For LGBTQ Latinxs, fashion has always been more than just clothes. Queer aesthetics are often responses to the limiting cisheteropatriarchal regime, a system that benefits cis, heterosexual folks and men, that we live in. It is important to talk about this system as a regime because it’s unnatural, requiring a great deal of marketing to uphold, and is constantly exposed by femmes of color — sometimes by using our clothing and accessories as a political statement.
Femme fashion as a tool of resistance is a femmestory that we are just starting to weave together. Our choice of clothing can be liberating but also put us in positions of hypervisibility that can lead to cisheteropatriarchal violence. Trans women and femmes, people that have been violently assigned as male by the medical industrial complex, have always been the leading example of rebellion and resistance. In the mid XIX century Peru, for example, Fracisco Pro, an Afro-Indigenous person, was detained by soldiers for wearing tapada limeña, a skirt outlining the hips and a veil covering the face with the exception of an eye, in public. Francisco was tortured for their decision to dress outside of what was considered proper attire for the gender that the cisheteropatriarchal colonial regime assigned to them. Fashion for some is more than just a “look;” it is a way to present their true selves and reclaim the body autonomy the system has always attempted to take away — and this continues today.
Here, queer Latinxs discuss their looks, fashion inspirations and how they use their wardrobes to disrupt social norms and mainstream fashion.
Cielo, She/They/Them, South Central
(Photo Credit: @lloydgalbriath)
My style represents my culture, being queer and trans. Fashion, for me, is like an armor. I could be wearing a beautiful dress with six-inch heels, and I feel unstoppable and ready to destroy this white male patriarchy.
My femininity is on purpose, and it’s something that I always have within me and something that I could never shut off. There has been moments where I don’t look visibly femme, but my energy and personality is very femme. My queer femmeness is disruptive to the system because they are not used to this femme magic. They badly want me to conform, but I’m just going to be my beautiful, femme and authentic self.
I have so many fashion inspirations, including Eve Moreno, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Eve has inspired me to be my true self by just seeing them wear there purple lipstick and leggings. What can I say about Marsha and Sylvia? They are just iconic beings and my mothers.
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Eve, They/Them/She/Hers, Los Angeles
(Photo Credit: @lalobaloca)
My fashion radically transformed after I came out as queer and transgender. The more I came to realize that my expression could not be restricted by gender, and gender roles, I felt like I could finally breathe. Although my fashion gives me strength and power, it also makes me a target to harassment. My fashion is like a weapon. I believe that I am the tip of my ancestors’ sword. Who I am is a product of my ancestors’ dreams. Their magic and resistance has reincarnated into this body. My existence as a queer and trans femme disrupts the gender binary, thus, disrupting colonialism and structural violence within itself. My biggest influences are every femme that I come into contact with. My life is owed to all the femmes who have ever nurtured me.
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Soleil, They, California
(Photo Credit: @lalobaloca)
I definitely use fashion as a way to show my queerness. It’s a way to flag myself and let others know that I am not straight, though, as queerness gets watered down and straight people feel more comfortable co-opting queer fashion and style, this becomes more difficult. It leaves me scrambling to find more creative ways to stand out from the sea of cis-heteros that like to wear our style but disrespect our existence.
I use to think of femme as a way to restrict me when I was younger because I associated it with all of the things that were being forced on me and the traditional ideas of femininity. But now that I understand what femmehood means, I embrace that every chance I get. I get to choose my femme. I describe my style as futch. It’s a combination of incorporating my femme and my butch. My biggest influence in terms of that style was definitely the early 2000 The L Word lesbian era.
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Diego, They/Them, Los Angeles
(Photo Credit: @iwritelight_)
I’d like to think my style was nonexistent prior to high school. Hair buzzed, large jackets and cargo shorts was my routine look. Growing up with strict gender policing, via family and institutions, repressed any of my autonomy while realizing gender, let alone style. My father only saw me through his image, which rejected my trans identity, and very quickly as a child he adamantly tried erasing me as a femme by raising me as a boy. To this day, my style has been an escape from gender. I’ve shared with others that it is “makeup as war paint.” Choosing to be visible isn’t always safe. My style is a femme strategy for living; however, people’s problems with my transness are not my own. The world is still very hostile to femmes and trans women. I’m always vigilant of safety. As someone assigned male at birth, my queer femmeness thrived off my connection with community. Most of my femme nurturing came from queer and trans femmes of color and elder trans women. They taught me how to thrive as a nonbinary femme, to embrace and celebrate it. My style is always evolving, but words I’d associate with it are androgynous, gender null, femme and faggotry. Friends have truly been a significant influence on who I’ve grown into.
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Melba, She/Her, Pacoima, California
(Photo Credit: @baemond)
My style is definitely an armor. I’ve realized that people are going to stare at me no matter what, so I might as well give them something to look at. When I’m getting ready to go out, I always feel like I’m getting ready for a battle against whiteness, capitalism and cisheteropatriarchy. I’ve become a lot more comfortable with wearing clothes that show more skin and that are considered to be unflattering on fat bodies. All of these things are a “fuck you” to the rules that the cishetropatriarchy has created for queer fat femme brown bodies.
My femme is very on purpose. Queer femmeness is disruptive to the system because it challenges the idea that femininity is for the male gaze. I always find that other femmes are most likely to compliment me and it often leads to making new friends. Femmes see and validate each other in a way that resists cisheteropatriarchy. My fashion is colorful, kitschy, outrageous and extra as fuck. My influences are Solange, Rihanna, Grace Jones, Frida Kahlo, Beth Ditto, Divine, Selena and The Club Kid Scene.
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JUANA, They/Them, Southeast Los Angeles
(Photo Credit: @lalobalocashares)
My style is intertwined into my queerness, though I don’t feel that wearing either “feminine or masculine” clothing defines my identity. However, I do feel that my style is a form of resisting the cisheteropatriarchy norm of what gender identity is supposed to look like. I do see my clothing as an armor, especially if it will detour cismale gazing eyes off my flesh vessel. I do not identify as femme; however, I feel femmes are an important identity in shifting the paradigms of the social structure. My style is non-binary, influenced by mestizx ancestral styles of Latinx and Southwestern territories with a twist of my youth days in the Southeast LA punk scene.
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(Photo Credit: @bitch.femme.presente)
I’ve begun to feel freer to explore and develop an aesthetic that is as playful, political, queer, punk, feminine and creatively expressive as me. Cisheteropatriarchy has always represented gatekeeping for me, because these systems of misogyny intertwined with queer- and transphobia became my biggest roadblocks to happiness. I learned to police my own queerness and femininity. For so long, I was my own jailer, subjecting myself to a life of misery because I was afraid of the consequences of living my truth. My style cocoons me, keeping me whole and intact when I feel most vulnerable out in the world. Fashion can be a reminder to yourself of who you are, what you believe in and where you come from. My femme is a blatant interruption to the bullshit gender binary, forcefully contradicting it and creating a space for others like me to exist in this world. When I’m using my bold and unabashed femme to take up space in public, it’s important for me to remember that I am a part of a legacy of people who have blurred the lines of gender since the dawn of time and have largely been erased from history. My style is sexy librarian meets playful punk baddie. My influences are everything from the rebellious pachucas to the clean mod looks from London in the ‘60s. Latinx culture continues to delight and inspire me.
Follow Lilac on instagram at @boldly.femme