Jeanna: I wanted to say congrats on your prolific number of articles coming out of The Lingerie Addict right now. Rose: Oh, thank you! I got bumped up to a weekly column, which has been exciting but stressful. Like on Tuesday I wrote something that wasn't really great, and Cora [founder and editor-in-chief of TLA] nixed it because any good editor would, so I spent all of Tuesday writing about Jenny Shimizu instead.
Jenny Shimizu. Via Modern Weekly China.
Jeanna: Those kinds of profile pieces are interesting and really rare in this corner of the fashion blogosphere, and the Jenny Shimizu piece was just such a pleasure to read.
Rose: I really enjoyed writing it. There's so much to say about her and she feels a little bit like one of those Helen of Troy-esque mythic beauties.
Jeanna: How'd you get the idea for the article?
Rose: Well, I found her while looking for queer people of color in the lingerie industry, which was what the initial post was about—but it wasn't detailed enough and didn't have enough names or enough new information. But Cora was like “Jenny Shimizu is amazing. Could you focus in on her?” I think the line I wrote about Shimizu being a legendary beauty intrigued Cora (and me) because it's not something you usually hear about queer, butch women.
Jeanna: That's interesting: getting stuck on the description of a butch woman as beautiful. I think of comparable models today—Casey Legler, Rain Dove. Dove in particular is interesting in identifying as agender and being very vocal (with their social media presence) as striving for a fluid ideal. Shimizu is unabashedly butch-identified.
Rose: So often, butch women get typecast as "ugly," and Shimizu just blows that claim out of the water. And I also like the idea of the mythic beauty whose presence is physically overwhelming, whose existence changes things. Like, I think about how women signify "soft butch" or "gentle androgyny" now and it's wall-to-wall Jenny Shimizu. I know straight women who dress like her.
Jeanna: Her influence is tremendous. Your article brought up an interesting spat of comments of people longing for her to come out of retirement. Which adds another layer to this, of her being an almost 50-something QPOC in an industry that's very youth-driven.
Rose: I think that we have a hard time imagining what it's going to be like when we get old. I was talking to someone recently (and I wish I could remember who!) and they pointed out that AIDS stole a lot of our "godparents" from us and drove a lot of people into hiding. And then you look at statistics for the lifespan of trans people, queer people of color, and especially trans queer people of color, and it's shockingly low. So I think that having a model for what it's like to be an old queer person, especially someone who is presenting a gender-variant, would be really powerful for a lot of people.
Rose: It's not only interesting, but also a relief, to see that queer people can grow older.
Jeanna: Sometimes I feel very lucky to have spent my formative "baby gay" years in academia, where I had so many older, tenured gay- and lesbian-identified professors, partnered and unpartnered, with and without children, to look up to and just watch. I have been very, very lucky to have models in my real life of what it looks like to be LGBTQ and middle aged to elderly. That is not a common experience.
Rose: Maybe this relates to something that I've been noticing a lot recently: queer generation gaps, and how those manifest in terms of visibility politics.
Jeanna: Can you say more about the queer generation gap you're seeing, and about it in lingerie more specifically? Rose: Well, I think that a fairly good example in lingerie is the difference between TomboyX and PlayOut, which we've talked about a little before. Two companies selling ostensibly the same product (gender neutral boxer briefs and briefs) but with a very different presentation of their companies to the public. With PlayOut, we see “out” right in the name in big letters, images of post-mastectomy women and MOC folks right on the website, and a move toward a gender-neutral fitting system. Whereas TomboyX doesn't lie about being founded by queer women, but it also softpedals it. I think there's much more interest in visibility from younger companies.
Jeanna: I would agree. I mean, on the one hand, TomboyX has had features in Curve [a lesbian magazine], but at the same time, it’s not plastered on their social media. “Tomboy” is coded language and has been for years in fashion. Even though I think anyone would be hard pressed to look at their facebook feed and not see who TomboyX’s target market is, there's definitely a lot more caution in the brand copy.
Via TomboyX. tomboyx.com.
Rose: I think that their move to expand their audience is to cater to straight masculine-of-center women, whereas PlayOut's model hopes to expand into trans/genderqueer/gay male territory.
Jeanna: And PlayOut is really embracing their identity as an underwear brand, whereas TomboyX is an established lifestyle brand. And there aren’t many queer “lifestyle” brands (Haute Butch is another).
Rose: And that idea that you can buy everything you need in one location, the “starter set” idea—do you think that's fading?
Jeanna: No, but I don't see as many companies or e-commerce sites tackling it. There’s an urge to specialize.
