Last weekend Jamie and LGW took the DLR down to Lewisham to hang out with Leo in the flat he shares with his fiance. We took a stroll around the neighbourhood and shot Leo in some of his key style staples. Leo works at a homelessness organisation supporting people who are sleeping rough to rebuild their lives and in his spare time he likes to mess about with recipes and DIY projects. He wants to give a shout out to the valuable work of CliniQ, a sexual health clinic catering to the trans* community: http://www.cliniq.org.uk/.
Leo explains his sartorial choices here:
1. What is the significance of your top choices?
I bought this suit on holiday in Vietnam with my fiancée, as it’s tailored I had complete choice over the materials, which is something I really enjoyed. Men’s formal wear has always appealed to me; when I was a kid I had a little suit which I wore with a green and orange waistcoat; later on I got stuck in a floral skirt and white cardigan for a wedding, which felt like cruel and unusual punishment at the time. Formal clothing is something we tend to wear to important events in our lives, and it’s great these days to feel congruous and comfortable in what I’m wearing at these events.
The pink jumper and blue trousers are two of my more feminine or camp items of clothing, which is something I enjoy about them, I find them quite playful and fun. People read me as gay more often when I wear these types of clothes, which I think is an example of how people’s gender expression is often perceived as linked with their sexual orientation. When I first started to transition I tended to keep to more stereotypically masculine clothing, but as I started to ‘pass’ more often I felt more comfortable and safe, and I started to play around more than ever with the way I express the different aspects of my gender through things like body language and choices of clothing.
The black outfit is a going out outfit, I wore it the Dark Circus Party we went to for my fiancée’s birthday. I had my face painted with make-up and glitter that night, which was the first time I wore make-up in years, and was the first time I really enjoyed wearing make-up, because it was on my own terms. I associate this outfit with the type of environment where I like to wear it – with fun, with self-exploration, and with freedom to be who you are, and be accepted for it. I’m happy I’ve found spaces like that.
This t-shirt is something I saw worn by another trans guy on the internet a few years ago; someone else (sadly I don’t remember who) came up with the concept but I couldn’t get hold of it, so I had my own very similar version made. I love the fact that it includes a broad range of things that people get defined by/treated badly for, because often when groups fight for equal treatment there’s still a lot of marginalisation and perpetuation of different types of discrimination within those groups, for example the different hierarchies within the trans* community. We all have stereotypes and I think the more we challenge ourselves around that, the further we all move forwards, together.
I remember a few years ago the thing I was looking forward to wearing most after top surgery was sleeveless shirts, and them hanging the way I wanted them to. I love feeling so much more comfortable and embodied after surgery, and I do feel very passionately about trans* people’s rights to access treatment, I see it as a basic human right. The tattoo on my upper arm means a lot to me, getting it was a very spiritual experience, and I like showing it off. I like hats a lot and this is definitely my favourite.
2. How do you define your own transmasculinity?
I think everyone’s gender is something intensely personal and unique to them, something that differs from person to person. I don’t see gender as something binary or fixed; the fact that different behaviours, personality traits, or types of clothing are viewed as masculine in one part of the world and feminine in another signifies to me that what we call gender is something quite arbitrary. At the same time, gender is given so much weight in society that it does make up a large part of our identity and influences our experience of life, and most of us do align ourselves with a gender identity, whatever it may be. Having grown up with a Western European concept of masculinity and femininity, I’ve always felt more male. As a kid I was quite rough around the edges and I was in a lot of ways quite stereotypically male in my behaviours, which I’m not anymore; maybe that’s because I spent most of my life being taught to behave ‘like a girl/woman’, maybe not. In any case I’m very happy with where I’m at these days in my gender, I feel well balanced in myself. I do struggle at times with the shit trans* people get from society, but I’m getting stronger with that, knowing in myself that it’s coming from a stunted view of the world. I’ve got to know other men on a deeper level since I started living as a man, and I’ve witnessed that gentleness, empathy, and vulnerability are just as much male traits as they are female traits. I used to feel I had to downplay my femininity in order to ‘pass’ and be accepted as a man – I don’t think this is something that’s unique to trans guys. But I’ve learned that my gentleness and other ‘feminine’ traits are actually appreciated by people; and it’s being myself that has led to acceptance and just generally a better life.
3. What do you want to communicate through your choices?
The different outfits I chose are what I’m happy for the world to see of me, of my personality, and they’re what I feel comfortable wearing. It’s only when I was very young and then again in the last few years that I’ve been able to really express myself through my appearance. The rest of the time I was always hiding behind what I was wearing, wondering what I could get away with, whether the clothes I was buying were feminine enough to convince people that I fit in. It’s strange really because women wear all kinds of clothes, but I think where I didn’t feel female on the inside, I felt like I had some work to do to convince people externally. I don’t feel that my choices of outfits are anything special, but they’re all special to me, and I suppose that’s what I’m trying to put across to the world in general. I’m being myself and that’s the most important thing to me, other’s opinions matter so much less than they used to, and it feels great.
4. How has your fashion/style evolved?
My personal style has evolved a lot, and I think it will continuously evolve, as I continue to grow as a person, and have new experiences, and discover new cool clothes. It’s not that long ago that I transitioned to living as a man, and before that point my style changed a lot over the years, but it was never something I enjoyed much, because I was wearing women’s clothing where I wanted to be wearing men’s. Fashion has got a lot more fun and interesting for me since I started to transition; there are a lot of different styles that I’ve been playing around with, sometimes more successfully than others! I remember a date I went on where I was wearing these shoes that I bought that I couldn’t really walk in, and it very much felt like the kind of experiences you have as a teenager, finding what works and what doesn’t. It’s fun as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously! Different styles I wear bring out different aspects of my personality, and I enjoy not being limited in what I wear or how I present myself in the world. I think transitioning can be a very freeing experience in a lot of ways; once you’ve said ‘Fuck it’ to something as big as living as the gender you were told to live as, it can give you the courage to say the same to a lot of other things and just give life a go.
5. How would you describe your relationship to clothes?
Self-expression is really important to me, and it’s no longer about acceptance, but about me, and what I find fun and comfortable to wear. I take more pride in my appearance than I used to, and it makes me happy to be wearing the types of clothes I’ve always wanted to wear but previously didn’t feel able to. When I wear something more camp then I feel brave and like I’m being visibly queer; I think visibility is really important but it also scares me, for good reasons I think. I’m still exploring a lot when it comes to clothes, it’s new to me feeling like I can wear what I want, and I’m enjoying that freedom.