We are so pleased that Harri took the time to write the piece you’re about to read on the relationship between his femme identity and style. I for one am totally enchanted by the idea of ‘more’ as a personal fashion philosophy. We’re all so used to reading accounts of trans FAAB individuals growing into their masculinity and maleness. That’s important, but it doesn’t get round the fact that fem(me)ininity is at best misunderstood, and at worst unvalued and erased, in our communities. You might like to read Peter’s TS text as a comparison and as a reminder of the multiplicity that exists in feminine gender expression.
You might describe Harri as “particular” in the best possible sense. I really feel that Harri’s thoughtfulness and engagement and political passion come through these clothing choices and the way they are written about. To be honest, you have to be in awe of anyone who can pull off high heels and a blazer made entirely of SEQUINS. More femme activists, please! We had a great time on the shoot. And it was sunny, of course.
1. What is the significance of your top choices?
I found it hard to decide what exactly to wear, because I felt conscious of wanting to put my best and most representative self forward. I wanted to be fabulous, but also look like me, and I wanted to show that there’s some diversity to how I dress on different occasions, though actually more recently maybe there’s less, as I move away from dressing in more ‘ordinary’ (boring) ways where possible. As soon as my body began being read as unambiguously male I noticed there were a lot fewer options for someone with this shape body to dress expressively.
I’ve recently started wearing pink and blue together a lot for work. Mostly just because I happened to have a blue sweater, a blue cardigan and two pink shirts, but also because I’m moving towards ‘more’ as a way of helping me decide how to dress myself: more colours in one outfit, more patterns. I like this outfit because it feels like I’m sneaking my femmeness in to a format (shirt, tie, cardigan) in which it’s not usually found. I’d say the outfit is inspired by pictures of people like Esther Quek, in the past the way I’d wear work-wear was more based on Cary Agos and Neal Caffery, characters from shows I like who wear very snappy, slim-cut, but masculine suits.
I’ve been doing an adult beginners ballet class, and also go to an excellent yoga class. When I first went on testosterone I was so amazed by how rapidly my body could build muscle that I got quite into going to the gym and lifting weights. After a while I realised that I much preferred to look leaner rather than chunkier, muscle-wise, and have moved more towards yoga and dance. I like the control involved, and feel like I’m beginning to find the edges of my body again after losing them during the second puberty I went through. I use yoga and particularly the ballet classes I’ve been attending, as an excuse to more fully embody being a ‘princess boy’. As I’ve been there longer my clothes have got sparklier and more brightly coloured and I’ve tended to put on makeup before class.
Though it may look the least expressive of my outfit choices, this jeans-and-a-t-shirt ensemble has, to me, just as many coded references; just as many signs (semiotics had quite an impact on me at university). The boots speak to a particular type of queer and/or feminist community - there’s something about DMs that nods both to the history of the queer community and to riot grrl. I also feel pretty sexy in this outfit; the way the waistband of the jeans pulls across my hip-bones and the top of my butt, and how the t-shirt is tight across my chest and shoulders makes me feel more conscious of the shape of my body and the way it moves. The shirt is LRG merch for one of my favourite intraleague teams. Obviously I also like it because of its depiction of Femme as powerful and capable.
I’ve found recently that one way that works for me to dress up outfits and kinda push them that little bit further is through wearing really big necklaces over my more normatively-masculine cut clothes. That and make-up, which I’ll tend to at the moment be wearing to a greater or lesser degree any time I’m not at work. The androgyny I aspire to, if it can even be called that, is more about putting contradictory ideas together than about removing all trace of gender. My partner and I have begun working on creating a space for Queer Femmes (of all genders and none) in London (though people do come from further afield) and this was the outfit I wore to the first meet-up of that. I didn’t want to present myself in an overly feminised way, because looking ‘like a woman’ isn’t what my femmeness is about. On the day I was actually doing triple leopard print, not double, because I also had excellent leopard print nail wraps.
When I first bought these silver pants I thought I’d only wear them to explicitly dressing-up or themed occasions, but last week I wore them out to dinner and then the LLGFF on a date. I like them because they feel really glam rock, and that’s an aesthetic I was around a lot as a teenager and which has really influenced me. At the same time I don’t like them because they’re from the ‘girls’ section, and therefore cut for hips I no longer have, so don’t fit as well as I’d like. Buying something from the girls section again was a big deal at the time as well, but much less so now. These shoes are ridiculous, and I don’t know if I’ll ever wear them out, not least because they mean I tower over most people I know. I inherited them at a clothes swap from my partner’s sister, which I find quite fun.
Essentially, I could write a whole essay on any one of these outfits, because each one is made up of so many items I feel signify something or another. I’m pretty intentional in my decisions about how to dress, which does have the effect of making it quite stressful sometimes.
