Society has progressed when it comes to seeing gender as a spectrum, as opposed to a black-and-white binary of male or female. Last week, Vogue tried to capture this idea, but truly failed to accurately represent the gender fluid community.
The magazine got itself in major hot water after releasing its August issue. The cover features celebrity couple Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik wearing mis-matched blazers, pants, belts and patterned collared shirts. The article described how Hadid and Malik "shop each other's closets," with the headline "Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik are Part of a New Generation Embracing Gender Fluidity." This is a huge problem.
First of all, Hadid and Malik don't identify as gender fluid, which would mean that they do not identify as having a fixed gender. In the article, the model and singer couple talk about simply borrowing clothing from each other. “I shop in your closet all the time, don’t I?” Hadid asked. “Yeah, but same,” Malik replied. “What was that T-shirt I borrowed the other day?” “The Anna Sui?” she asked. “Yeah,” Malik said. “I like that shirt. And if it’s tight on me, so what? It doesn’t matter if it was made for a girl.”
“Totally. It’s not about gender. It’s about, like, shapes. And what feels good on you that day. And anyway, it’s fun to experiment," Hadid said. Apparently this translated into Vogue labeling them as gender fluid.
So what's the issue? The problem is, in part, that the story makes light of a serious social problem where people from the LGBTQ+ community and people who identify as non-binary are treated poorly by others. Even though same-sex marriage is legal in the U.S., that doesn't stop people from bullying or harassing queer people or people who are truly gender fluid. It's not okay for Vogue to portray two cisgendered celebrities as gender fluid just because they wear unisex clothing or clothing meant for another gender—that's not gender fluid. It makes gender fluid people's identity seem like a trivial choice instead of part of their lives.
Jacob Tobia, who identifies as gender fluid, wrote in to Cosmopolitan about the cover, saying that it's wonderful the couple is in touch with their gender in terms of self-expression. But, Jacob says the problem is implying they're at the forefront of social change, when in reality, gender fluidity is becoming normalized because of the work of generations of activists. Thus the "sanitized 'gender progressive' aesthetic'" of the "cultural elite" appropriates those efforts and "totally whitewashes the lived experiences of gender-nonconforming people ... in the name of being 'edgy.'"
"Let me spell it out for you: Unlike how this new Vogue cover shoot presents it, the lived experience of being gender-nonconforming is rarely that fun and glamorous ... It looks like being spit on in public, or like being terrified to leave the house because the night before, someone on the subway yelled that you should be set on fire. On an average walk through New York City in a dress, I will receive anywhere between 10 and 20 slurs," Jacob wrote.
As one Twitter user put it, the incident is giving non-binary people a bad reputation. "It's not fair that they get praised for wearing button up shirts while actual nonbinary people get taunted and invalidated when asking people to use the right pronouns." Here's what Twitter users had to say:
"Zayn and Gigi are genderfluid because they wear each others clothes"pic.twitter.com/1HuX8F2BD9
— POPPY (@pxppyrose) July 14, 2017
Vogue calling Gigi and Zayn gender fluid because they "borrow each other's t shirts" is full on embarrassing
— paul (@pltnr) July 16, 2017
Vogue aren't the only ones to blame, Gigi and Zayn were the ones calling themselves Gender-fluid, Vogue published it. Both as bad.
— Yasmine (@YasmineSumman) July 15, 2017
Things that are more gender fluid than Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik:
-Pistachio ice cream
-Celine Dion's newest hat
— Tranna Wintour (@TrannaWintour) July 15, 2017
1.) It's called gender neutrality
2.) Genderfluid is a term for non-binary individuals
3.) Zayn and Gigi are by their own account not queer
— Shocker #3 (@colonelnemo) July 13, 2017
that gigi/zayn 'gender fluidity' piece is so demeaning and shitty and patronising to anybody that is gender fluid/presents fluidly at all
— labia majora's mask (@handronicus) July 13, 2017
Basically, wearing matching corduroy suits does not make you gender fluid. Yet the Vogue article says, "This new blasé attitude toward gender codes marks a radical break ... Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik snuggle in interchangeable tracksuits."Not the same thing. Wearing boyfriend jeans doesn't make you transgender and borrowing your S.O.'s comfy sweatshirt doesn't mean you're gender fluid. However, it is refreshing to see that Hadid and Malik aren't bound by traditional definitions of femininity and masculinity in terms of the clothing they wear. We're all about wearing what you want, as long as it's not misrepresented.
So what were Hadid and Malik's reaction to this? They're staying out of the gender fluid debate, but seem to be happy with the way the spread turned out.
Vogue apologized for the headline and changed the title to "Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik Are Part of a New Generation Who Don’t See Fashion as Gendered." I guess it's better. “The story was intended to highlight the impact the gender-fluid, non-binary communities have had on fashion and culture,” a Vogue representative told People. “We are very sorry the story did not correctly reflect that spirit — we missed the mark. We do look forward to continuing the conversation with greater sensitivity.” We're glad they apologized, but now we need to work on getting more LGBTQ+ individuals on magazine covers so they can accurately describe their own identities.