"A lot of people are uncomfortable with my gender expression ... I just want to say to them that's YOUR problem, not my problem."
Joey wears the COCOON DRESS from AW19
How did you discover Jason Lingard for the first time?
In your stockist Maaike in Ponsonby, I’m always looking for places where I’ll feel comfortable and where people aren’t going to push things on me. I want to shop in a place that is body positive, queer positive and gender cool. They were so sweet every time I went in, I felt comfortable trying things on and discovering different things.
You mentioned feeling comfortable while trying clothes on, what are some of the issues that you’ve had while shopping?
Well often I think shops are really binary gender experiences, they often have a boy’s side and a girl’s side and I’m not into that. Changing rooms can be a stressful place as a trans person, as a non-binary person, and as a queer person. I feel like people are watching me trying to figure out what I’m up to and trying to figure out what gender I identify as, like “Oh, is she going to the women's changing room?” or “Oh, is he going to the men's changing room?” which isn’t always coming from a bad place but neither of those options feel ideal for me.
I also prefer shopping in places where the owners are also the designers or where they treat their designers as artists, then I feel like it’s a different experience because you’re talking about the clothes as pieces of art, I don’t know, there’s more of a feeling like you’re participating in something exciting and real.
When you shop New Zealand made do you feel you’re getting that kind of experience?
Way more. I’m checking labels all the time to see if it’s made locally. I feel like there's a New Zealand aesthetic that is kind of dark and sculptural, which is something I really like. Also it just feels more ethical– if you have to buy and consume it must be more ethical to do that locally. Consuming things is just a really shitty experience most of the time. Thanks, late capitalist hellscape.
Joey wears the ESCAPE DRESS from AW18
So you talk about New Zealand’s dark aesthetic, what draws you to that look?As someone who does a lot of public speaking and a lot of teaching and educating about gender and sexuality, it’s important what I wear conveys something about my message. There’s mystery in this particular aesthetic. For me, there’s a part of myself that can be expressed best in a dark, mysterious way– not polarising everything into either being light or dark, but seeing beauty in the things that are unexpected. I feel like there’s a lot of unexpected parts of me that want to be in the world and I feel the world would be better off if more of us were doing this instead of doing what was always expected of us.
Do you think your look can be misinterpreted as aggressive or unapproachable or “goth”?It’s not that straight forward. There’s something about the abject and the marginalised that I really like about a goth aesthetic... you know embrace the parts of yourself that are scary: a process of self love in the face of a pretty hostile, racist, sexist, shitty kind of world. People think you're wearing all black as a statement of wanting to shut things down. For me it’s not about that, it’s wanting to choose who I’m available to. Some people I let in and some people it’s not safe to let them in.
How important is clothing to your gender identity?
Hugely important! I think gender is so social, you know, social recognition that whatever complex gender that I feel I am or you feel you are is a really important part of being a human and clothing is one of the key signifiers. What you do with your physical appearance is a creative expression. These things feel so important to me.
So many of my customers actually buy Jason Lingard for similar reasons to you but they all have completely different backgrounds, body shapes, ages and sexes but I think there’s a common thread there. It’s about dressing on your own terms.
Yeah a lot of people are often uncomfortable with my gender expression, or my way of being in the world. Some people really love it and that’s great... but you know, there’s a lot of people, like middle-aged white men, who stare at me on the street, like quite intensely, these people think I should be making THEIR lives easier by fitting into a box. But you know what? I just want to say to them “It’s YOUR problem, not my problem. I’m all good! I feel great, this is exactly what I want to be wearing and what I want to look like... if you’re uncomfortable then maybe you should think about that."
How do you feel about the change in attitude towards gender identity and gender fluidity that we’re seeing at the moment, do you think there’s a change?