2. How do you define your own transmasculinity?
I’m not totally sure I identify as transmasculine any more. I read a really interesting piece recently which described how it seems that ‘transmasculine’ and ‘transfeminine’ are actually coming to be understood as being directly linked to how one was designated at birth; that if you’re described as transmasculine that must be because you’re a trans person DFAB, and a transfeminine person must be DMAB. I agreed with the author in finding this really problematic. In my case it was because I feel like that structure, as unintentional as it may be, really reinforces a binary notion of gender, even if those binaries are seen as two ends of a scale, and because it really doesn’t do justice to me, or to a lot of people in my life.
My masculinity is a queer, femininst, Femme masculinity, though I actually rarely use the word masculine/ity in describing myself at all. I’m a genderqueer, trans, Femme person, who was DFAB and has undertaken medical interventions to change their body in a way that means that the queering of gender that I do rests more on a ‘man’-shaped canvas than a ‘woman’ one. I find androgyny attractive, and certainly aspire to having a difficult-to-pin-down gender presentation, but also find the way that ‘androgyny’ has come to only really represent a specific skinny, usually white, body from which there’s been an attempt to erase what I suppose are ‘secondary sexual characteristics’ (breasts, facial hair, etc) really problematic. I’d rather throw together seemingly-contradictory markers of masculinity and femininity in a hyperbolic way, than try and erase all trace. I’m not striving to destroy gender, just to deconstruct it and have fun with it rather than being controlled by it.
3. What do you want to communicate through your choices?
I guess I’m trying to get some of that previous message across. I certainly draw from the many femme influences in my life (both people and texts) in trying to use my femmeness to draw attention to the falseness of gender, to the fact that it’s capitalist hetero-patriarchy, or kyriarchy if you prefer, which says that only women wear lipstick, not any kind of essential ‘womanness’. I originally began to add heels and big jewellery to that list, but it took me only half a second to realise that in a number of really quite mainstream western (and hyper-masculine) cultures, men wear heels (cowboys) and huge jewellery (rap stars).
I struggle to articulate this, because I know it comes tied up in a lot of baggage I have around where my identity and politics rub up against each other, but I think I’m also trying to communicate that I’m not a man. I think I need to think a lot more about this before I try and put it down on paper. In fact I know I do, because I tried to have a conversation about it recently with friends who feel similarly to me about the conflicts we feel in this area, and between us we still couldn’t put it into words.
4. How has your fashion/style evolved?
I’m really glad I waited this long to do my Test Shot, as it’s only in recent months that I feel like I’ve begun to find a way of dressing myself that begins to communicate what I’d like it to, or at least that I feel good about putting out into the world as a representation of myself and describing.
After starting on T it took me (is taking me?) a long time to learn to dress myself. Not so much because my body is different, but because the impact of the same clothes became different. A shirt and tie that had looked cute before, and interesting, looked ordinary and boring. While I don’t feel like a man, I’m almost definitely not a woman, either, and I feel like a lot of my aesthetic choices in the past were dictated by trying to prove that. While there have been periods of greater flexibility and experimentation along the way, I think that it’s fair to say that I used to be pretty uptight and restricted in my clothes choices. When I was first exploring my gender identity I basically had a uniform, one very specific ‘look’ I’d wear. Not to say it didn’t look good, I made quite a cute 80s-revival mod, but it was pretty constrictive, style-wise. I guess it was good in that I never had to worry about whether I was dressed ‘right’ for a particular situation or place, because I only had one option. The shirts I wore at the time (and a couple of pairs of boxer shorts, actually) became the quilt we now have on our sofa at home. The t-shirts I grew out of when I first went on T became another huge quilt I spent a long time piecing together. I’ve also come to understand even more clearly how identity is not separable from physical body, I think maybe because my body has fluctuated and changed so rapidly, and how I’ve presented myself has changed along with it almost as if in response. Obviously my identity has changed for reasons other than how I look - my politics and core values have become more clearly defined, but I feel like the two have played out very much in relation to each other.
5. How would you describe your relationship to clothes?
As may have been clear from the quilt comment above, I have quite a sentimental attachment to clothes. Actually, I think all my answers show that I attach a lot of meaning to various items, and also the way they’re put together.
I don’t buy clothes very often, for a combination of reasons that include money, the lack of space in our tiny flat and the impact clothes manufacturing has on workers and the environment. It takes me a long time to decide I want or need a new item, and I find it hard to add something to my wardrobe that I’m not convinced I’ll wear all the time and goes with everything. That doesn’t sit very well with my intention towards including more patterns and more interesting items in my wardrobe, and I’m trying to get around this with clothes swaps and charity shops, because I feel less guilty (on all fronts, for some reason) about getting new clothes those ways. More recently my partner and I have been sharing clothes more, too, which is nice. There’s something very queer about passing clothes back and forth and both of you trying them on while getting ready for a night out that makes me smile