Tinseltown is abuzz with the prospect of a glistening new future. Across this accursed city, stylists and publicists and the TikTok commentariat have kindly rolled out brand new red carpets, where kitten heels and pearls and little school clothes for fancy boys in the care of an unkind governess flow free, unencumbered by the expectations of gender. Coked out TikTokers party with the girls and gays at the club, pink hair and lace and Pleasers co-mingling into a congealed mass of former frat bros and their sorority girlfriends, squeaking up against each other in PVC miniskirts and pleather Tripp pants. The din of Sunset Blvd. nearly drowns out the Dua Lipa song at the afters — or is it Pinkpantheress, or is it Doja Cat, or is it maybe the new Harry Styles? The dance floor erupts, but I’m too busy looking up at Suzanne from marketing in the upper VIP with a teensy little pair of monoculars, scoping out the vibes. I shouldn’t feel too threatened by her, though. She does have #Pride on her LinkedIn.
It was just the Emmys, and all the coolest people whose names sound vaguely familiar were invited. Men wore heels, girls wore suits, and rumor has it that they finally let some trans people on the red carpet. The bloggers stayed up late, as always, and I saw it speculated on Twitter and elsewhere this go-round was among the most “gender neutral” ceremonies yet.
Isn’t that neat. I’m practically choking on all these non-binary vibes.
A particularly pleasant development of the past decade were the slight cracks that began to form in the rigid walls around modern gender presentation. My friends and I found ways to pop hormones like candy, the kids put they/them in their Twitter bios, and more of my generational cohort than ever before felt — I hope — a bit more self-fulfillment when leaving the house in clothing society had not specifically tailored to their body. This is a good thing, and like all good things it must be quickly monetized and sold right back to us in ever more impoverished versions. For every new Billy Porter moment of gown eleganza, the past few years have spawned an increasing amount of glossy headlines about Timothée Chalamet’s femme chic “serve,” or, more obviously, Harry Styles’s attempt at the same. Some even go so far as to pretend they are doing an equal amount of heavy lifting on the gender front. Hell, I’ve even seen Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes make the cut in a budding content mill: “androgynous” red carpet fashion slideshows.
But it’s not all the fault of bloggers, obviously, who are but bit players in this story. With the loosening of the strictures came an equal opportunity for corporations to monetize the very labels and gender markers the new swell of younglings had spent their still short lives pioneering. The shift wasn’t very subtle. A normal day on the internet now includes teenage infighting about naked bisexuals at pride alongside targeted ads for a new Netflix “comedy” about non-binary war criminals with names like Twink.
On the worst days, I might drive past a billboard for the new Disney movie, which sanctimonious headlines in People Magazine declare is a progressive masterpiece, because a minor gay character gets to wear the color pink onscreen — a pioneering first for Big Mouse LLC. It sits looming over the trans clinic, where my good Judy with the new tits puts me on the waitlist for an estrogen refill. I compliment her new nails, and she tells me my FFS has healed nicely, which is one example of how to wash down the apathy while the spectre of corporate commodification hangs over both of us.
So about the Emmys. Did you hear? Everyone really felt the non-binary vibes. Guzzled on them, in fact. At first glance, it was indeed a pleasant sight. The tight bindings of Gender Roles have relaxed ever so slightly, so that some hot young thing in his grandmother’s pearls is covered breathlessly. I even spied a few heels on the comedians and television personalities who’d normally wear loafers. It obviously wouldn’t be the first time such footwear was in vogue for the menswear circuit, but I’m happy for them! Unless they meant those heels as a rebellion, in which case, I’d suggest going larger next time: swap the Party City moon boots for a classic Tabi, or the new Prada platforms. Bigger, even? They might make those new-ish Balencia point-toe stilettos in a size 42.
