Social Justice

Trascendental South | A Personal Essay

Words and visuals by Frankie Climenhage

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A month ago, my band went on tour for three weeks in the United States. We drove from Montreal to Texas, with shows along the way there and back. This was the longest amount of time my bandmates and I had spent on the road and our first time in the South.

“It’s 9 AM in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The air is is sticky and grey from the neighboring hurricane and I am restless. I go for a walk around a little suburb tucked behind the highway and sprawl of motels and strip malls where we had stayed the night before.

The houses on these streets sit on large plots of land. Some are well kept with fresh coats of paint and well trimmed lawns that display politics and football team preferences. The other houses are decomposing. There are no sidewalks. It’s a cross between farmland and subdivision. A flock of domestic ducks waddle from yard to yard between cactus gardens. I see acres of land and rotting barns but only rusted trucks sit on the back plots. Rocking chairs and strollers on sunken front porches indicate multi generational households.

Residents give me dirty looks from their driveways. Maybe it’s because I am not a neighbor or a familiar face to them. Or maybe it’s because I look like a “weirdo”. A young girl waves at me from her yard and I relax my shoulders and feel like a person again.

I don’t take any photographs in this neighborhood.”

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On tour, there is never enough time to really explore the cities where we play. The days are spent in the car, driving from one show to the next. I see the states through highways and gas stations, fast food chains and farm land. It doesn’t really look all that different from Canada this way. It is in the bumper stickers, BBQ joints, cotton fields, firework stands, gun stores, discount liquor warehouses and dirty looks that I am reminded that I’m not at home. I take photos of my meals and the places we sleep in the morning light before getting back on the road. The taco bell menu is better in America and I feel less safe using its bathrooms. I opt for the single stall washrooms at coffee chains like Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme to keep negative eye contact and comments to a minimum. The cashier at a Dunkin Donuts in North Carolina tells me to “be careful out there” as she hands me my sour cream glazed and small coffee and for a moment I forget that she is talking about the hurricane.

These American landscapes- the neon signs and beat up station wagons, bungalows, star spangled flags and old school diners- are all scenes I had admired in the works of my favourite American photographers. These men that I look up to who have the confidence to ask someone if they mind being photographed and who navigate most American streets with ease. Maybe this confidence can be learned, or maybe it's not safe for me to ask a blue collar Tennessee truck driver if I can make a portrait of them.

And so, for now, I photograph myself and empty parking lots. Motel signs and houses that I can only speculate as to who might live inside them.

The Rise in Non-Gendered Clothing and Why It Isn’t Cutting It

Words and imagery by Ellie Connor-Phillips

Modeled by  Alice Martin

Modeled by Alice Martin

It has to be said, London Queer Fashion Show was the most exciting event this fashion week in the UK. A multitude of talented designers shared their work with us on probably the most diverse catwalk of models the world has seen. Gender, physical ability, race – it just wasn’t relevant - and rather than including “different” models to tick diversity boxes, this show cast people as themselves, and that just so happened to be incredibly intersectional (as most things are when you cast based on talent alone). One of the most interesting parts was the rejection of gender – clothes were modelled on a variety of gender identities and marketed to all. It’s what the fashion world has been “moving towards” for several years now, but still not quite achieved. London Fashion Week is still split between “Men’s” and “Women’s,” as are the courses that young designers study at universities across the country. Everything is centred on making that choice, the decision to tick either box. Even new brands such as Collusion for ASOS, who describe themselves as being non-gendered and “for the coming age,” still are sold under “Men’s” and “Women’s” on the ASOS website. It begs the question – if we are really so forward thinking, why can’t we get gender binary out of our heads?

Modeled by Izzy Khakiq

Modeled by Izzy Khakiq

A lot has been changing in society in the past year. Camden Council held a survey open for people to have their say about the Hampstead ladies pond being open to transgender women. Right now, the Gender Reformation Act is being discussed, with people living in the UK able to have their say on whether they think people should easily be able to have their identity legally recognised. This is hoping to cut out a lot of the unnecessary “proving” that is currently needed, and recognises non-binary gender identities as well. Things are happening. People are mobilising to make real social change to benefit those of us who do not identify as cisgender, and educate each other on ways to improve our acceptance and understanding of diversity. Obviously there’s a lot more to be done, but the path is being paved towards change. However, this change isn’t being reflected in the field of fashion in quite the same way. Brands seem to be holding up an image of progression, yet not actually changing their set up or business to truly reflect their apparent beliefs. Universities, who benefit from the success of gender non-conforming students or who use their existence as proof of their diverse student clientele, still use only male and female models, and still insist on young designers choosing only one gender on which to base their work. It seems that, like diverse casting in fashion photography, it's not something that is done with pure intent but rather a latching onto intersectionality as a “trend” that will help guarantee the company more press coverage, and sales of either their products or their course. This could clearly explain the lack of real change in fashion marketing - it’s not that they can’t, it’s that they probably don’t want to.

Dilara Findikoglu is an example of a true progressive designer: not only are catwalk shows diverse in terms of gender, but also clothes are marketed online to all, categorised only by their occasion or style. The designs are not altered to be “gender-neutral,” just simply available to any gender interested. It works much more smoothly and comfortably than something like Zara’s infamous “ungendered” line, which were actually just hoodies and minimal basics...already worn by everyone. By marketing it as progressive and gender-neutral put pressure on the designs to be new, exciting, showing some kind of real change: however in fact just simply removing gendered labels could do exactly the same thing in an easier way.

Modeled by Izzy Khakiq

Modeled by Izzy Khakiq

In order for fashion to really empower its followers, it needs to be acting on the messages it seeks to promote. Whether that be sustainability, model diversity, body positivity or non-gendered clothing - brands and universities alike, need to show that they really do want to see real change happen and aren’t just going along with today’s social movements to follow a trend. At the end of the day, it is as vital in fashion, as in all things, to practice what you preach. When clothing fully embraces and reflects the natural diversity of all folk - only then will gender barriers be fully removed and fashion will truly speak louder than words.

Modeled by Izzy Khakiq

All photography shot by Ellie Connor-Phillips