Available for free on YouTube since September 16, 2022, the documentary “Living on the margins – The construction of lesbian identities through clothes and politics” hands the microphone to twelve lesbian people aged 17 to 27 who tell what the style of clothing represents for them and what is militant or not.
What could it mean to “look lesbian”? Everything and nothing since there are as many lesbian appearances as people who define themselves as such. This is what documentary filmmaker Lucie Bouchet explores with relaxation and relevance in Living on the margins – The construction of lesbian identities through clothing and politics.
Available for free on YouTube since September 16, 2022, this documentary reaches out to twelve lesbian people, aged 17 to 27, who talk about their stylehow they found it, shaped it, built it, what it says or does not tell about their sexuality, and why it would be so political.
Being a lesbian, something you can hide?
On the terrace of a café, in a bedroom, a kitchen, or via Zoom, we get to know them over the course of a few questions to which they answer in this fascinating, intimate and political portrait gallery. Among them, Célia says in particular:
“I always wanted it not to be a big part of my identity. Yes, I like girls, so what? I didn’t want to come out officially to most of my entourage. I really wanted this to be a non-topic. But in the end, it’s a big part of my identity, not because it would be big for me, but because it’s something big for others, in fact.
It’s in politics, in society, every time I discuss with a new person and I want to get around the embarrassment of having said something that they would not be ready to hear, because I will be ready to say.
It built me a lot in the sense that I’m sometimes much more afraid of being honest in society because of it. It’s something that I tend to hide easily, which I can’t do with being female and black. »
Wearing clothes that don’t always match gender stereotypes
On Lucie Bouchet’s on-board camera, Léa recounts how she obtains some of her clothes that do not correspond to gender stereotypes, but perhaps tell something about a form of feminine solidarity or so worn-out sorority:
“It’s always funny to see people get confused when you go dress up at the boys’ or pick up your brothers’ or cousins’ clothes. My best friend’s mother gives me the clothes her son no longer wears. He’s a 17-year-old, but I’m going to wear his clothes anyway and that’s really fun. I think it’s the cutest thing a mother has ever done for me. »
Sofia, one of the lesbian trans women in the documentary, also recounts how clothing helped her to assert herself as a woman, but also how complicated it could have been for her to “pass” as a lesbian without being perceived as a guy in the public space:
“I have the impression that lesbian femininity goes through a certain form of androgyny, at least a little bit, at least through a mixture of codes, which is hard to handle for me as a trans girl in her first year of medical transition because I already have an androgynous body. Trying to pass as a lesbian and finding the limit so as not to be perceived as a guy either in the public space is an indescribable headache. [Et en même temps] fashion was a way of reclaiming my body in my transition and everything.
[…] I think the clothes of lesbians, the way they dress, made me realize that I was a girl too. Because sometimes I will dress more feminine [expression de genre féminine selon les codes de la société] and I always feel like I’m disguising myself. And I think there are plenty of cis lesbians who must feel that way too.
[…] Lesbianism allowed me to tell myself that I was legitimate to have transitioned, to want to be a girl. Because there was this space that existed in bodily expression, in clothes and everything. »
Dressing the way you want can bring gender euphoria, whether you’re cis or trans
A lot of happiness emerges from their successive testimonies, and even a form of gender euphoria, whether they are trans or cis people expressing themselves, as Léa puts it:
“It really gives so much self-confidence and joy, it’s incredible. It is a piece of fabric that has been made. How can it give you so much joy, so much affirmation in your gender, in your place in society, that a girl could fall in love? [sic] of you. For me it’s crazy, when I think about it: the clothes, it’s incredible. »
Part of this happiness comes from escaping the gaze of men and their possible predation, believes Sofia, who outlines another form of sexy, coded to be understood by herself and possibly other lesbian people:
“An outfit in which I feel comfortable is also an outfit in which I feel safe in relation to men. I kinda like being sexy in my clothes because I know who I’m doing it for. What I’m going to have around my style isn’t necessarily going to interest guys. There’s something empowering about being a woman knowing that you’re not for guys. »
The paradox of lesbian visibility that empowers and exposes to danger
Naïs also evokes the importance of comfort, especially in loose clothing, which can be perceived as a desire to hide, which may say a lot about the insidious injunction made to women (and people perceived as such in general) to wear clothes that emphasize their silhouette:
“The outfits in which I feel good go a lot through the underwear. When I wear boxer shorts, I feel too comfortable and powerful. Great jeans, sweaters, t-shirts, sneakers. Sometimes, I have the impression that I do this to hide my body, so that people don’t see my shapes and everything, and I think there’s some of that, and at the same time it’s mainly because I feel too comfortable like that. »
If there are as many lesbian clothing styles as lesbians, Léa nevertheless underlines a certain paradox of lesbian visibility which exposes to dangers at the same time as it allows to militate (since wanting to dress as one wants can still seem as an affront to some people, who often have in common to be cis-hetero men believing that women owe it to them to be pretty on their own terms…):
“Our existence is political and makes it visible, especially the butches, the fact that we are visible in the street all the time. Both that’s the goal and at the same time it exposes us to a lot of violence. The fact that you can’t doubt that I’m a lesbian, unless you really don’t have your eyes in front of the holes. »
Even if it does not correspond to cisterosociality, you might as well have fun with your clothes
So to say that everything is political may sound like a cliché, but it is particularly embodied around the physical appearance of lesbians, as Loussine concludes:
“Thinking that everything is political, especially when you’re queer, lesbian, all that is true, but at the same time it tires me out. Sometimes I just wish… to be there. Consciously, it is not necessarily always political. Above all, I try to dress for myself.
But yes, I wonder in what environment I will be. And yes, I always wanted to want to mark the margin by how I dress. Sometimes it was a little destabilized by the others. But this political dimension is not necessarily conscious. But yes, it’s political to want to mark that I can’t get into it [les normes cishétérosociales]so might as well be completely off, overflowing, and having fun bringing out all your creativity around clothes. Politics can be draining, but it can also be creative. »
“Living on the margins – The construction of lesbian identities through clothes and politics”, documentary directed by Lucie Bouchet, available on YouTube.
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Front page photo credit: YouTube screenshot of the documentary.