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Gender Diaries: Brandon Jean

As the world continues to push against gender constructs, the conversation around how people are identifying themselves is constantly evolving. Each week, MILK.XYZ will feature a guest editor writing about their specific relationship with gender and, often, where it intersects with fashion. This week, we feature artist Brandon Jean.

My name is Brandon Jean. I’m 21 years old and currently a student at Pratt Institute. Born in Queens, New York and raised in Florida, I was brought up in a Haitian household in a small town were the views on gender are strictly black and white.

Growing up, gender and sexuality were considered taboo; it was never a topic of discussion. It was as if sexuality was the elephant in the room that no one wanted to acknowledge.

I was always confused growing up, I’ve always known I was different. I never wanted to admit this truth to myself because it was difficult and complicated, people didn’t like different in my town. Constantly trying to fit into my surroundings, I never felt truly comfortable with who I was. The constant denial and shame I put myself through took a toll on me. I felt lonely. I always sheltered myself in my own little world to feel at peace, putting up this façade helped me deal with judgmental parents and ignorant, adolescent kids. It was when I explored expression through fashion that I was finally able to tear down this wall I put up and discover my own confidence in individuality.

Moving back to New York for school has opened up my eyes to the many possibilities within fashion that are normally out of the norm in more conservative parts of the nation, such as small towns in Florida. Growing up, being the only one like myself was hard. Identifying as the only queer man of color in my town was difficult, I was always bombarded with questions about my sexuality when I didn’t even know the answer myself, yet everyone else seemed to know. Without much representation or someone to look up to, I felt alone in a world so big. My experiences with gender and its relationship to fashion have helped me realize who I really am and shrink the world that once seemed so big.

Unfortunately, gender within our society plays a huge role in fashion. Though, as seen in recent popular culture, artists, designers, and musicians have been taking steps to reshape the stigma surrounding gender in relation to fashion. In Calvin Klein’s 2016 campaign Young Thug was featured at the forefront of breaking down gender roles in less fluid communities. Young Thug states, “You can be a gangsta in a dress or you can be a gangsta with baggy pants.” Statements such as these from artists like Young Thug help influence a younger culture of black men such as myself to step out of the gender norms created and upheld by our society.

Fashion has allowed many, including myself, the freedom of self-expression. It has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and truly express myself for who I am. Growing up I used to always ask myself “who am I.” Not always knowing where I belonged, I felt like I was an outsider. It was fashion that helped me come to terms with my sexuality and who I was as a person. I was able to express myself the way I deemed fit. I don’t see gender when it comes to fashion. you should feel comfortable wearing what makes you happy.

No matter what point I was at in my life there was always one constant that never changed. Fashion. Whether I decided to wear makeup, a crop top, a choker, or any other article of clothing deemed “feminine” is a clear example of the barriers that gender creates within fashion dictated by our society. It’s the times that we live in now that gives us the freedom to break down these gender barriers that constrict the individuality of young black men.  Fashion, unlike any other design field, has had the greatest impact on our society whether it be social, political, environmental, or cultural. Fashion plays a big part in the world we live in, so why limit yourself when you can help change the world just by embracing your individuality.

Our times are fluid and I couldn’t be happier to be apart of a generation that’s breaking society’s standards of gender where I can feel accepted for who I am, a young Bisexual man of color. As a young black man, our society is constantly telling us how we should live, act, and carry ourselves. There has always been this stigma placed on a black man on what we’re supposed to look like and wear. I write this to hopefully inspire younger men of color to step into their comfort zone and fully embrace themselves for who they are. It’s your body and no one has the right to tell you how to live. Put on your eyeshadow, wear your blouse, and never be sorry for being truly and honestly you.

Images courtesy of Devin Khan

Stay tuned to Milk for more Gender Diaries and see our previous installments here.

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