scream homophobic slurs at you. Or having little time to react when they suddenly swerve to try to splash you with mud or force you to jump out of the way as they try to run you over.
And my experiences are far, far less horrifying than some of the things other queer people I know have gone through.
Let's also not forget that people continue to be literally murdered for being queer or even because of a suspicion they might be queer - including here in New Zealand. People like Charles Aberhart (beaten to death in Christchurch, with the six accused all acquitted of manslaughter), and Jeff Whittington (14 years old when he was murdered). Their lives were not fashion statements.
What celebrities and fashion magazines fail to recognise is just how dangerous dressing in a way that "bends the rules" of binary gender norms really is, even if you are like me and have to come to grips with the uncomfortable truth that compared to many other genderqueer people you have a very privileged life.
Don't get me wrong: I absolutely adore fashion, and will often wear things classified as "womenswear" even though I was born with male anatomy (As an aside: "women's" jumpers are SO much more comfortable than the "men's" version).
But when I put on a pink coat that's bright enough to be seen from space, or apply enough eyeliner to drown a large animal, a lot of thought goes into such decisions. Like whether it'll get me murdered. When outlets publish stories failing to make any mention of this reality (a reality for many genderqueer people), it p***** me right off.
This isn't the first time Vogue has caused deep offence to a large group of people, either. Back in 2011, it published "A Rose in the Desert" about Asma al-Assad, which also conveniently depicted her partner - none other than Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad - as a family-oriented person who only wanted the best for his people. The Syrian Civil War was already well underway when the story ran.
But unlike then, in which it took Vogue more than a year to issue any sort of apology for its tone-deafness, it's at least encouraging that an apology came so swiftly - and that the pushback was so immediate. But why did Anna Wintour think running the story was a good idea in the first place?
Writing in Cosmopolitan, Jacob Tobia had one of the best takedowns: "This, then, is flagrant cultural appropriation - taking the symbols and ideas that were created by a group of oppressed people and using them, without credit, collaboration, or compensation, to elevate people who are not a part of that oppressed group. When "gender bending" culture comes into the mainstream - to the cover of Vogue for example, a place that it rightfully deserves to be - it should be gender-nonconforming people, not cisgender people presented as gender-nonconforming people, who get to put it there."
It's great to see that there's more awareness of the fact that gender is a spectrum and not a binary, and that there's millions of people across the world who don't identify as female or male. But if you're going to discuss us, at least include us in the conversation - and make sure you're not appropriating our experiences - I can't wait until that's in fashion.