How This Gender Fluid Teen Developed Their Own Confidence For Prom

Much controversy has swarmed two sectors of the LGBTQ+ community lately, undermining the life experience of those who identify as gender fluid, and those who identify as transgender. We've felt the national uproar following President Trump's proposition to ban transgender soldiers from serving in the military, and on the pop culture front, we've read (and written) all of the reactions to Vogue's co-opting of gender fluidity with its August cover stars, Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik. But, as any member of either minorities can tell you, the two are not mutually exclusive. And that's why we let them tell their own stories.

Meet Rayne Nadurata: student, model, and winner of the New York Fashion Week-themed prom at their high school. Nadurata attended the event in a look that was quintessentially gender fluid, strutting their truth down the makeshift red carpet in a suit-gown hybrid, fit for a prom king or queen. But the lead-up to the event — which included a few gender-shaming slurs hurled in Nadurata's direction — wasn't so easy. While reality shows and rom-coms paint the picture of shopping for prom night with a playful montage, the harsh reality of getting ready for it can be quite the opposite.

Thanks to the restricting — and sometimes offensive — dress codes, the event takes upon itself to decide what its attendees can wear, according to the gender they were assigned at birth: Cis boys are to arrive in suits, and cis girls should be in dresses (the latter usually containing several pages-worth of stipulations on everything from silhouettes, to lengths, to embroidery). It's meant to to be a night of letting loose and celebrating the end of high school, but students aren't really allowed to use fashion to express who they are and how they feel.

Nadurata, however, is a leading example that an unwavering amount of confidence and unwillingness to sacrifice one's identity is more powerful than any fashion rules. And there are ways to skirt the handbook and style a look for the fête that will tick all of the boxes, both internally and externally. If celebrities of all genders can wear suits on the red carpet, why can't we? In the conversation and styled photo shoot ahead, Nadurata explains how they won their own prom night, how they developed their self-confidence, and how you can, too.

Photographed by Guido Di Salle.
What was your prom like?
"My prom experience was definitely interesting. The whole theme of it was New York Fashion Week. I went to an arts high school in Toronto, so everyone was always very accepting there. I wore this gown, and so did my friend (we both made our own outfits). They were doing this runway for prom king and queen, which I thought was a joke, but we did it anyway. The it was down to the final two, and we won!

"My school is more suburban, so it wasn’t always the best — but it was a very entertaining prom. I feel like when I was getting closer to the end of high school I really started to bloom in the way that makes me who I am, because I felt like people would notice it, and then just accept it and love it. That made me accepting of myself, if that makes sense."

What did you wear?
"I actually have it hanging up in my room right now, but I have this huge, fitted one-piece suit, and at the bottom it looks like a dress because the leg goes out and it hangs behind me. And then I made my blazer; it had all these feathers on it, with embroidery. It was really glam."

Moschino top and jacket; Balmain bottoms; Party City glasses.
Photographed by Guido Di Salle.
Were you nervous at all about how people would perceive you?
"Yeah. I felt like there was definitely an element that shocked them. You know, you’re pulling a look that someone has never seen in your area, or wherever you grew up or went to high school. I definitely felt a little bit of nerves going into it, but once I got there, I just, I don’t know — I was feeling it. Everyone was really accepting. The only drama was that a few people brought prom dates who said something to me — one guy got kicked out of the prom because he shouted at me, actually. But I didn’t get defensive; I just don’t get bothered by other people’s opinions. I’ll educate someone so they can have a different perspective, but I’m not going to force myself or get angry at one person — that's just a waste of my energy. If they’re not on the path of wanting to learn from it, or wanting to educate themselves further, then I don’t really care."

Balenciaga top, bottoms, and jacket; Alan Anderson brooch.
Photographed by Guido Di Salle.
What would you say, then, to someone who maybe doesn’t have that type of environment or the confidence that you've developed for yourself? Or for anyone who wants to use their prom as a chance to express their identity?
"I grew up in a very suburban area of Toronto, but I feel like if I didn't grow up there, I probably wouldn’t be as much of a person as I am today. Because I didn’t have as much acceptance there, I had to learn a lot on my own. So, I would tell someone that there is a whole community out there that has the same beliefs as you, and that we have so many supporters within our community, too. It’s definitely hard — there are a lot of hate crimes in very suburban areas, especially in high schools, but they oftentimes go unnoticed because people don’t speak up or do anything about it.

"That reminds me: I was in Cancun one time, and I was walking down [the street] in my regular clothing, but I wore a wig, and people were shocked. Even the times I would dress down, people would come up to me and question my gender identity, saying, 'Oh, we just wanted to know if you’re a boy or a girl down there.' I was like, Well, now I have to explain everything to these adults. But it was interesting to hear their perspective on it. Just don’t waste your time on people who don’t want to learn."

So, take it case by case?
"Yeah, definitely take it case by case. But don’t hold back. I think high school is definitely a social setting that sets you up for the real world, and I think whatever you can get from that experience you’ll take with you."

