Whether intentional or subconscious, fashion expresses something outwardly. Some people may use clothes to protect themselves, while others use them to showcase who they are, university studies junior Simone Chalabi said. In LGBTQ+ communities, fashion and style is often used to communicate something to the world.
For some people in queer communities, policing the way they behave is a form of survival. People have been suppressed in how they act to be a part of society, local drag performer Salem Moon said. According to Moon, fashion is an expressive art form, and for a lot of queer people, fashion is how they express themselves.
Fashion can also be used to connect with other queer people and alleviate gender dysphoria for people who identify as transgender and non-binary, music education junior Cereza Tovar said. According to the National Health Service, gender dysphoria is a term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.
Because queer people use the freedom of dressing themselves to express their sexuality and gender identity, clothes, fashion and style play a big part in LGBTQ+ communities. This can be examined by the creation and existence of ballroom culture within the queer community, Tovar said.
In the 1920s, drag pageants were held primarily by cis-gendered white men. According to Grinnell College, drag refers to the practices of one gender dressing in the clothes typically worn by the opposite gender and adopting the conventional mannerisms of said gender. These pageants were often discriminatory and restrictive towards performers of color. In an effort to create a safe space for Black and Latino drag performers, balls and ballroom culture were created in the ‘60s.
Through ballroom culture, queer people were able to find chosen families when they were turned away from their biological families. They created “houses” — or families — to live with and compete with at balls, all while giving and receiving support.
A ballroom is the location where balls are held, and balls are competitions where the houses compete against one another in various categories.
Historically, people have had to use clothing and fashion as an armor, Chalabi said. People used clothes to pass or look as real as possible. Passing and looking real refers to looking as white and straight as possible. Because of this, categories for “realness” were popular in balls, Chalabi said. Realness categories were opportunities to determine who could be the most undetectably queer.
Through categories like businessman or businesswoman, queer people were allowed to live out being functional members of society, Tovar said. They said these categories were used by queer people of color as safe spaces to say “hey, like, we have a place in this world.”
Drag and ballroom culture has become more popular with time. With shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Pose” being popular amongst viewers, drag culture is becoming more mainstream, which Moon believes is a good thing.
Moon believes that through the relationship between queer people and fashion, moments of “euphoric happiness” and feeling comfortable in your skin are created.