Put a man in a dress and people riot, put a woman in a suit and she’s making a statement. Masculine and feminine, two extremes of a constructed gender binary, but what when one blurs the lines? M/V/X and everything in between, for a genderfuck that will leave you wanting more. This week: Bert Van Steenberghe, radio host on Studio Brussels.
Gender, a hollowed out concept
“Okay but why do I feel so fucking confident?” Between shots, Bert is strutting through the room in the high heels I styled him in. After a couple of shaky steps, I soon find him practicing a little catwalk, trying out different angles. “If people would see me wearing these, I’d immediately get judged for it, classified as feminine, not manly (enough). And yet, as soon as I put those heels on, I felt empowered. Strong. Aren’t those features mostly attributed to men in traditional society? To me, masculinity and femininity are hollowed out concepts you can fully define yourself, or even go beyond. ” Amen to that.
About confidence and passing thresholds
Bert identifies as straight and cisgender male, and for about a year now, he’s been exploring his personal style. Urban, street but with an edge, he doesn’t shy away from colours, textures or, just recently, the women’s departement.
“It was only a couple of weeks ago when I went to &Other Stories to find a suit to wear to a wedding. Traditional male suits felt too boring, so I went to try my luck elsewhere. And honestly, I didn’t expect that experience to affect me as much as it did. I felt uneasy trying on anything by myself, and it’s not like the shop assistants made me feel out of place or gave me weird looks, on the contrary. No, that insecurity came from inside me, and I realized I might not be as truly confident as I sometimes hope I am.”
“That experience in &Other Stories changed a lot for me. I passed a threshold that day, and it was important I did that by myself. It opened my eyes, changed my perspective, and I think that’s why today’s outfits, today’s shoot feel so natural to me. This is just me trying something new, and having fun with it. It doesn’t have to mean anything, except that I wanted to try it. I honestly don’t know *what exactly* I would wear if prejudice & gender norms faded away, but I do know that I would experiment more. And I’d probably wear the boots from the shoot to work, for real.”
We spend so much time trying to define everything, it ends up being more confusing.
“I don’t believe that certain characteristics are inherently male or female. It all just depends on the person, male, female, non-binary, whatever. Everyone and anyone can be strong, caring, loving, confident, emotional. Those things go beyond gender. The same thing goes for fashion. I wish more people would realise how completely artificial gender norms are. And fuck, we spend so much time trying to define everything, it only ends up being more confusing. Let people just be people.”
After our shoot, Bert asks me to touch up his make-up. He has to work later, and he wants to test the waters and see how wearing make-up for the day makes him and the others around him feel. Later that night, he texts me saying that he only got a couple of fascinated/weird looks, and that’s about it. I bet it’s only a matter of time until he asks me to borrow those sparkly boots again.
special thanks to Bert Van Steenberghe
Concept, creative direction & photography: Joppe De Campeneere