That said, it is impossible to ignore the larger movements on red carpets across the industry, were I to zoom out from the microcosm of the Television Academy. The ubiquity of carpet fixtures like Lil Nas X, clothed in all sorts of increasingly esoteric garments, is indeed progress. Hell, he wore a prom dress and Little Richard wig to the VMAs, rather good styling on his team’s part. But for every queer celebrity lucky enough get invited in the first place, or newly out trans celebrity ready to make their public debut, there is a business motivation lurking behind the genuinely heart-warming, albeit insular, personal victories. A business decision best illustrated by the very fact that a group of human beings can look at something like an Emmys red carpet and describe it as “androgynous.”
I’ve also heard tall tales of “gender bending,” as if they didn’t bend the bough of fashion as recently as Yves Saint Laurent’s proliferation of the smoking suit in the ’60s, or the entire artistic arc of the Harlem Renaissance, or punk music, or any number of minor revolutions in the way we all dress. Interesting also, that this “bend” seems to mostly occur on thin, white entertainers and influencers, who dress up in little recreation Victorian garments for a dour spinster — both a stunning display of our fashion culture’s adherence to whiteness and its visual lexicon.
My personal favorite, though, is gender “neutral.” Neutral to what? Well, scroll TikTok and one might feel a cool neutrality to the clothing trends of the current moment. PVC and neon plastics. Fratty bro types in schoolgirl skirts and combat boots and knock-off Gaultier mesh and knit. Things Rick Owens probably sent down the runway a decade ago, things that seem as if an H&M marketing executive jumped one of Issey Miyake’s many assistants in a back alley of Paris and stole their laptop stuffed with designs. It’s a look that is both nebulous and also instantly recognizable. Sort of the definition of vibes, I’d say. Non-binary vibes. Clothes in which you can feel handsome and sexy and breedable and commodifiable.
And also broke. You can feel very sexy and in debt in these clothes. After all, they are being sold to a generation poorer than any other recent cohort before it. Not quite too poor to buy up the front page of Instagram, or shop the looks on their For You Page. Should be enough plastic to build shelter from when the tides swallow this entire city whole. At least it’s recycled!
Were these things to follow the steady logic of the market, a larger population also means more potential customers. Segmenting that same population into easily digestible commercial designations, like “minimalist” or “cottage core” might further increase a sense of kinship with a product. The clothing industry exemplifies this plenty: Prep, goth, cool, conservative, vintage, retro. Even, bear with me, gender neutral, which doesn’t just engender a personal investment in existing customers, but also broadens the boundaries of who a customer can even be at all. That’s a larger spend on the marketing budget, but with the potential to create the gender-neutral goth, the gender-neutral preppy kid, perhaps even, in some dark future, the gender-neutral conservative.
Now, I’m not one to stand on a street corner and cry into a grease-stained band t-shirt that gender identity, let alone sexual identity, were created by the CIA to trick an unsuspecting population into drinking soy milk and tweeting about representative politics. For every team of publicists sending their glitzy leading man down the red carpet in a skort, there are just about one million little gay boys and girls and all other sorts walking around in the cooler version of his outfit. Or her outfit —there’s never been a more chaotic time to transition with the rest of us. Plenty of stars have taken that plunge, god bless! These board rooms might have found the blueprints for a “progressively” dressed celebrity, but they certainly did not make them.
Sure, some celebrities are in the mix too, but let’s allow the regular people to shine: the TikTokers, and non-binary fashion interns, and transsexuals outside the Walgreens, and aspiring Youtubers, and sweaty gay boys in the club, and the drag queen they're throwing bills at, who they just talked shit about on Twitter. They're all to blame! And their predecessors. And those predecessors’ predecessors. I’d go farther than that, but just believe this all started long before we could even photograph things in black and white. Condragulations everyone! All this hard work has finally made it mainstream, whether or not anyone wanted it to. Sadly, they’re crediting that progress to some kid named Timothée Chalamet, or was it Harry Styles? But the worst betrayal of them has happened on our own turf, from one of the Queer Eye hellspawn, whose pop-up ad campaigns for toilet paper and nail polish are obscuring the slideshows of Emmys outfits I’m looking at.
No need for marketing executives to commodify these non-binary vibes anymore. I think we have that covered ourselves.
Joan Summers is a local gossip living in Oakland, California.