Fashion is an all too important form of self-expression for Taj Taylor, a recent art school graduate. Clothes helped Taylor realize that he identified as a trans man. They also served as a creative outlet where he could experiment with different styles. Since fashion is deeply rooted in gender, he says his style journey began with a reinforcement of masculine stereotypes. Now, however, he says he is learning to stray from the binary and embrace traditionally feminine trends too.
Taylor sat down with DNA Co. to discuss how his gender identity plays into his personal style, his current style inspiration, and LGBT representation in the cosmetics and fashion industry.
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
A: “I’m 22. I’m an artist. I like to draw, but I have too many hobbies to keep track of. I like to sing and dance and play instruments as well. I play the ukulele, guitar, and piano. I also play the violin but haven’t picked it up in years. I like clothes. I like cosplay as well. I also really love learning languages. It’s really bad because I can’t stick to one language to learn.”
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: “I know what I am influenced by, so I guess that’s kind of my style. I went through an American goth phase but also a Japanese goth phase. There is a Japanese style called danso, that meant cross-dressing kind of but not really at the same time. It stood for women wearing stereotypically mens’ fashion and stood for LGBT people as well. It was like the Japanese version of drag kings. It was about breaking boundaries. Japan was like the gateway country. I hopped on over to South Korea and I thought, ‘Wow, I love the music and fashion here too.’”
Q: What kind of styles are you into now?
A: “The style I try to emulate now is street fashion: really cool, kinda edgy. If you were to sum up a clothing style, it’s just cool. Anything can be constituted as street fashion. Whatever you want and it still has that essence. Sometimes, they have a page like Humans of New York or like the Fashion or Clothes of New York. There’s a certain, I hate to use this word unironically, swag to it. I think the way you carry yourself in it also exudes confidence in a way of, ‘Look at me, look at this outfit.’”
Q: What kind of clothes do you like to alter?
A: “I think it started off with whenever I bought clothes, [they] would never fit, so I would have to trim them or make them longer or shorter just to fit me right. I realized I learned more about seams and how you can change them. I would say half of my shirts have been altered just to fit me. I guess I started off tailoring then extended more into little creative things I could throw in to change up the whole thing.”
Q: What are your thoughts on gender and fashion? What’s your experience with it?
A: “I think the reason I love fashion so much is because it’s what helped me figure out my identity. People will always still judge you on how you look, so if you look more masculine or more feminine, they will assume that. Clothes have a very important role, even though we may not want it to. People just wanna be themselves, but in today’s society, it still governs how people see us. When I was figuring myself out, it was clothes and changing my appearance with it. Through my path of figuring out who I was, clothes were always playing a huge role in that as well.”
Q: What are your thoughts on gender being questioned as a construct, overall?
A: “I think it is kind of growing and expanding...There are more LGBT people speaking up and talking about it and being more visible with it. I think the fashion industry and makeup industry as well, they’re kind of emulating that. Then again, I think for them, it is more of a business. People will say what they want, and [companies] will reciprocate. I’m not sure if it’s like, ‘Oh, we’ll be open.’ Some of them are, but you can’t tell. I know in makeup, there’s a brand in South Korea that is genderless. But that thought you have in the back of your mind like is it genuine or is it just for business? Either way, I think it’s good because [LGBT people] have representation in the media. So, if the fashion industry or makeup industry is bringing this out, lay people can see that this is okay. In turn, their kids won’t be penalized for not adhering to gender norms.”
Q: What do you see as traditionally masculine or feminine?
A: “I think it is all fluid. It depends on the person. If a person is masculine identified, and they put on clothing, then those clothes are now masculine because of that person, regardless of what it is. Clothes themselves shouldn’t have labels attached to them, although they do unfortunately still in this society. I try not to govern my style by those rules. People judge you on how you dress. It’s happened where if I didn’t dress as masculine as I could have, I have been misgendered. It was really annoying, because clothes really have no say in that. That’s also why I still stick to more stereotypically masculine clothing-not too revealing, simple. The cut is very different for masculine and feminine styles too. It shapes how your body is seen.”
Q: Do you think that gender identity and gender expression always match up?
A: “Again, it depends per person. For me, it doesn’t match up. It’s whatever I’m feeling on a certain type of day. I identify as a trans man. I would be inclined to say I’m a dude. So, whatever I am wearing regardless of whatever social connotations it has attached to it, I’m still a guy wearing it. If it’s something stereotypically effeminate, I’m still a guy wearing it. But for some people, their expression is important to how they identify. So, they make a conscious effort to make sure their expression lines up with how they feel on the inside. That was me in that department for a long time. And I am just now trying to get over that. I like clothes, in general, regardless of whether stereotypically feminine or masculine. But before, when I was first transitioning, I would try extra hard to wear this overly masculine s---, just to be seen as valid.”
Q: How do you think your gender identity influences your style choices?
A: “As soon as I enter a store, I do beeline for the men’s section. I have always loved men’s fashion, so I do go there first. I like floral patterns, or just prints in general. But now I have been more adventurous in terms of clothes, I’ve gone over to women’s and bought some clothes. It’s just pretty, you know. Different stores change depending on what they constitute as masculine or not.”
Q: Are there any struggles you have when you shop?
A: “Yes, so much, because specifically as a trans men, buying clothes in the men’s section, it’s not always easy. Because the cut/seam for certain clothes doesn't fit most bodies. I still have hips and curves, it may not be as defined, but I’m not flat as a washboard as they want people [guys] to be in that section. My body is in that weird in between. If I were to go to the women’s section, I’m too big for the clothes. It’s a constant struggle.”