Harry Styles’ Vogue cover is just the start of dismantling gender norms

An opportunity to educate on gender non-conformity

This past week, Harry Styles made history by being the first man to be featured on the cover of Vogue. However, what has most people talking is what Styles wore: a dress. As much as I would like to think that a man wearing a dress isn’t a big deal in 2020, this creative decision has produced mixed opinions. Of course, there are those who believe that men shouldn’t wear dresses or traditionally feminine clothes. Others came to Styles’ defense and applauded him for his bravery. Personally, I fully support Styles’, or anyone’s, choice to cross gender boundaries, and I think that this cover is a step in the right direction when it comes to opening the mainstream public’s eyes to gender non-conformity. But I think it is equally important to acknowledge the privilege that Styles’ has as well as the reality that gender non-conforming people face in today’s world.

To make myself perfectly clear, I am in full support of the Vogue cover. The only way that more people are going to become accepting of gender non-conformity is through exposure, primarily through media. Steps like this are necessary. I also still think that this was a brave decision on his part. He had to be well aware of the backlash he could receive from this decision, but he decided to move forwards with it anyway. Styles also wore the work of genderfluid designer Harris Reed during the photoshoot, which is another huge achievement that I don’t think many people are aware of. I simply believe that while we celebrate this step, we must also use this opportunity to educate ourselves about the challenges faced by gender non-conforming people even in today’s world.

It’s first important to acknowledge the privilege that Styles has that allowed him to be able to express himself in this way. As a white, wealthy, cisgender man who is conventionally attractive, he is able to get away with more when it comes to deviating from gender norms. As a society, we tend to praise gender non-conformity, or any breaking of established social boundaries, only when it is done in a very specific way by a very specific type of person. The way that Styles dressed on the Vogue cover is the same style of dress that gets many transgender and gender non-conforming people, particularly those who are BIPOC, harassed and too often killed.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2020 has been the deadliest year for transgender and gender non-conforming people since the organization began to track violence against this group in 2013. So far, at least 36 transgender or gender non-conforming individuals have been murdered, and most are Black or Latinx transgender women. As we talk about Styles’ Vogue cover, it would be a great opportunity to discuss the very real struggles that the average person faces when they dress or act outside of gender norms.

There is also, of course, the overall issue of lack of representation when it comes to gender and gender expression in the entertainment industry.Transgender and gender non-conforming actors and stories are still almost completely absent from media, and that absence is significant. It is significant that not all kids can see themselves represented in their favorite shows or movies. It is significant that when stories about being transgender or gender non-conforming are told, they are tragedies. Like I said earlier, Harry Styles’ being featured on the cover of Vogue while wearing a dress is a huge step in the right direction, but it is also important that we keep in mind all that we still need to fight for.