Comme des Garçons top; S.P. Badu bottoms; Maison Martin Margiela jacket; Robert Clergerie shoes.
Photographed by Guido Di Salle.
Where did you learn that confidence? That’s not so easy for some people.
"My mother was a shaman, so I was always learning about both masculine and feminine energies. My mother is very accepting, and she kind of taught that to my dad. I feel like just being accepted and being able to express myself without having a lot of fear led to not having any hatred toward myself. I love myself a lot, but not in a conceited way. I just really know what I’m bringing when it comes to a public setting, and if I have people hate me for that, then that’s on them.

"People have to learn that it’s not their fault for their unique qualities. It’s not a fault, it’s really a blessing. It’s just really nice to know that what you have is very special."

Comme des Garçons top; S.P. Badu bottoms; Maison Martin Margiela jacket; BluBlocker sunglasses.
Photographed by Guido Di Salle.
How do you identify?
"I’m gender fluid, so I don’t really focus on pronouns. But equally, I don’t feel anger if someone were to call me male, or if someone were to call me female. I feel like a lot of people get really defensive, and a lot of people will say they're non-binary, but then get defensive if someone calls them either gender. For me, I can go back and forth between the two. I’m very fluid with those two rules, and people could call me either or and I won’t mind."

Do you prefer to go by 'them' or 'they'?
"No, I just prefer my name. When people refer to me, they refer to me as Rayne."

Moschino top and jacket; Balmain bottoms.
Photographed by Guido Di Salle.
How do you feel about what’s going on with the conversation around gender fluidity in the mainstream media? And as someone who is gender fluid, do you think they’re hitting the mark?
"I feel like the fashion industry tokenizes us just to broaden their audience spectrum and have more people come in, which definitely is a marketing strategy. But I also think it’s great that such big companies are bringing light to what we’re bringing out there. It’d just be nice for them to employ us for it.

"There are a lot of celebrities being used in magazines or by brands that aren't advocates for what it is we’re doing, and they’re just kind of putting on an act. It’s really hurtful, because there are so many people out there that they could use instead, or that can actually talk about the subject. But I’m not convinced that they have any idea of what’s going on; they’re just kind of taking notes from whoever’s directing them. I don’t understand that, because if you want our point of view, and if you want what we’re saying to be heard, wouldn’t you want to use someone who has the same beliefs? Or do you want to use someone that grew up with a very typical experience that’s accepted anywhere?"

Comme des Garçons dress and top; Dr. Martens shoes; Dean Davidson rings.
Photographed by Guido Di Salle.
But it’s not a trend.
"This isn’t a trend. And I feel like a lot of people do think that this is just another trend in fashion. The fashion industry is very touchy, and it’s a hard thing to get into because you can’t say too much or else you won’t have a certain audience on your side. There are definitely publications that do it better, that do it in earnest and tell real stories."

And designers can get on board, too.
"I think with shoe sales, definitely. I feel like every shoe company has the ability to make three sizes bigger, so men or women, or someone who’s gender fluid with bigger feet, can explore and wear their shoes. If you see throughout history, like, what separates a woman from a man, it’s a skirt and heels. If heel sizes were just brought up and were accessible for anyone, then it would be more accepting to see men in heels. I walk down the street and I have a full masculine look on, but then I’m wearing a heel because it just adds a different kind of energy to my vibe.

"Through those things alone, you have the feeling of what it’s like to be a female in those ages where you could only wear heels to be accepted by a man. It’s so interesting to see the perception of other people seeing a man in heels. It’s something so drastic. Like, I could be wearing something completely masculine, and have heels on, and have someone on the street call me a 'tranny.'"

Marni top; Comme des Garçons bottoms; Kenzo shoes; Hermès scarf.
Photographed by Guido Di Salle.
Are you ever afraid to walk down the street?
"Not in my area and not in the city, but there are many places that don’t have the same level of acceptance, like Saudi Arabia or Russia. And I think it’s harder for people there to stand up and develop their own voices like we’ve been able to do.

"I think inner feelings are something you progressively grow through. Like, when you first step out onto the street wearing heels in public for the first time, I think it’s something very memorable. I remember my first experience: I observed everyone’s reaction to it, and I felt like once I gave attention to the people that displayed a reaction that wasn’t so good, it turned into me giving them the power; you give them this vulnerability that they feed off of."

Balenciaga top and bottoms.
Photographed by Guido Di Salle.
Have you ever felt your fashion to be an armor for you?
"An armor...not so much. Because I feel like an armor protects, and I think what we’re doing isn’t very protective of ourselves. Rather, it’s more of a feeling from within. When you’re more comfortable in your body, you’re okay with other people’s opinions, because they won’t change you. I think that’s a really special thing that a lot of people have, especially when it comes to just walking down the street. When I walk down the street, I’m walking for myself.

"I don’t see myself as someone who is separate from the rest of society. I feel like [gender fluid people] are very much part of society, and it’s moreso the oppression from people who don’t understand us — and who are trying to block us out — that draws the wrong kind of attention to us. And that turns the conversation into this controversial type of fight."

You’re sort of trying to just get by, right?
"Yes, definitely."

Saint Laurent dress; Pleaser USA shoes; Alan Anderson earrings.