Transmasculine Style with The Test Shot

In their own words, The Test Shot is:

“a new online visual project that aims to document and celebrate the variety and strength of transmasculine style. We want to create a catalog of how transmasculine identified people in London and elsewhere in the UK live today.

We are not professional photographers. But we are totally in awe of the amazing publications being produced independently in the States and Australia by trans and genderqueer guys at the moment. This project is more than a little inspired by ORIGINAL PLUMBING # 5 (the fashion issue). Of course, style goes beyond fashion. Clothes mark the line between the bodily and the social and blur the line between the private and the public. Clothes can offer a silent refuge at times where nothing else or no-one else supports you. At the same time, they connect us to a social code that goes beyond the individual. If you’re trans and/or genderqueer, chances are you don’t take what you wear for granted. But style has as much do to with how you live as what you wear” (via About The Test Shot).

Mr. Tutera: Let’s begin with introductions, Jamie & LGW. Would you folks mind introducing yourselves beyond your names? How do you know each other, and how did you become collaborators on The Test Shot?

Jamie:  We met at a support group called FTM London, which is run for trans guys and anyone else who was assigned female at birth but doesn’t identify as such. A trans support group, basically.

Jamie courtesy The Test Shot

LGW: It was back in August 2011– we were both pretty new to the group, it was my first time and so all the newbies kind of gravitated towards each other. Just as a general intro to me—most people call me LGW- I’m a 24 year old, genderqueer/transmasculine identified camera and production assistant.

LGW. Photo by Kit Ryall via The Test Shot.

Jamie: My name is Jamie. I’m 25. I’m a trans guy, I work as a captioner and picture researcher at a picture agency. I also do some freelance social media work for an organisation called Trans Media Action.

Mr. Tutera: Thank you. And what’s the genesis story for The Test Shot? How did you folks decide to start collaborating?

LGW:  After meeting a couple of times at FTM London, we started to hang out at a local queer space called Bar Wotever. (Have you heard of it? It’s been going for a decade or something, a bit of an institution). We would email and tweet at each other about how trans people get misrepresented in the media; I think we were both angry about the tabloid’s continual coverage of Thomas Beattie and his family– we felt that they were sort of probing for signs of dysfunction and it was really grating.

Mr. Tutera: I haven’t heard of Bar Wotever, actually. Wish I had known about it when I was in London!

Jamie:  We were generally thinking about issues of transgender representation in the media as LGW was approached by a photojournalist friend to be interviewed for a story on misgendering in public toilets. I suggested that LGW contact Trans Media Watch as the British press is notorious for exploiting trans people on any basis.

LGW: We just felt we needed to make something positive to counteract a lot of the negative stereotypes there are about trans people in the media– a visibility project more or less.

Mr. Tutera: I’ll be including the “About” blurb from your site in this piece. Is there anything you wish to add to it for our readers regarding The Test Shot’s mission, your experiences with the project so far and what you’re hoping to accomplish?

LGW:  I guess the mission is to create a bit of a catalog of transmasculine identified people, showing them as individuals with a unique sense of identity, as well as taking pictures (and occasionally video) that portray them in their best possible light.

Mr. Tutera:  Yes, the pictures are beautifully shot, by the way.

Jamie:  So far, we’ve mainly shot people that we already know, but we have got to know them much better through the project.  At first it’s slightly strange, getting to know someone on the basis of their sense of style and their wardrobe. You quickly come to realise how far all clothes are contextualised and connected to so many elements of a person’s life. Fashion and style is so often disparaged as superficial or of the surface, when in fact it is rich with meaning.

Jamie courtesy The Test Shot.

Mr. Tutera:  I agree with you. Actually this reminds me of something you said LGW in your test shot; you comment on the role clothes (or more specifically “masculine” garments like boxers, ties, etc.) have played in making you feel more comfortable (and presumably self-possessed) and ultimately “more open, which meant I started having deeper relationships, which in turn made me happier.” This is something I think a lot of dapperQs can relate to. And, I think this illustrates Jamie’s point about clothing/style being rich with meaning. Will you folks elaborate on this portion of your blurb: “If you’re trans and/or genderqueer, chances are you don’t take what you wear for granted. But style has as much do to with how you live as what you wear.” Do you think that trans and/or genderqueer people have a responsibility to be more thoughtful about how they dress, or that they’re just more likely to be thoughtful?

