Gender notes: transgender fashion models

From the attitude (UK) site on 9/11/18, “Underwear brand Marco Marco features all trans models at New York Fashion Week: The groundbreaking runway show featured some of our favourite transgender stars”:

(#1) Marco and the boys

A complex presentation. Male fashion models are typically presented as ideals of conventional masculinity, with the facial features, musculature, and gait and gestures of young but mature, very fit, straight men of good class and conventional lives. Transgender men, however, often aim for more machismo markers than is customary in fashion models: facial hair and bodybuilder musculature, in particular. Neither of these is modal or classy, but they do visibly perform the masculine gender role, so that they’re of considerable symbolic value.

Transgender men are then doing two things, in different contexts: sometimes they want to present themselves simply as men — to just be, unremarkably, guys. Sometimes there are practical reasons for men to reveal their trans status, but occasionally they want to display it as an accomplishment, as here; they did, after all, put a lot of effort into achieving this concordance between their sense of identity and their appearance.

(Hat tip to Kim Darnell.)

Note 1: shirtlessness. Any part of the body can signal masculinity, but front views are richer sources of information than rear views, and three regions of the front of the body are especially powerful sources: the head, via the hair and the facial features; the torso or trunk, from neck to waist, via the shoulders and the musculature of the bare body (notably the pectoral and abdominal muscles), plus the exposed nipples; and of course the crotch, though the genitals are ordinarily covered by clothing.

Faces are usually easily available for inspection, so for a deliberate display of physical masculinity, the focus will be on the torso, especially unclothed: shirtlessness is the most intense form of masculinity display — which explains why shirtless photos and other images figure so prominently in contexts where high masculinity is the focus, as in material appreciated by gay men (and often reproduced on this blog). Like Marco Marco ads, which are fashioned specifically for a gay male audience.

Note 2: styles of masculinity. Consider the men in #1 merely as an assortment of shirtless young men, not otherwise identified in any way (in particular, they could be cis or trans, straight or gay). They are clearly diverse on some sociocultural dimensions, and they are also of several body types, but in addition they vary in the way they present themselves as gendered persons, via (at least) their hairstyles, facial hair, accessories, body art, muscular development, facial expressions, and stances; some project much more machismo than others, and one (on the far left) might be pegged by some as effeminate.

The point is that there’s quite a variety of styles of masculinity, independent of gender identity and sexuality. I’m especially interested in the styles usually characterized as effeminate (and often consequently viewed with contempt), because I view such men as especially significant in the world of gender and sexuality. I hope to pursue that topic in a future posting on Hilton Als and the femme style — a topic I opened up a little bit in a section on Als in my 9/11 posting “Giovanni in Ferragamo”, where I noted his self-identification as an “Auntie Man”. Specifically, as a (cis) man and gay and femme (and not as non-binary).

There are, not surprisingly, trans man with femme styles, which I believe should be characterized that way and not as trans men who have failed to fully accomplish their masculine identities, just as I would not characterize femme gay men as failed men.

Marco Marco. From the attitude story (photo in #1):

Underwear brand Marco Marco pushed the fashion envelope in more ways than one during it’s New York Fashion Week showcase with an all transgender line-up of models.

… Designer Marco Morante told Mic: “I wanted to create a space to celebrate trans bodies. This was an opportunity for their presence to be undeniable and reinforce that trans is beautiful.”

Morante’s LA-based brand has long catered to the LGBT community, but the all transgender show marks an important landmark for an industry in which many brands only pay lip service to diversity.

On the company, from my 2/13/19 posting “Captain of our fairy band”:

The Marco Marco line is unabashedly queer. Note the assumption that the audience for [this particular ad] is male, in fact guys with male partners.

The posting has an inventory of five previous Marco Marco postings on this blog. Not only is the intended audience gay men, but the models are often framed in poses meant to be read as gay as well, as here:

(#2) The look, the gesture with the left arm, the pin-up pose  — with the briefs as icing on the cake

One Response to “Gender notes: transgender fashion models”

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