It's 2016, which means you're probably familiar with the ever-pertinent debate surrounding gender norms and the inherent "truths" that have been imposed on us by none other than you guessed it… society.
Gender norms, which are institutionalized ideas or perpetual beliefs such as "boys play with trucks" or "girls love the color pink," have contributed to the notion that women who choose to express masculinity or similarly, men who exhibit femininity are not only classified as queer, but are also stigmatized by people who believe gender to be a black and white issue.
17-year-old actor and rapper Jaden Smith has conveyed his fervor to confront gender binaries and is amongst several other celebrities who've also digressed from identifying as cis, including stars like Ruby Rose, Angel Haze and Miley Cyrus. From donning a dress to prom alongside The Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg, to having been granted the honor of serving as the face for Louis Vuitton's womenswear–yes womenswear–just this January; Smith has been all but coy in expressing his own gender fluidity, especially on social media.
Weeks ago, Smith sent shockwaves across the social media platform Twitter, when he tweeted a picture of himself in a colorful midi skirt and jacket to match with the caption "My Mood When They Try To Hate," a message clearly directed towards all his "haters." Negativity will always present no matter what the topic, but thankfully, our more progressive society is gradually expressing more positivity and favored attitudes towards those who are bold enough to deviate from the norm and be their true selves. Jaden's own father, Will Smith, also showed his support, adding that "Jaden is so completely comfortable and confident in who he is and when I look at him, I really admire that."
This wasn't always the case, though. Not even a decade ago was it normal or acceptable to do the many things that transgenders, agenders or anyone in between is able to do today, such as living freely and authentically, as well as being acknowledged by a majority of people–not just by those who are already a part of the LGBTQIA community. Society only progresses when those who aren't being directly affected can sympathize with the issues people around the world are facing and take action.
In an already fluid and perceptive industry, Jaden wearing "women's clothing" and serving as the face for Louis Vuitton womenswear speaks levels regarding where the world of fashion could be headed in the years to come. Although designers know no bounds, fashion has always been divided between menswear and womenswear. We've seen androgynous, fluid and transgender models alike represent the LGBTQIA community, but for a young person of color and public figure like Jaden to take on something like this means that, perhaps, he can serve as a notable front-runner for the ever changing industry.
To grasp further insight from the perspective of a member of the LGBTQIA community, I sat down with a USC graduate assistant and LGBTQIA representative, Erica Nicole Kirk, who was able to weigh in on the topic more heavily.
You must be familiar with Jaden Smith's gender fluidity by now. As an LGBTQIA representative here at USC, what are your thoughts on it, and what do you think this means for our society in the future?
I think gender is getting a lot of air time now, especially with Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox being really popular in the media. I think Jaden is in a unique position because he's so young and that creates new challenges in the way we talk about youth. As far as the future goes, it's important to have visibility because it creates new norms. Traditionally, there's this norm that girls dress like girls and boys dress like boys, and now there's this very visible option to not have to do that. I think some of the benefits of Jaden's position is that his parents have spoken about it in a supportive way, but there's also a complicatedness because Jaden is a person of color, which means people not only critique him for the way he dresses, but also for being black, so I think it's good, but it's also complicated.
You mentioned Caitlyn Jenner. Many members of the LGBTQIA community have rejected her for various reasons, believing that she's done the community a disservice in representing them. Do you agree? What truly constitutes an adequate leader?
I don't think leader is the right word. I think when activists and people who care about the community, do things from a place of genuine knowledge, there's better outcomes for our community, so that would include people who take the time to learn about issues other than the ones they face. I think it's not about leaders, it's about advocates. Advocates need to be knowledgable and make the genuine effort to be knowledgable and I don't think people see Caitlyn in that light.
What do you think about Smith serving as the face for Louis Vuitton womenswear? Do you think it'll confuse the confused further or will it open peoples eyes to be more open-minded?
I think this isn't the first time that conversations like this have happened. M.A.C, the makeup brand's first face, was RuPaul, a drag queen, and their whole thing was that it's makeup for everybody. We label clothes as women's and men's clothing, but they're just clothes. At the end of the day, anybody can wear them. I don't think it'll confuse people; I think it's opening up the possibility that clothes are more than women's and men's.
Aside from obvious reasons like growing up with forced beliefs, why do you think it's so hard for people to grasp the concept of gender fluidity?
Our society builds these constructs from birth. Your doctor looks at your genitalia when you're born, distinguishes between male or female, and we attribute all those characteristics from that point on. I don't think it's the fault of one person, I think it's just societal constructs. Seeing parents like Jaden's encouraging him to do whatever he wants and creating new norms has the potential to shift the way people are raised in the future. If Jaden has kids, he probably won't prescribe those cultural norms on his children, so people who see Jaden as a role model might also make those decisions differently when they have children. It's those instances where people start to think about new normals, that changes the way the future works. Normal changes all the time, but it takes instances of reimagining cultural norms that bring those ideas to life, so I think that's kind of where we're at right now.
Here's to opening our hearts, eyes and minds to new normals because the only thing constant in life . . . is change.