Most people might complain about how hard it is to get dressed in the morning — but, honestly? It is not that hard. For cis folk, it's a matter of making a couple decisions about cuteness, comfort, and creativity — and then getting on with your day. But for Alok Vaid-Menon, a non-binary transfemme performance artist, writer, and activist from New York City, it's an act of survival. For many in the trans community, choosing an outfit isn't just about communicating who a person is and how they feel on the inside; it's also about demanding that the people they encounter accept their identity in the face of trans violence and harassment. "There is a material consequence to me presenting feminine, and there's not a material consequence to me presenting masculine," Vaid-Menon explains. "The minute I wear lipstick, or the minute I put on earrings, or the minute I’m wearing a skirt, my entire reality shifts." For those who don't identify with the gender they were assigned to at birth, their method of clothing themselves turns fashion into much more than just a form of expression. It is a declaration of self that asks others to confront their own prejudices.
And how peculiar a world is it where what we wear has such politics that it could mean that you could be killed for what you’re wearing, right?
In a panel on gender-fluidity in fashion, Vaid-Menon describes the dangerous questions they and others in the trans community face when they defy categorization: "I get told a lot of times that I’m brave for dressing the way that I am. A lot of people are like, ‘How are you so brave? How do you have the confidence to wear what you’re wearing? That’s a logic that kills trans women, and transfeminine people, because it makes the onus of being brave on us, and not on society to redefine your gender norms. So we have to continue to be brave and confident for doing something as simple as getting dressed in the morning, which is absolutely absurd, because there are so many things I do in my life that I would like to think are more brave than getting dressed. And how peculiar a world is it where what we wear has such politics that it could mean that you could be killed for what you’re wearing, right?" In our video above, Vaid-Menon discusses what it means to challenge the gender binary with fashion. Also, and more visibly, what it means to be born a certain gender, but clothe oneself in a wardrobe assigned — arbitrarily, by society — to the opposite.