Rose: And there are almost no brick-and-mortar stores that specialize in queer clothing. At least not on the east coast. Jeanna: The only shops or brands that come to mind, at all, are suit shops like Saint Harridan's that do pop ups. It's this question that I keep turning over in my mind: Do we not have these shops because of a lack of opportunity? Or because we are resistant to anyone imposing a "queer aesthetic" on us? (If that's the case, I'm completely fucked with Bluestockings!)
Rose: Or is it because "what is queer clothing anyway"? Yeah!
Jeanna: So then, is a queer shop just one that is owned by a queer person?
Rose: Right, I think there's an automatic resistance to the idea of knowing what any community needs. Like when I was talking about issues that actual trans women in my actual life had, a few actual trans women came along and were like "I've never had any problem with this, don't assume I've had problems with this." Which might have been an issue of phrasing, or of reading, but it was certainly interesting and made me wonder if that was part of an overall resistance toward being defined by someone else's terms. Even another queer, trans-ish person.
Jeanna: I mean, people are people and there will never be a representative, or list of representative, experiences. There will always be exceptions. Which is both encouraging and also like, shit, nothing is ever going to be able to work for everyone.
Rose: Right. I think that starting from the position of acknowledging that is good, though. But anyway: I feel like a queer shop can be a thing if it provides the sense of possibility and play, rather than a feeling of being cornered into specific roles, which is something that's always intimidated me.
Jeanna: Totally. By being cornered into specific roles, do you mean things we've talked about in the past, like using gendered language and rigid categories?
Rose: Yes, and also the idea that the person who owns the binder also can't own the "add two sizes" pushup bra, etc. I think that the stable self gets pushed on people in too many other places. It doesn't have to be in our lingerie.
Jeanna: You are using all these phrases that make me giddy. "Stable self." Exactly. Fuck that.
Rose: Hahaha, oh good!
Jeanna: Similarly, the "authentic" self.
Rose: Right, the idea that there is a One True You hiding inside of a Mask. To quote from many, many first-year English papers.
Jeanna: I'm grading those first-year English papers right now. The authentic self is alive and well. And agreed, I'd really like it to not be in lingerie. Or at least, not in my shop. One of my favorite badass literary quotes to pull out is the Walt Whitman line about containing multitudes. We each contain multitudes! Why limit yourself?
Rose: I think that to a certain extent, previous generations of queer people had to be really definitive because they were coming out for the first time and describing themselves as a community And so you get these old ideas about like... being bisexual is treachery, being butch is a lifelong proposition, etc. Because they were trying to establish a visible presence and it's hard to do that without creating a sharp distinction from not-gay. And I see a lot more fluidity in terms of how people in our general age bracket express that, versus older people who seemed to be much more about adhering to an identity.
Jeanna: Also key to this discussion is the Gen X/Gen Y work around reclaiming the word "queer." That has done a tremendous amount for fluidity and flexibility.
Rose: There’s something really powerful about it because it speaks to a united front of weirdness. I think "lesbian" and "gay" now mean "like us but just a little different", whereas "queer" to me speaks to an allegiance not only to homosexuality but to an anarchic view of gender and sexuality.
Jeanna: I think the key thing there that you got at is that "queer" also umbrellas to incorporate gender variance. And non-binary ways of thinking about gender. Like you said -- it's challenging. I mean, we say this even as certain parts of the country are still on the struggle bus with same-sex marriage.
Rose: Right. "Queer" is challenging I think because it's a few steps ahead of that in terms of what it's asking of people. And people aren't even all ready for that first step. Or don't want to be, etc. In a lot of ways I live in a queer mecca and so I forget sometimes that the rest of the world isn't like that.
Chrysalis Enhancer ($75) and T-String ($85), chrysalislingerie.com
I think that may be part of what happened with Chrysalis, though. I think there are two generations of thought on trans issues existing simultaneously right now, and I think that that's a strong factor in why there was an unanticipated backlash.
Jeanna: Right. Generational clash, also the problems with explicitly gearing a brand to a community that is (understandably) automatically skeptical of something being made "for them."
Rose: I think the first part came down to: the generation to which the owners belong, either literally or symbolically, is the generation where if you're transitioning, you want to normalize as much as possible. Jeanna: At the very least, that's who it seemed to be geared to.
Jeanna: Yes, I remember that. That article was a really potent lightening rod.
Rose: Yeah, written by a queer trans woman who refers to herself as chubby and small breasted and broad shouldered and is super down with being all of that.
Jeanna: Yes. She wasn't an underthings/lingerie blogger, but her immediate critiques of the line were really spot-on. As someone who wasn’t coming from an industry perspective, her critiques were more about the products’ ability—or inability—to serve customers because of systemic issues facing the trans community. It was more holistic.
