Men in Manolos

‘I am a man in a dress, a man in heels, a man in makeup. But I am always a man. This is how I see myself.’  

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Florent Bidois identifies as gender nonconforming because he doesn’t fit in to the wider societies definitions of what a man should be. I will be quoting Florent throughout this article. Gender nonconforming isn’t necessarily the same as non binary. Non binary can be used as an umbrella term but generally refers to individuals who do not identify as either male or female. While as a straight male can in fact be gender nonconforming because of how he chooses to dress for example.

I met with Florent in the basement of Costa Coffee on Argyll Street, London one chilly spring afternoon a few weeks ago. I needed someone with lived experience of what it truly means to defy gender norms to bring this article to life. Florent made his way down the stairs at exactly 3.15 pm. A milkshake in one hand and a rubber chicken hand bag in the other. 

Florent was born and raised in France, having moved to London five years ago. He describes London as a bubble, somewhere he feels accepted and comfortable. London is very cosmopolitan and has been a hub of creativity and innovation for centuries. It’s hardly surprising that Florent feels safe and able to express himself here. 

The way we dress is an important expression of who we are as individuals. Whether conscious or not, what we wear and how we wear it says a lot about our identity. Gender norms have changed quite significantly over the centuries. Our society considers traits such as wearing makeup and heels as feminine, things that were considered perfectly masculine thousands of years ago.

‘When I bend gender boundaries and move across the gender spectrum in the way I dress, it’s an elevated representation of myself. I feel I can tell people who I am, without having to speak.’

Gender non conforming individuals often find themselves having to explain their existence in a way typically male or female individuals aren’t expected to. This may be due to a lack of understanding, curiosity, fascination or a mixture of all three. Regardless, it can become tedious. I think most, myself and Florent included would welcome a time when people can just be themselves without the need for narration. 

‘When you dress up differently you become a sort of entity. Whether you want to or not, whether you like it or not, especially when the gender boundaries are blurred. To some you become untouchable, while as others want to touch you, quite literally.’

Florent describes feeling like an attraction at a zoo on occasion. He recalls one particular time when he was walking to his monthly Colour Walk gathering, fully dressed up as the occasion called for it. People were stopping him to take photos, touching him, being quite aggressive and entitled in the manner in which they were interacting with him. Some people assume that he is dressed the way he is for the purpose of getting attention, so they feel entitled to give it to him. Without much consideration for how this may make him feel.

This can be incredibly frustrating, not everyone dresses up for attention. Although it can come hand in hand with not conforming, basic respect isn’t asking for too much. If you want to speak to someone, be polite. If you want to take a photo or make a video, ask for consent. Florent loves meeting new people, he just asks that you treat him and others like him as you would expect to be treated yourself.

Individuals like Florent are becoming more visible in the mainstream media and on social media in particular. This shift is encouraging acceptance and raising awareness. When Florent moved to London he described seeing men having fun with fashion, this encouraged Florent to do the same. Previously he had channelled his creativity in to dressing the women in his life. Florent is a designer. He now uses himself as the canvas and is enjoying experimenting with clothing, accessories and make up. 

I asked Florent what advice he would give to someone who is struggling to conform to gender norms:

‘Dare to wear. Dare to be. Everyone is Valid. Everyone has a space. You can be whatever you want to be. Feed yourself, Feed yourself with books, art, films and culture. We become what we consume. Take it all in, this will help you grow and to find your aesthetic.’

We also discussed the importance of a supportive network. Florent organises a monthly Colour Walk in London’s famous Spitalfields market. The gathering was first started by Galina Sherri in 2016 as an impromptu celebration of all things colourful, vintage, creative and flamboyant. Inspired by his colourful friend Sue Kreitzman, Florent decided to make it a monthly occurrence because he saw a need for it. According to Florent Sue is the visual representation of what Colour Walking is. The event is open to all.

‘It’s the love of colour and dressing up that unites us here.’

We all have the right to express ourselves however we see fit. It’s time to embrace diversity and see it for what it is, beautiful and natural. 

Words by Saffy Khan @stylegrimoires

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