Can fashion be queer? And if so, how can it be queered?
Today, we are getting into the nitty gritty: the brass tacks of being an LGBTQIA+ identified blogger in the lingerie industry, the most pressing issues in the lingerie industry regarding LGBTQIA+ issues and representation, and getting to the titular question: what makes lingerie queer, anyway?
In case you missed it: be sure to check out part one of the roundtable to meet all the bloggers and hear their thoughts on how lingerie intersects with their sexuality and gender presentation.
Rachel Jean & Ania by Zoe Hiigli
What's your assessment of your readers’ familiarity with LGBTQIA+ issues and/or personal identification? Do you see education as part of the work you do?
Lori Smith of Rarely Wears Lipstick: I do have readers who are aware of LGBTQ+ issues, either from a personal perspective or as an ally, but there are definitely many who are less knowledgeable and so I try not to assume prior knowledge in my writing. I like writing educational pieces, which is one of the reasons I haven't turned Rarely Wears Lipstick into a specialist lingerie blog. Keeping its focus more open means that I can write on all the topics I'm passionate about.
Cora Harrington of The Lingerie Addict: I would say that many of our readers likely have at least a passing familiarity with LGBTQIA issues (I don't see how you can avoid issues concerning the LGBTAIQ community in this day and age), and that we definitely have at least a few readers who are very involved with and frequently discuss LGBTQIA concerns. In terms of personal identification, I don't know the stats on that and I don't ask, but I can say that we seem to have more LGBTQIA-identified visitors since Rose began her columns on TLA. As an editor, I definitely see education as part of the work we're doing. The Lingerie Addict is a fashion blog dedicated to intimate apparel first and foremost, but so much falls under that umbrella; surfacing these concerns, normalizing them, making them a part of the general lingerie conversation is absolutely a part of TLA's mission.
Jilly of JillysFrillies: Prior to coming out in lingerie community, I’d not considered education as part of what I do other than a passionate expression of equality and being a socialist (so no to “nude,” “all women,” “plus size” and yes to inclusion, confidence and body positivity). My coming out blog was important personally but I felt a responsibility to be true to the above ideals and to the wider LGBT movement.
Rose Wednesday of The Lingerie Addict: I feel as though I attract a lot of readers who are interested in queer and trans issues, certainly. I think I spend most of my time speaking to that audience but I try to make sure that I include links and educational information for people who are new to these issues when I can. I also spend a fair amount of time responding to comments from readers who are new to queer issues.
The Technicolor Lover: I've been really pleased by the number of queer-identified folks I've been able to connect with through my blog, but I definitely think that the majority of my readers are young, cisgendered, and heterosexual. I think that those in the second camp are fairly knowledgeable of and empathetic towards issues that affect queer people. Most importantly, the majority clearly demonstrate a willingness to listen. However, I think it's likely that some haven't considered how something as simple as a tiny bow may carry a lot of weight for certain people. They also may or may not realize how underserved some queer markets are. Education was never a big driving force behind my blog, but I think it's something I'll explore more in time.
Liz/Denocte of Kurvendiskussionen: I’m young and evolving. I’ve come from a very cissexist worldview (because I didn’t know any better and never educated myself) to trying my best to make my blog a safe space for LGBTQIA people. I’m still editing my old blog posts to diminish all cissexist phrases and gender binary idiocy - unbelievable how internalised those phrases were!
But since most of my readers are somehow familiar with LGBTQIA issues I think I do more educating in real life - explaining why blogging about underwear can be hella feminist and empowering for example, and why gender binaries in lingerie hurt. So, in short: I try my best to help make our society a better one for us but I’ve got a long way to go.
Caro of The Lingerie Lesbian: My readership is primarily straight, with a vocal minority of people of all genders who identify as queer in some capacity. I think that they are generally pretty savvy on queer issues, or are good at staying quiet about it. I think that different people come to my blog for different things-- there are definitely people who come just for lingerie who could care less about anything LGBTQIA+ related. I tend to have to do more educating on the lingerie side of things than the queer side of things, to be honest. I come across more uncomfortable people who need educating when I meet people in the lingerie industry in person, rather than on my blog itself.
Agent Provocateur Printemps-été 2015What are some of the most common misunderstandings about the LGBTQIA+ community you encounter with your readers and also in the industry?
Cora: There can be a tendency to silo these concerns, and to treat them as though they're completely unrelated to anything happening in the rest intimate apparel world. It turns into this very stereotypical "those people over there" kind of conversation, and that's at the most innocent end of things. I've also seen people react hostilely, as though bringing LGBTQIA-relevant topics into the fold somehow takes away from or hurts the lingerie conversation, as opposed to adding to it and making it more inclusive. The industry, as I've indicated in other interviews, has been very slow to change. Products for LGBTQIA individuals are seen as a niche market (or, worse, a fetish market), and that's a direct result of a lack of education and diversity in the industry. The industry leaders are people who are part of the old guard or approved by that old guard, and, unfortunately, because of phenomena like homophily and the like, they often tend to closely reflect the appearance and interests of the old guard.
Rose: From readers, I often get statements about how those who complain about a brand or a lack of availability of a product are just whiners, which I think isn’t true; part of being a consumer involves talking back to companies. And while I can’t generalize about the lingerie industry, I’ve seen a lot of goodwill but some real uncertainty about how to become a more queer-friendly brand. To the point where I wrote an article about it.