LGW:  I think responsibility is quite a weighty word. Trans/genderqueer people are generally more aware of how they come across. I remember feeling like I didn’t have much choice but to wear feminine clothes until I was about 18. So, when I finally got the confidence to dress the way I wanted to, I was very conscious of the sartorial choices I would make.

Mr. Tutera:  Yes I agree with you LGW regarding the word responsibility. And, I see what you’re saying about the impact of not having the access/affirmation/permission (whether from yourself or others) to the clothing you wish to wear; it really does make you more conscious, perhaps even hyper-conscious, when you start to dress how you wish.

Jamie:  I think no-one should feel responsible to anyone else in how they dress, aside from avoiding culturally insensitive clothes. Often queer/trans/genderqueer people feel too much responsibility towards reflecting their group affiliations for the sake of visibility. By “group affiliations,” I mean that even marginalised groups acquire certain conventions in terms of dress and people feel pressured to dress a certain way in order to fit in. I don’t mean to sound like I’m forwarding an anti-communal model of being queer/trans.

Mr. Tutera:  Jamie and I have discussed the problematic and unfortunate trending of “native prints” as well as camouflage, by the way, which may be something queer people are more sensitive to than other people. And, when I used the word responsibility before–I meant it in application to these kinds of trends, as in, queer people not only might be more sensitive to this, but perhaps they ought to be.

LGW:  I guess we wanted to show that you can be a trans person who doesn’t feel the need to wear a binder all the time, or that we could identify as masculine and still wear makeup. Just unpicking those gendered stereotypes a bit.

Mr. Tutera: In terms of your test shoot Jamie, what really stands out to me is your having been raised in a working class household and (now lapsed?) desire to present as middle class. You say “perhaps because from my bookish teenage viewpoint, dressing well would demonstrate to the world that I had good taste, intelligence and certain sensitivity to higher matters.” You then discuss rebelling against that. Since you’ve experimented with how you present yourself in a class-conscious way, perhaps you could discuss the different kinds of treatment you’ve experienced based on how “working class” or “middle class” you look? What about you LGW? What’s your experience been like?

Jamie: I suppose concerns of how I look relating to class are now much less relevant to my life but perhaps more insidious. During my adolescence, I went from living in a working class town in the North East of England to going to a university with a much more varied population. Before I reached that point, I did have aspirations to be ‘middle class.’ Perhaps because I was otherwise unable to place my desire for education in any other context. Once I went to university, those feelings changed. Mainly because I reached a point in my life when I was depressed and alienated from myself. I felt like I couldn’t fit in for various reasons, so I didn’t try to. I actively liked being an outsider. In all, my style now is quite conservative. I don’t really think of what it means socially. I no longer have mohawks, etc because I don’t want to stand out in the office. So I guess I’ve assimilated!

LGW. Photo by Kit Ryall via The Test Shot.

Mr. Tutera:  That makes so much sense to me. And admittedly, I relate to having “assimilated.” I too used to have a mohawk (back in College Times) and now dress conservatively.

Jamie:  ‘College Mohawk’ should be recognised as a rite of passage.

LGW:  I had a ‘This Is England’ style shaved head with just a fringe at one point- variations on a theme.

Mr. Tutera: Y’all are making me crack up with College Mohawk and variations on a theme. Perfect. I have one other test shoot-related question and then I want to gossip. In Kyle’s test shot he refers to a renaissance of lesbian stye in his sartorial life. Any feelings or thoughts on that? And what (if any) role “lesbian style” plays in your lives. I wonder, too, how lesbian style and transmasculine style might differ in your minds.

LGW:  I think it varies wildly from person to person what they think about ‘transmasculine’ style and ‘lesbian’ style. I have noticed that some of my pictures from the test shot have ended up on blogs called ‘fuck yeah women in blazers’ and stuff like that and I personally found it a little annoying. It’s more of the same – not being seen the way you want to be seen.

