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Reverse tomboy: (Re)definitions of gender fluidity through sensory engagement with material culture

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This narrative case study explores how material culture, in the form of dress, grooming and accessories, is utilized to establish a gender-fluid presentation of the self. It focuses on Tim Mustoe, a 42-year-old heterosexual creative living and working in London, whose embodied practice contributes to the problematization of gender normativity through a disruption of culturally established links between appearance, gender and sex. The study considers how a particular form of non-spectacular cross dressing is used to integrate into a work environment and also operate within a non-queer social environment. The study explores the affective power of material culture in the reification of subject position and as a means of resilience and empowerment through everyday practice and also considers its significance on a social, intersubjective level. The methodology used for this case draws on sensory ethnography and includes a queer reflexive turn to consider parallels and contrasts between my own and Tim’s experience and practice. Conceptualizations of subjectivity, sex, gender are considered in relation to those on material culture, and the study draws on scholarship related to cross-dressing in the United Kingdom. Tim identifies as a man, as do I; however, his embodied practice and gender identification proffer a particular response to culturally embedded norms relating to the binaries of sex and gender. Therefore, in relation to male femininity, I propose the notion of feminizing as an amendment to the concept of femaling, which assumes the identification with or transition to a cisgender position. This study explores the phenomenology of dress as an expressive tool of gratification and as a means of integration for which the imperatives of professionalism, age and respectability are key factors.

Keywords: femaling; feminizing; gender fluidity; material culture; non-binary; non-spectacular; queer reflexivity; sensory ethnography

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: London College of Fashion

Publication date: September 1, 2020

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  • Queer Studies in Media & Popular Culture (QSMPC) is a refereed academic journal devoted to the study of representations and expressions of queerness in its various forms. International in scope and representing a wide variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, it publishes scholarship on topics at the intersection of media/popular culture and queerness in gender/sexuality. QSMPC invites articles and artwork pertaining to queerness in media and popular culture, as well as reviews pertaining to recently released queer media artifacts.
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