For Trans Women by Trans Women: Gogo Graham
The presence of an honest production run by transgender women in the fashion industry is unprecedented. Although trans visibility is on the rise, there continues to be ignorance surrounding the subject of gender. Twenty four year old designer, Gogo Graham, provides a platform where trans femme have a voice and an agency. After feeling a misalignment with her experience in the industry and her human experience, she set about creating a world that embraces her community. This has been the essence of her career.
“People need to be willing to let go of what they think they know about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Because that doesn’t necessarily mean anything inherently.”
-Laverne Cox (TIME Magazine)-
Gender identity is complex and acts on a spectrum similar to the way sexuality does. There is an ingrained notion that the definition of male and female is tied solely to biology, which is not the case. There are complexities between the mind and the body that do not operate the exact same way for everybody. Also, much of what we think is gender specific can just as well be a social conditioning. Cox’s statement that gender “doesn’t mean anything inherently” is the basis for understanding this. Gender is in fact much more expansive than biology and focusing on genitalia is objectifying. Gender conventions are rooted so deep in society that any deviation from “the norm” makes many uncomfortable or even threatened. This has led to violence and and the lack of visibility and empathy has lead to ignorance. Luckily, in the last few years the gender conversation has become more mainstream largely in part to the visibility and dialogue present in pop culture.
“The distinction between man and woman is disappearing, aesthetically at least. This is a big facet of our culture right now.”
-Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler-
Hernandez makes a good point that at least aesthetically, the idea of male and female is disappearing in the fashion world. Genderfluid clothing on the runway has been prominent for decades and the inclusion of transgender models has grown in the last few years. Chanel suits for example were “masculine” in silhouette and style. A big deviation for the time, blazers, trousers, and loose structures were not typically worn on women. Although not necessarily genderfluid, it was a leap from the confines of male versus female clothing. Today, the acceptance of gender neutral clothing and “crossdressing” on the runway is present. Some designers have even begun to eliminate the segregation of male and female collections in stores. Designers are an important asset in social awareness because they act as a reflection of society and the reality of what has been present for centuries. They also hold the power of attention, which can ignite conversation and visibility.
After moving to New York from Texas, Gogo Graham’s fashion career transitioned from costume design to factory work to designer in the span of a few years. Working with Zaldy as a costume designer led her to the realization that the current industry did not suit her body and her experience. The garments she was making were not something she herself could wear. This provoked the transition into her own line of work. Her technical knowledge came from her time pattern making and tailoring at the factory. She collaborated with transgender femme strangers whom she found via Instagram and friends. Wanting to materialize the personality and vibrancy of each model, her process begins with them. Each person has a preference for what feels and looks good. Graham creates garments that are tailored perfectly to the individual, making sure that they feel themselves when they wear it.
“Trans girls wearing stuff that they like. Stuff that is photographed by trans girls and is simply unlike anything that’s already available to us. We don’t have options in fashion. We have to just look for stuff, and that stuff isn’t made for us. This time more than any other time I’ve been focused on seeing if I can make a collection that the models who are wearing it actually feel themselves in.”
- Gogo Graham -
Her 2016 runway collection was a thoughtfully curated performance highlighting the violence and hardships of trans femme. A sustained soundtrack opens the night of the models in conversation about what identity means and their experience with transition. The show begins with the models appearing in different degrees of blood and running makeup. The accompaniment of trans models and a spotlight on trans violence is unprecedented on the runway. This is no longer just about visibility, but about an awareness of the reality of being transgender in today’s society.
“We are being killed for existing. The fake blood is representative of the real blood being spilled”
- Gogo Graham -
The Beauty of Gogo Graham’s production lies in the fact that it provides not only visibility, but complete participation for transgender women. It is not just trans models, but a trans photographer, stylist, and designer. A true voice for trans women by trans women.