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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 17, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 16
Teen actor becomes unlikely spokesperson for gender variance
Section One
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Teen actor becomes unlikely spokesperson for gender variance

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Jaden Smith, the 16-year-old son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, became an unlikely spokesperson for gender variance last week after he defended his choice to wear clothes that are traditionally referred to as skirts or dresses on social media.

Gender variance, or gender nonconformity, is behavior or gender expression by an individual that does not match masculine and feminine gender norms. People who exhibit gender variance may be called gender variant, gender non-conforming, gender diverse or gender atypical.

Showing that society still does not understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, the actor and rapper received some anti-Gay remarks. However, on a more positive note the response to his gender-neutral fashion sense was overwhelmingly positive with thousands of people liking and sharing his posts.

On April 8 Smith uploaded a photo of himself trying on a black-and-white striped dress on Instagram. 'Went to TopShop to Buy Some Girl Clothes, I Mean 'Clothes,' he wrote to caption the picture.

The next day, he tweeted, 'That Moment When Your (sic) Wearing a Dress With No Pants and You Swerve Way Too Hard.'

PopSugar, a celebrity website featuring breaking news, photos, videos and event recaps on the day's most popular stars, noted that while the teen actor had been spotted in tunics and dress-like styles before, his commentary was a 'refreshing new twist.'

'It's inspiring to see the young style setting challenging gender norms and wearing exactly what makes him comfortable.'

Chris Crocker, American Internet celebrity, blogger, songwriter, recording artist and former pornographic film actor residing in Los Angeles, who first shot to Internet fame with the now famous September 10, 2007 Youtube video featuring a hysterically crying Crocker called 'Leave Britney Alone,' thanked Smith 'for being an inspiration to youth by not abiding by society's expectations

'PS love the dress!' Crocker tweeted.

'Isn't it crazy that women wear pants every day, but when a guy wears a dress it's breaking news!' tweeted another fan.

Although arguably one of the most popular or current artists to appear gender variant in public, it is important to note that Smith is not the first. Other stars who do not associate their gender identity with sexual orientation and mix binary male/female or masculine/feminine fashion include Steven Tyler, the lead singer of Aerosmith; David Bowie throughout most of his early career; lead singer of the electropop duo La Roux, Elly Jackson; Australian model, actress, musician, and television presenter Ruby Rose; musician, former lead singer of My Chemical Romance, Gerard Way, and more.

According to gender studies, it is important to note that although sometimes confused, gender variant folks are not necessarily androgynous. Androgyny is a term that many people around the world are said to understand better than gender variance, which may be due, in part, to MTV, but is not necessarily the correct way to describe a gender variant person.

The world got its first look at Annie Lennox when the video for the early '80s new-wave band Eurhythmics song 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)' became one of MTV's most popular videos of all time and proved to be the breakthrough for the group into commercial success. Lennox, the band's leader singer, was considered androgynous because she had short cropped, almost buzz cut hair, and wore men's suits.

The difference, however, between gender variant people and androgynous people is real. The term gender-variant is deliberately broad, encompassing such specific terms as transsexual, butch, femme, queen, sissy, travesti, hijra, or tomboy. Androgynous people identify as neither male nor female or present a gender either mixed or neutral. Smith is considered gender variant because he does present a gender (male) but sometimes dresses himself in clothing that are associated with the female gender (skirts, dresses, etc.) while still maintaining that he is, in fact, male.

According to local Drag legend Aleksa Manila, 'the issue often is how society's perspective becomes stereotypical.'

'Sexuality (straight, Gay, Lesbian, asexual, i.e. sexual/physical attraction) is distinct from gender (femininity to masculinity and everything in between, i.e. the outward expression one portrays to the outside world),' Aleksa Manila told Seattle Gay News. 'That said, being Transgender isn't about sexuality. It is about gender. Although hard to believe for some, straight men can be feminine, i.e. 'metrosexuality' which has been used to describe a man's fashion style that is outside of the norm of masculinity (not about heterosexuality).'

'Jayden Smith said it so eloquently - 'it's just clothes,' said Manila. 'The way others perceive his choice of clothes that are feminine is a lazy way of looking at gender.'

'We are finally starting to see people who challenge stereotypes especially people in the spotlight,' Aleksa Manila concludes. 'Whereas the ones that have done it all these years have been discriminated [against] or ridiculed.'

While it's anybody's guess when most people will have an understanding of gender variance and become accepting of gender variant people, the notable fact here is that a popular, young, cisgender man of color and entertainer with direct ties to young people is presenting himself as gender variant without shame or apology. This will inevitably, however small or large, have a positive effect on the negative stigma that is sometimes associated with gender variant people.

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