Rose: Yeah. She saw what people can't always see if they are immersed in the world of high-end lingerie.
Rose: I think there's another factor at play here that I didn't consider immediately, until I realized that both of Chrysalis's owners are not just trans women, but trans women of color. Like if you're a trans woman and you're white and you're also IDing as queer, there are obviously trans-exclusionary groups and fetishization, but there is some level of queer community ready to receive you. Trans women of color, especially straight trans women of color? Don't always have that community on their side. And so there may be an issue we are overlooking here. It may be more important to assimilate when not assimilating is physically dangerous and people don't really have your back.
Jeanna: I think that's an absolutely necessary point you bring up re: assimilation that is often overlooked in discussions about trans women. And—I partly hesitate to say this, but also in queer communities, generally. Is there violence? Yes. But QWOC and especially trans women of color face it disproportionately. From my perspective as a (white, cis, queer) business owner, my main critique of Chrysalis' launch (oft-repeated at this point) is a lack of communication with customers.
Rose: I've actually mostly heard about the price point and the prohibitive sizing. What's the story on customer communication?
Jeanna: There was a shift in how they talked about their products and customers pre-launch to post-launch. There was increasing defensiveness about the products and size range. There was very poor communication re: responding to customer inquiries. There haven't been any updates to the website in ages and their last facebook post was in March of last year. In hindsight, I think pricing AND sizing are hurdles they could have overcome, with better communication. Rose: Which is obviously hurtful toward people who would love to buy their products and assimilate more but their bodies just simply cannot.
Jeanna: With more transparency regarding the production process and budget limitations pre-launch, they could have better prepared people for high prices. I still don’t know if there was a commitment to lowering prices, or expanding product range (facebook surveys indicate interest in expanding product range, but there weren’t announcements). They did say they wanted to expand the size range. Honestly, I’m still shocked they didn't initially come out with at least a few cup sizes for 40 bands, or A cups in core sizes.
Rose: Or installment plans or bulk discounts, since their goal was allegedly to supply people with plenty underwear. Jeanna: I can look at their stock and guess what happened, which is that they probably ended up in a factory that cuts core sizes, but that's not what they as a brand needed.
Rose: That makes perfect sense. And I agree. My guess is that the backlash, being unanticipated, completely blindsided them and left them unsure what to do next. I've heard rumors of a relaunch periodically but I haven't seen anything yet. Jeanna: Same. I check on them periodically. I do believe in the idea behind the brand and I would really love to see them succeed, with some rebranding and reevaluation of both sizing and products.
Rose: I think that watching the designers talk about their product is very enlightening because you can see that they didn't make it across the language gap between the 1990s conception of trans and more modern terminology. They talk a lot about “genetic girls” and “bio girls” versus “t girls.”
Jeanna: Yes, that was very striking! At first I was like, what? Cause that wasn't part of my queer education.
Rose: Right? By the time I knew what trans women were, I knew that Trans Women Are Women.
Jeanna: That's such a good point about placing them, generationally. I do feel for them, with copy and press. It looks like they were doing everything themselves and I have so much sympathy for that! I do all my own copy, press, social media, branding, etc., and most of the indie designers in this industry do, too. I can't imagine dealing with an Autostraddle-infused backlash. Or Buzzfeed, or whatnot.
Rose: Yeah. And a lot of general public attention directed abruptly at two trans women who tried to start a quiet boutique brand? One of whom doesn't put her last name on the Internet, even? They're caught between Hard Queer Theorists on one side and Straight Internet Dudetrolls on the other.
Jeanna: Rock –> Hard Place. And that was right around when Janet Mock was doing her memoir. And Orange is the New Black was getting started, with Laverne Cox [as the first trans woman playing a trans character on television, ever]. Rose: Cy Lauz? If you're reading this, I'm really sorry about what happened. Let's talk.
Jeanna: That was kind of the start of our mass cultural Trans 101.
Rose: I'm pretty sure that gorgeous and "proportioned" and perfect as she is, Laverne Cox wouldn't fit in their sizing. Jeanna: Oh, hell no.
Rose: But what a great opportunity that would have been.
Laverne Cox in Oyster Magazine #106 (March 2015), wearing the Chromat Underwire Bra. Photo by Skye Parrott.
Jeanna: Can you imagine Laverne Cox doing an underwear ad? Excuse me while I mop myself up off the floor.
Rose: Maybe someday she will. I think the nation would collectively die in the same way we did when Christina Hendricks modeled lingerie.