What to Qwear, What to Qwear: Getting to know queer activist Sonny Oram

Photo for dapperQ

Published by REglam.ME

Join REglam as we take an inside look at Sonny Oram–the first transgender blogger to be sponsored by Topman–as they* tell us about their mission to push the boundaries of fashion!

Photo by Sam Murray

Sonny is the founder of Qwear Fashion–an online publication that aims to celebrate the diverse beauty of fashion anywhere on the gender spectrum. Sonny works out of the greater Boston area.

The trans blogger and queer rights advocate was awarded the title of dapperQ for 2015. The title is awarded annually by dapperQ, a queer style empowerment website, to a recipient that uses style as a catalyst for change.

Sonny participated in the first ever South by South West queer fashion panel­, hosted by dapperQ. The fashion panel was a meeting to discuss using clothing as a visual form of activism to influence social change.

Joshua: What incited you to start writing?

Sonny: About five years ago, I finally started wearing the clothes that I felt comfortable wearing. It was such a liberating experience for me that I wanted to share it with people. I realized that there wasn’t really a space for queer fashion bloggers. dapperQ was just starting up and Autostraddle did a few fashion pieces, but I wanted to be heard, so I started Qwear in 2011.”

Joshua: How would you describe your writing style?

Sonny: “It was important to me, when I started to write, to make my writing clear enough for anyone to understand it. Gender issues can get quite complex when you read into their politics, so I try to keep it simple so that people can read them. Images are also very important so that people get a sense of what we’re talking about. If people feel that they can grasp a complex topic, it gives them a feeling of empowerment.”

Joshua: What is your ultimate journalistic mission?

Sonny: “I want to express, in words, the beauty of the queer community in all of the ways that we choose to represent ourselves.”

Joshua: Some members of the LGBTQ* community don’t agree with the use of the word “queer” as an overarching title for their community because of its past derogatory sense. What would you tell them?

Sonny: “It was once used derogatorily, but it has since been reclaimed. I would never tell someone to use any particular title, but it takes a long time to say the acronym LGBTQ*. I would however encourage everyone to use the word “queer” because it really is the best umbrella term.”

Joshua: You speak about “fashion that challenges the racial, ethnic, cultural, age, and size beauty norms…” How would you suggest that fashion has the power to challenge pre-established societal norms?

Sonny: “Anyone that is not a stereotypically skinny, white model and still gets dressed, feeling beautiful, is making a statement. They are challenging beauty norms. With everyone being told that straight hair is the most attractive, some people even have to learn how to love their natural hair. It makes me smile to see black people rocking their ‘fros.”

Joshua: Could you please offer an example of someone that doesn’t allow beauty norms to define them?

Sonny: “There is this brand called Ready to Stare. They are an online clothing retailer that specializes in plus size apparel­–but they have all sizes. Alysse Dalessandro, its founder, is plus size and makes clothes that go directly against the grain of the plus size industry. Plus size clothing, in general, is meant to cover up. She chose to make her pieces very hot, and I found that really inspiring.”

Joshua: Many contemporary designers are moving towards a more androgynous fashion. Miah Mills, designer for Toronto based Blanc de Noir, has said, “We think the wearer should decide the gender of the piece, rather than the piece itself.” How do you feel about the fashion that is aiming to bridge the gap between masculine and feminine clothing?

Sonny: “I’m all for clothing that anyone can wear. I think it’s true no matter what you’re wearing. I can take a dress and make it masculine. We’ve seen Jaden Smith do that. You can also take menswear and make it look super feminine. I do not think that people should have to shop for something that is androgynous in order to express their gender. The only issue I have are companies that use the term androgynous for its marketing appeal without representing the community that it’s serving.”

Joshua: A study called the Trans PULSE project has shown that twenty per cent of transgender people in the province of Ontario have been physically or sexually assaulted. Considering their North-American social environment and the recent shooting in Orlando, should safety be of concern to the LGBTQ* community with regards to what they wear?

Sonny: “I think that decision lies with the individual. Sadly, given our circumstances, we sometimes have to choose safety over our preferences. I don’t think anyone should exercise any restraint with what they choose to wear. I don’t think anyone should feel victimized or feel that they must hold back who they are. Trans people, in particular, need a safe space to explore their styles without judgment for not having everything figured out. The habitual adolescent phase of figuring out one’s true style usually happens much later for a trans person.”

Joshua: How can Qwear Fashion make a difference for LGBTQ* people?

Sonny: “The more we dress how we truly want to represent ourselves, the more people will get used to breaking the binary (masculine or feminine), and hopefully the rate of violence against my community will lower.”

Sonny had a final thought that tied everything together: “I think men should be allowed to wear dresses whenever they please, and it’s really sad that our society can be so restricting. Feminism is a cause that people should support in order to help men feel more comfortable with expressing their femininity and vice-versa.”

Fashion is meant to express individuality, and that is the message that people like Sonny and platforms such as REglam want to spread.

*Editor’s Note: Transgender individuals will often tell others which pronoun they identify with. In this case, Sonny identifies more with “they” in a written context.

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