Caro: Both 'lingerie' and 'lesbian' are heavily sexualized terms that added together seem to make people think that I'm more likely to be peddling erotica than talking about underwires. I think the other most common misunderstandings are that either the lesbian community is monolithic and profoundly different than straight women OR that they are undifferentiated from straight women, so why would anyone need to consider their needs separately. It's a strange double bind to find myself in.
Via RodeoHWhat do you see as the most pressing issues facing the lingerie industry when it comes to LGBTQIA+ related issues?
Lori: I feel that the most pressing issues facing the lingerie industry at the moment, with regard to the LGBTQ+ community, are: a lack of body diversity in imagery; a lack of availability of lingerie designed for certain body types; and not welcoming trans/non-binary folk (shopping online or in store) due to a lack of understanding of trans issues. Others could learn a lot from Bluestockings Boutique and the brands it stocks!
Cora: Product diversity, language, and the actual physical treatment of LGBTQIA customers in brick and mortar boutiques. People want more options from their local lingerie stores, and I'm not necessarily talking about binders and packing briefs, but even less femme options would be a start. There's also a lot of misinformation/lack of education regarding appropriate language, and there are some boutiques who've made the news for mistreating LGBTQIA customers in their stores. These are the sort of things you could "get away with" without consequence 10 or 15 years ago, but that's no longer the case. The lingerie industry in general needs to be updated and modernized before conservatism becomes its death knell.
TCL: In my mind, representation is probably still at the forefront. I do sense there's been a shift towards lingerie as self-expression, rather than garments meant to please an implicitly male partner. And I think that has provided an exciting opportunity for greater inclusivity in lingerie advertising. But while the absence of gendered language or coded imagery is important, the presence of queerness is also important. Yet I realize the latter is a much riskier proposition in a highly conservative industry. I also think that there's a large number of underserved queer markets who desperately need more products to suit their needs.
Liz/Denocte: Well, I really think we have a LONG way to go - there’s so much left to do. For example, androgyny. Our views of androgyny in lingerie are often “smallbusted white thin girl* in wireless bralette” - what about bigger busts? What about big hips? What about fat people? Why is “androgynous” always seen as a girl* trying to look more “masculine”?
Also: the fact that often things like binders or packing briefs are so hard to find show that we need to do better. Underwear can be luxury, but it is also the first thing on your skin. It’s your armour. Try buying something as simple as decent binders or packing briefs when you’re not in the US. You need a credit card for sure, and internet, and the funds to pay for not only the items but also customs etc. - this needs to be so much more accessible!
What, to you, makes something in lingerie "queer"?
Lori: Queering something is to question it, push the boundaries, examine our assumptions and turn it into something new, so I view queer underwear as garments which make people stop and think "oh yeah, underwear can look like that too. Why has no one thought of that before?"
Cora: From a professional point of view, as an editor, I'm looking for models or imagery that read as "queer," and I know that can be a complicated topic in and of itself (for example, I identify as bisexual, but I "read" as hetero to most people), but when it comes to advertising or trends or editorials, I'm looking for imagery that is unabashedly and overtly queer-identified. I'm reluctant to say that something less femme is automatically more queer (it's an easy dichotomy to make, but I also feel like it's an oversimplified one), so instead, I look for brands that are expressing queerness through their images and are playing with things like norms of gender and sexuality.
Jilly: Nothing. We have fought to be received as equal. As humans we may have different styles and values informed by our LGBTQ identity and experience and this may manifest itself in our lingerie preferences, but to suggest there is queer lingerie, is, for me, to walk right back into the prison cell we have fought so long to escape from.
Rose: As someone who’s studied social science research, I feel as though that question is a really sociological one! What makes something queer is partially about personal perspective, but personal perspective is usually informed by cultural norms. I feel as though lingerie that looks queer to an American eye might not to a person from England, or that a Midwesterner might interpret every California surfer girl’s lingerie collection as pretty gay, etc. I think that “queer lingerie” is whatever lingerie makes you feel good being a queer person in your social context.
TCL: I embrace the term queer because it suggests a certain inclusivity, as it attempts to acknowledge the full spectrum of gender and sexual identities. Yet I am also attracted to its definition as being "against the grain". Ultimately, I do think what makes lingerie queer is the person wearing it. Yet, I think queerness may also be present in design. When a style makes you think about the body or gender in a different way, when it unsettles expectation, perhaps that could be queer. Chromat was created by a queer designer, but some part of me wonders if the designs themselves could also be considered queer. Many styles extend far out from the body instead of following it, creating bulbous, asymmetrical shapes. It shatters the hourglass, which is the opposite of what the vast majority of lingerie attempts to do.
Liz/Denocte: Queer lingerie for me is Lingerie that someone who identifies as queer wears. My binder? Queer. My luxury lace pushup bras? Hella queer. It’s still me wearing them and I don’t get any less queer whether I wear something seen as girly or genderqueer. But also brands that focus on including queer customers, queer owners, hire queer people, include queer people in their ads. So, basically, neverland. A girl can dream, right?
Caro: I think that 'queerness' comes in subverting expectations about how garments are read or perceived. I'm not really sure that a garment by itself can be queer; the queerness can only be realized when combined with the individual wearing it and its context, whether in imagery or in real life.
What do you think about "queering" fashion? Can lingerie and underthings be queer(ed)? Does your underwear drawer reflect your own gender presentation and/or sexuality?
P.S. To read more blog posts like this one, sign up for the Bluestockings newsletter in the bottom right corner of this page.