5 questions to Jamie Windust
For Jamie Windust, who identifies as non-binary, fashion and makeup are an important means of communication with which they* convey their identity to the outside world. Jamie Windust is a model, writer, and the editor in chief of Fruitcake magazine, and uses these activities — and also their public appearances — to give the LGBTQIA+ community a voice. The book “In Their Shoes: Navigating Non-binary Life,” in which they reflect on the search for one’s own identity and dispel clichéd ideas, was published in 2020.
Marcella Ranft (MR): Your makeup is very artistic. When and how did you find your personal style, and how difficult was this “journey to yourself”?
Jamie Windust (JW): I found my personal style through my late teens, and really resonated with the sense of style and power socially that was formed in the 1980s in the UK. It came through essentially not stopping applying makeup, and seeing what fit and what felt comfortable. I knew in the early stages that it was going to cause controversy or upset, but I just felt so able to breathe and be free in the makeup that I put on my body. It was very difficult to find myself because of the internalized shame that often shapes marginalized people. It felt like I was drawing negative attention to myself, but I now realize that that’s never my problem. It didn’t feel like a choice; it was a necessity for my survival.
MR: How do you express your sense of identity, and what role do fashion and makeup play for you in this context? Do you regard fashion and makeup as a kind of “armor” to transform yourself, or as a means of liberation?
JW: Fashion and aesthetics evolve, and at the beginning of my identity journey when I was in my teens, they were definitely armor. I used them in a way that allowed me to feel more confident. Especially with beauty, I used it to cover up myself and feel more “normal.” That coincided with a time when I was exploring my gender identity, and I realized that actually fashion and beauty were able to provide me with much more than just a tool to hide. They now transform me into someone that I still am identity-wise, but a more confident and refined version. They allow me to feel the most me possible, yet without them I am still exactly the same person. So now, they take on more of a transformative role, but in a way that allows me not to feel as if they’re an addition, more of an enhancement of the self.
Wiebke Hahn (WH): On the one hand, fashion gives you plenty of freedom to shape the person you want to be, but on the other hand, isn’t it clothing in particular that makes us think about gender in overdue clusters? It’s not only such obvious things as the distinction between men’s and women’s apparel, but also that certain styles and items are automatically linked to specific gender roles. How do you envision the future fashion industry regarding gender nonconformity? And how does it feel working in such an industry as a non-binary model?
JW: I see the future of fashion as realizing that everybody is struck down by the binaries that we find ourselves sitting within as a society when it comes to gender. Fashion is moving forward in a way, in the luxury setting, to merge shows and not segregate their collections, but high street and more “conventional” fashions are still slow to change. Again, I think it goes back to the idea that non-conformity through fashion only benefits trans people, when it actually benefits all people to feel less stressed and restricted from faux rules of “what they should look like.” Working as a model is great, it’s freeing, it supplies me with confidence, and allows me to represent my journey and be a marker of time on how the industry is changing. It’s important that marginalized models are not categorized as such, and are seen as just models, rather than having their identity prefix their work.
MR: Thinking in boxes helps the brain to sort through a constantly changing world and thus reduces the information load. On the other hand, stereotyped thinking forces people into an intellectual straitjacket. Do you constantly consider yourself an activist when you’re in public? How could we overcome this global importance of how we look?
JW: I’ve never enjoyed being labelled an activist. I think when trans and non-binary people share their lives with the world, we’re often labelled as groundbreaking or “change-making”, and it’s easy to be swept up in that, and then feel like you owe people change and groundbreaking moves all the time. For me, I campaign for non-binary and trans rights, but from a standpoint that it’s essential for our community to gain acknowledgement. It doesn’t make me an activist, it just makes me compassionate and someone who wants change. Not all people who want change are activists. Being told I’m an activist often means I’m immediately pigeonholed into narratives that mean I can’t just exist as a writer, or a model, or a consultant; I have to be a “non-binary” speaker etc., which feels uncomfortable.
WH: You describe yourself as a non-binary femme-presenting person and use the pronouns “they/them”. How important is language for you, and what tips do you have for people who are unsure how to address people in the LGBTQIA+ community?
JW: Language changes and evolves, and during my identity journey I’ve definitely changed the language that I use for myself. But the importance of language isn’t discussed enough. Pronouns and inclusionary language are one of the easiest things that we, as human beings, can do to ensure people around us feel safe. Language equals safety to me, and it means that I know I’m allowed to be comfortable and relax in whatever space is using those words. Tips I’d suggest include stop making your comfortability around changing your language an issue, and stop centering yourself in the conversation around “changing your language”. It’s not hard, it’s not difficult, yet its impact is revolutionary. You use ‚they/them’ pronouns already; you use neutral language already. It’s about aligning that language with respect and understanding its importance for people.
* Jamie is non-binary and uses the pronouns “they/them.”