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: Jérôme Depriestre, also known as his drag persona Susan From Grindr.
Jérôme is no stranger to the queer scene. Based in Ghent, he does drag, surrounds himself with openminded people and stays updated on everything LGBTQ+. And yet, when he sees himself in the final look for the shoot, he’s surprised.
“I barely recognize myself like this. Or rather: I’m seeing myself in a way that I have never seen before. I fucking love it, though. Honestly, I look kinda hot? See, this isn’t the first time I’m wearing make-up as a man, so it isn’t much of a shock, but I have never done anything like this before. This reminds me that I want to, need to explore that side of me more in the future.”
Blending in, standing out
“I have seen my queerness evolve over the past few years. Two years ago, I would have never worn the flower shirt I have on today. Now, I’m going to class in it, without any reservations. That said, I know I’m not a ‘look queen’. I don’t want to be in front of my closet each day wondering what I’m going to pull together. Honestly, I love blending in. I don’t always need to stand out from a crowd.”
“It’s important to remember that everyone who’s queer, still has their own personality which influences how they express their queerness. I like attention, but in a performing kind of way. I don’t want to stand out on the daily. On stage I love it – always have – but on the streets, I don’t always want the attention. There’s comfort in being a grey mouse.”
Masculinity is a flirt
When talking about masculinity and what it means to us, I ask Jérôme when he feels most masculine. He has to think about his answer.
“I have questioned my masculinity a lot, ever since I had to come to terms with my sexuality. You realize that you will never fit the mould of masculinity you have always known. Right then and there you have to adjust, think about who you are and where you want to position yourself on the spectrum of masculine-feminine-other. And that adjusting never stops. You just get more and more comfortable exploring shit, allowing yourself to grow and be masculine or feminine on your own terms.”
“I feel most masculine when I am flirted with. That makes me feel in charge of my body, my strength, my masculinity. Make-up or clothes have nothing to do with it. I have been hit on while I was wearing make-up, in full drag, and in boy. Those are all different facets of mine, and in all of them I can feel masculine. Powerful. Myself.”
No commitment issues
It’s interesting to hear how Jérôme stresses the more passive aspect of being flirted with in his answer, an aspect that is traditionally considered more feminine. To me, that shows how far he has come in his past-binary-thinking. Jérôme puts things in perspective:
“All of us grew up in a framework that values a mainstream, traditional image of male and female, and that framework influences us. I still notice myself judging others for how they look or what they do some times. In that moment I have to consciously take a step back and remind myself: this is what people do to you. Don’t do it to others. Becoming aware of your thoughts is confronting, but it’s fucking important. Yes, teaching myself to think differently from what I have been taught is a process of ups and downs. But it’s a commitment that I am willing to make. Actively challenging the normative on every level is the core of being queer.”
After the shoot and the interview are done, Jérôme and I are reminiscing, glass of wine in hand. The subject of labels comes up, and I tell Jérôme I am tired of people putting labels on literally anything. Jérôme disagrees, in a way that I can only agree with: “Labels aren’t necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s human to want to categorize things, it gives us the ability to somewhat understand how the world works. I think people get too worked up about the labels themselves, and they forget that a label does not have to define you.”
“Fuck expectations. I don’t think the labels are the harmful thing here, I think the prejudice and expectations that come with those labels are harmful. It’s not realistic to want to abolish all labels. It just isn’t. Categorizing things makes this world palpable, easier to digest. Without it we would just be kinda lost, I think. If we could all just realise and respect that it is the person who defines their labels and not the other way around, that would be a great start.”
Touché, Jérôme. And whether you’re all about no labels or about redefining what they mean; it doesn’t matter. Live on your own terms. Blend in, or don’t. Fuck expectations.
special thanks to Jérôme Depriestre
Concept, creative direction & photography: Joppe De Campeneere