“Queer and trans culture is not fringe, it is the mainstream, darling!” — Alok Vaid-Menon
At the beginning of 2021 trans activist Max Appenroth and Sophia Emmerich took this quote to heart and created images that celebrate trans and gender non-conforming beauty. They focused on breaking out of stereotypes and explored using fashion as a vehicle to talk about representation and diversity. Join Sophia in conversation with Max as they discuss the correlation between gender and fashion, gender norms and the importance of queer representation in the media.
Sophia: In the past fashion has been used to enforce gender-stereotypes. We are slowly trying to break out of that. What do you think is the correlation between gender and fashion? And why is fashion so important for gender-expression?
Max: In general I would say on a physical level there is no direct correlation, because theoretically anyone can wear a piece of cloth, if it fits. However, on a social, interpersonal level it’s a different story. By our outer appearance and expression through fashion people are trying to put one another into boxes and stereotypical categories. For some people, these boxes feel fitting and comfortable, for some people they don’t fit and they break free from a normative gendered expression. Both cases should be fine and accepted. But unfortunately, they are not.
Individuals breaking with these stereotypes, often gender non-conforming and non-binary identities, are being ostracised, ridiculed, and at times even experience violence for simply expressing, who they are. And that shouldn’t happen anymore.
It took until (around) 2020 for trans models to be acknowledged, why do you think it took so long?
Generally, trans people are being overlooked in all aspects of life and society. So it’s no wonder that it took this long for trans fashion models to finally be seen by mainstream society. At the same time, relentless activism of my community has finally given us some attention and the world also sees that we’re not just a tiny group of 5 people here and there. We are a strong, fierce, and beautifully diverse community all around the globe. If modern fashion labels and companies do not understand and accept the diversifying momentum that has been happening in society for ages, I think that in the long run, they will not sustain in the market.
Can fashion be a form of activism?
Fashion and visibly expressing diversity is one of the strongest visual ways of activism. Putting oneself on the frontline by visually breaking norms takes courage. It may be dangerous, but at the same time, if continuously repeated and done by a growing number of people, it will be rewarding.
By the actions that we as gender-diverse people take, we’re breaking chains that have restricted society from flourishing and freely expressing ourselves for decades. At the end of the day, everyone – not only trans people – will benefit from this liberation and freeing us from the dictation of what one can or cannot wear.
Why do you think representation (in fashion/art/media) so important?
Trans and gender diverse visibility must be raised in all possible ways! We have a right to live and strive with dignity and respect, but unfortunately, this right remains denied to us so far.
Transphobia and violence against my community is on the rise globally. By representing us and portraying us in the right light, showing the beauty of our diverse community, will help to foster acceptance on a path to equity and inclusion.
Trans and gender diverse people exist and have always existed. We have survived so so much, it is now the time for us to strive and shine and we need support to do that from our cis allies.
What does the perfect future look like?
I don’t believe in perfectionism. We are all humans and have made mistakes in the past and will make mistakes in the future. The important point is, how we learn from our mistakes to create a better future for us and the following generations. It is now the time for cis people to listen and learn from my community, to take responsibility over their past actions, and to co-create a future, in which we stand side-by-side and everyone is being seen and accepted for who they are and wish to become.
About the Artists
Sophia (she/her) is a queer Berlin-based beauty and fashion photographer. In the last years she has worked on several projects to bring more visibility to the LGBTQ+ community. Her work has been exhibited in Berlin, published in magazines, and in 2020 she was chosen to create a Pride 2020 shoot for Adobe.
Max (they/them) is a trans activist from Berlin, who advocates for trans rights globally. With their work, Max challenges a binary gendered narrative, also within queer communities. Trans representation, especially transmasculine and non-binary visibility, is broadly missing in today’s fashion photography.
Model: Max Appenroth
Photography + Art Direction: Sophia Emmerich
Hair & Make-Up: CrisToni Florido Acosta