When I was 13, I wore my dad’s clothes to school every day. Men’s overalls, stinky old t-shirts, a flannel shirt tied around my waist…sometimes Dr Martens, sometimes too-big combat boots. If I was feeling bold, I’d ignore my insecurities about my bony knees and skinny legs and wear a skirt and tights with my unisex boots. It was called ‘grunge.’ No one ever thought of it as ‘gender bending’: it was just what we wore. Apparently, those of us who came of age in the Nineties, smoking on the corner instead of going to class, our second-hand itchy wool sweaters soaking up the stench of rain and cigarettes, were revolutionaries.
This week, the New York Times, one of the world’s most-respected sources of journalism (or so they’ll tell you), published a story about ‘nonbinary fashion.’ Based on some quick and dirty detective work (Google, you guys. I used Google), its author Hayley Krisher appears old enough to have caught the Nineties, so I’m left to assume she’s just never worn a t-shirt before.
Krisher describes teens dressing like teens as though they’re another species. Which would have been embarrassing a few decades ago (‘Baggy pants trend threatens to trip thousands; parents just don’t understand…’), but today is political, thanks to the gender identity trend offering an endless well of hot takes and bold, in-depth journalism for writers willing to feign passion for politicized narcissism.
Krisher begins by describing Anna Kinlock, a 17-year-old she met wearing black platform boots, fishnet stockings, a gray dress, a cardigan, and eyeliner. ‘Anna is passionate about androgynous fashion,’ Krisher writes. While she acknowledges this used to be called ‘goth,’ Krisher goes on to quote Kinlock saying, ‘The androgynous fashion movement is about expressing yourself without the confines of gender.’ The clothes countless teenagers have worn for decades are suddenly a symbol of sexlessness or ‘queer’ identity — a word that is applied as much to heterosexual couples who want to differentiate themselves from other normie heteros as it is to 19-year-olds who dye their hair green.
‘Nonbinary’ supposedly refers to ‘people whose gender is not male or female.’ But of course your clothing and makeup don’t change your sex, making the term ‘nonbinary clothing’ innately rather silly.
And if the term isn’t about sex, but ‘gender,’ (these words are now used interchangeably, despite meaning different things), every human on earth is ‘nonbinary,’ as none of us fit perfectly within the set of stereotypes laid out within the categories of ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine.’
The act of getting dressed in ordinary clothes is now said to be part of a radical a political movement, because ‘nonbinary’ has been presented to us as some version of ‘trans identity’ by gender studies academics far too immersed in their own asses to realize their theory makes no sense to the general population. While it is reasonable for teenagers to believe they are pioneering a never-seen-before trend, it is not reasonable for a fortysomething journalist to explain, earnestly, that ‘androgyny used to be reserved for subcultures’ and unironically abide by teenage requests to use ‘they’ instead of ‘she,’ because ‘they’ identify as ‘female-aligned nonbinary,’ as if those words mean anything at all.
Let’s pretend for a moment that fishnets and eyeliner are ‘androgynous fashion.’ Choosing an outfit in the morning does not make you any more or less ‘binary’ than anyone else, as far as ‘gender’ goes. A person either male or female, and then possesses a variety of personality traits, likes, and dislikes outside of that. Most people do not fit within the narrow set of stereotypes prescribed by ‘gender.’ I, for example, like to wear dirty Converse high tops 300 out of 365 days a year, but also have useless, long pointy nails. I will wear heels to a wedding, as well as a dress, both of which will likely be worn a grand total of never again. I wear eyeliner sometimes, but most days not. I drive a big truck, within which I sing along to either Mariah Carey or Canned Heat. I am a gender wildcard! A boundary-pushing radical, Krisher might say. I would say not, though. Really, I am just a person with a personality and various interests, many of which were shaped by the society around me, others, perhaps are all my own. (My mother tells me I am quite special, in any case.)
A pioneer of the ‘nonbinary youth movement,’ Krisher tells us, is Billie Eilish, the 17-year-old whose music once streamed accidentally in my truck, until I could pull over and switch back to Flo Rida. According to Krisher, Eilish sometimes wears oversize jackets and big furry pants, and often wears hoodies and tube socks. In a recent Calvin Klein campaign (the brand most well known for its radical feminist embrace of sexualized naked kids), Eilish explains that she chooses to wear clothes that really only differ from the clothes most people on the planet wear in that they are obnoxiously expensive, because she ‘never want[s] the world to know everything about [her.]’ Like, girl. You are literally wearing a hoodie and designer tube socks.
To be clear, I am all for young women pushing back against uncomfortable, sexualized clothing. Burn those stilettos. Toss those too-tight pants that end up inside your body if you try to sit down in them. Start buying men’s socks (they last way longer than women’s socks) and underwear (they come up to your belly button, which is where all comfortable underwear should go). But this is nothing new. Certainly it has nothing to do with ‘nonbinary identity.’
Writers have become the minions of privileged youth, not realizing that taking political direction from teenagers won’t offer them cool mom status or a historical legacy, so much as it will provide them with a lasting record of embarrassing bylines.
Teenagers have been wearing sweaters and sneakers since the Seventies, when we were beginning to actually push back against gender stereotypes. It is only today that would-be hip liberals want to pretend as though wearing men’s pants and a cardigan defines a person to such an extent that they become sexless, and that putting on eyeliner, but calling yourself ‘androgynous’ makes you different than anyone else. As though the rest of us are all walking stereotypes, what with our gender-embracing pants, our binary t-shirts, and our cis-cardigans.
Meghan Murphy is a writer in Vancouver, B.C. Her website is Feminist Current.