LGW. Photo by Kit Ryall via The Test Shot.

Mr. Tutera: I agree that it does vary wildly from person-to-person; well-said.

LGW:  I think lesbian style (in whatever form) is really cool. I think my problem is the definition of a lesbian is a woman who likes women, and I don’t really feel like a woman, so I don’t link my own sense of style to lesbian style. Does that make sense?

Mr. Tutera: Yes, I also pause at that word before considering the category “lesbian style.” I don’t have much of a relationship with the first word, but a very serious, long-term relationship with the second word.

Jamie:  Sometimes I borrow shirts from my girlfriend (bought in the men’s section) as we actually have slightly similar styles. When I wear something, it feels like a ‘man’s’ shirt because that’s how I see myself. When she wears it, it’s just her shirt and I imagine similarly fits into her conception of herself.

LGW:  I’m wearing my girlfriend’s socks right now– they have frills on and I’m fine with that.

Jamie:  Haha. Rad.

Mr. Tutera:  Wait let me check to see if I’m wearing anything that belongs to my girlfriend– Oddly enough, no. But full disclosure: I have been known to wear my girlfriend’s floral leggings around her house.

Jamie:  That sounds cool. For some guys, there is a vast difference between how masculine women dress and how they dress. Obviously, there is also femme style as “lesbian style,” which we aren’t really qualified to discuss.

Mr. Tutera: Fair enough. Maybe we should gossip now? Tell us what you’re wearing these days.

LGW:  Well, yesterday I went to this new trans night in Dalston (East London– kind of like Williamsburg maybe?) and I was told I looked like a Backstreet Boy which was pretty great.

Mr. Tutera: Ha! What were you wearing?

LGW: Let’s see if I can find a pic– it was like a plaid shirt with a hood and the arms cut off.

Mr. Tutera: Oh yeah, find a picture please. The T Club sounds more like a trans bar than a bar that has a trans night.

LGW:  That would be the dream. Like this with a hood.

Mr. Tutera: Into it. That looks like something Darlene’s boyfriend on Roseanne would’ve worn. Very 90s.

LGW:  Yeah quite 90s, exactly.

Mr. Tutera:  I feel like I wore that like every day when I was a boy.

Jamie:  I have been wearing plaid shirts. And two jumpers I bought from Uniqlo, like, continually; I will not take them off.

LGW:  I also quite like wearing this stuff– more Americana. But people shout stuff like ‘swing batter batter swing’ when I wear it. Scrimmage vests!

Jamie:  I did not get that reference. LGW had to say it out loud.

Mr. Tutera: Yeah that reference is best heard, not read! When I wasn’t wearing flannel shirts with hoodies and no sleeve as a kid, I was dressed for a scrimmage. Just saying. Okay last: any advice or tips for dapperQs?

LGW:  Take something really hyper masculine and subvert it for fun!

Mr. Tutera:  Thinking of anything in particular LGW?

LGW:  Aggro sportswear or tight gay leatherboy shirts…

Mr. Tutera: Ha, you’re a hero.

LGW:  I love seeing people do that.

Jamie:  I think it’s true, you can dress braver than you feel.

Mr. Tutera:  Yes! I’m going to make that boldface when this is published.

Jamie:  As a shy person, I feel like I sometimes wear things that are bigger than my social self.

LGW: Yeah, like your Hawaiian shirt—that’s pretty busy!

Jamie courtesy The Test Shot.

Jamie:  Ha. Exactly (rude).

Mr. Tutera: Is there anything we’re forgetting?

LGW:  I guess I’d just like to say that a lot of this project was born out of a drive to normalize how trans people are represented. There’s that quote about how the only thing that makes trans people ill is society’s stigma. I feel that quite a lot, and I think the project will continue until we don’t feel that anymore.

Jamie:  But, not just to make trans guys seem “normal.” What’s better than normal?

LGW:  Just not pathologised.

Mr. Tutera:  Got it. I think that’s how I understand “normalized.”

LGW:  I’ve found The Test Shot way more effective than therapy in terms of coming to terms with my gender identity, definitely. Good to end on something light!

LGW and Jamie courtesy The Test Shot.

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