I think there is a shift happening, which is good, but then I am still concerned about two issues that I see; one is the more public face of transgender people, which is usually a more binary gender expression. Like I love Laverne Cox, she was on the cover of Time magazine a few years ago and that was important and I love powerful trans women doing their thing, but I feel like there’s a backlash sometimes where all trans people are expected to conform to generic beauty standards –such as long hair, feminine make-up, tight dresses etc. and that you’re trying to be “passable”. The issue I have is that it seems you’re only allowed to be androgynous if you’re white, skinny, rich and conventionally attractive. So either you have to impersonate a binary gender person, or be androgynous, skinny, rockstar, model-type. I feel like there’s been an androygenous-model-aesthetic that's been happening for a long time, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate genuine acceptance of nonbinary people. So yeah I do think there has been a shift in the mainstream / capitalist media and fashion worlds, but sometimes it's kind of a simulated acceptance rather than genuinely being a sign that we are moving in a positive direction. But I do feel that younger people are moving in that direction. They're onto it. I work in mental health, and the way I see young people dealing with gender fluidity is amazing and they are genuinely seeing the intersections of things - that’s where my hope is, it’s not in the media.
I mean you’re on the ground, so talking to these people and also currently seeing what’s happening in the media, it must be frustrating.It feels like there's quite a gap, at least between mainstream media publishing shitty sensationalist stories and independent writers and creators who make great contributions. I think the internet is helpful, because it means people putting out their own content all the time.
Do you think the internet is doing positive things?Oh yeah, definitely. I think for all our young people in rural areas, the internet is a life saver. You know, even if you can’t wear the clothes you feel comfortable in going to school you could wear it in your room and take a photo, put it on the internet and you feel like you’ve gone out into the world and been seen, people can engage with that. It’s a social experience being online. When you’re in a hostile environment in your immediate physical environment, being online can be a lifesaver.
So this is always an awkward question, but do you identify as gender fluid or whatever... or do you prefer to not have a label? You don’t have to answer!It’s OK! I use a few different words and I’m pretty strategic in different contexts. So I feel comfortable with the term transgender, I’m also comfortable with non-binary, or even queer or gender fluid; they’re all fine.
So you said it depends on the environment or the circumstance, what do you mean by that?Because I think of gender as a social thing, the language I use will be somewhat dependent on what I think the people around me will understand. So I can be nuanced with some people and less nuanced with others.
Interesting. Do you have a preference for pronouns?
Yeah, I like they/them pronouns.
Shit! Yeah during this shoot I kept stuffing up pronouns and so did everyone else. I felt bad!It's OK, I heard you say “he” but I also heard you say “they” and correct yourself, and because I actually feel a sense of fluidity in my gender, having multiple pronouns feels okay too. But they/them is great and I think the more we practice this the more space we’re making for ourselves and other people.
You do need practice. I have a few gender fluid friends but I still fuck it up constantly!
So do I! That’s just how our brains work - they need new pathways and that takes practice. We were raised in an environment where gender is so culturally well-established, particularly through grammar and language. What’s great is the younger people that I talk to they know how to use they/them pronouns naturally. They don’t have to think about it so hard because it’s been part of their linguistic landscape. The rest of us will catch up. Language changes all the time, so they/them pronouns will be normalised.
Back to a superficial question, how would you describe your personal style?I think it changes quite a lot at different points, but at the moment, the feeling that I have is wanting to be in a dark cocoon, like it's got glimmerings or gleams of something interesting and shiny but as a whole it’s kind of dark, matte, layered.
Do you think that’s hiding or keeping something from the public?
I definitely feel like it’s protecting myself from other people's bullshit. Like my body doesn’t fit what people expect a binary gender body to look like so to some extent I’m protecting myself by embracing the mystery of it, rather than trying to fit one way or the other.
By wearing something that’s more oversized and baggy?
Yeah, oversized and baggy, it’s like maybe you can see the outline of my body, maybe you can’t? Or, maybe you can see body hair here, or maybe you can’t? It’s like the different expectations that people bring to what a body might look like. There’s a thing that happens with trans people, like your body is being accessed from head to toe when people are trying to figure out what you’re doing. And I resent that kind of invasive categorising, so I’m trying to demonstrate that in my personal style I can be powerful and empowered without giving everything away. Like, you don’t have to fucking know if I don’t want to tell you, it’s alright, chill out.
Photos: Sacha Stejko
Styling: Enisa Kartal