#Art + Culture

Cis Men In Gender-Fluid Clothes: Breaking Norms Or Taking A Difficult Conversation Forward?

Harry Styles dress

Singer-Songwriter Harry Styles became the first-ever man to feature solo on the cover of Vogue in its 128-year long history. Styles rocked Vogue’s cover in a dress which has sparked a debate on gendered dressing, fashion stereotypes, and more importantly, where do cis-men fit in this conversation. Are men like Harry Styles and our very own Ranveer Singh trendsetters, who are breaking age-old norms and normalising gender-fluid dressing? Or are we giving to much credit to entitled cis-men for embracing something that was championed by non-binary and transgender people after a bitter battle? Is it possible that men like Styles are simply taking the much-needed conversation forward, and thus need to be appreciated for their effort, if not celebrated?

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In India, people are just shrugging the new Vogue cover off. Hasn’t Ranveer Singh mastered the art of non-binary fashion by wearing skirts and dresses and posing proudly in them? However, Singh’s unapologetic attitude didn’t come without its fair share of trolling. I still remember a meme from when he got married to Deepika Padukone, in which the actor looks disapprovingly at his would-be wife for wearing “his” lehenga. Memes making fun of dresses that fall on the feminine side of the line worn by Singh still do rounds on social media and you’ll find thousands of people liking such posts.

It is not easy for cis-gendered men to wear dresses or skirts even today. The sight of a man wearing a skirt makes us uncomfortable. We are quick to judge him, his gender identity, his sexuality and his masculinity. Our collective resistance to men wearing skirts and dresses in itself proves why Harry Styles’ Vogue cover is such a landmark feat. And this is the privileged lot of men, mind you. As Twitter pointed out non-binary and transgender people have fought immense trolling, shaming and hatred to get the conversation started on gender-fluid dressing. So while we applaud cis men like Style and Ranveer Singh for their sartorial choices, let us not forget to acknowledge the struggle of the marginalised communities that prepared the groundwork for them.

I say this as a cishet woman – there is no running away from the entitlement that cis-heterosexual people enjoy. Which is why we must pause and think before celebrating cis-people for normalising something that queer folx have been doing for ages. We cannot go overboard with celebrating the achievements of cis-people, when it comes to breaking gender-related stereotypes, because that is akin to white-washing. A man wearing a dress is as normal as a woman wearing pants, what isn’t normal is the hatred and violence that non-binary and transgender communities have been enduring for ages for wearing their identity on their sleeves. You can read more about it here.

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So yes, clap for Harry Styles and Ranveer Singh, criticise people who make fun of cis men who wear dresses and apply makeup, but we have to always remember that there is a lot more to gender than man and woman, and it is time to remove our blinkers and acknowledge the otherisation we have been doling to those who don’t fit in our definition of gender.

Image Credit: Vogue/iDiva

The views expressed are the author’s own.