Gender, Social Justice

Queer people are to thank for the Met Gala’s incredible fashion

LGBTQ people of color made camp relevant, and we need to remember that.

This year’s Met Gala took a huge turn from 2018’s Catholic theme. In fact, it took a dive into the fashion of a community that the church has historically marginalized – that of drag queens.

Yes, ladies and gentlethem, camp is in fact queer culture. Lena Waithe’s embroidered suit said it all, “Black drag queens invented camp.”

While Lady Gaga took the opportunity to unravel a fashion performance and Harry Styles showed off his nipples, Lena Waithe used her outfit to make an acute sociopolitical statement.

Queer people, and especially queer people of color are at the heart of many cultural trends. And yet, the media tends to forget this when celebrities pick up on queer fashion: it’s cultural appropriation at its finest.

This is especially ironic given that drag and camp began as a form of resistance.

A group of black drag queens, trans women and queer folk in the early 90s posing dramatically
[Image Description: A group of black drag queens, trans women and queer folk in the early 90s posing dramatically.] Via Paris is Burning
The iconic queer film, Paris is Burning, documents drag queen culture as a safe haven for LGBTQ youth during the late 20th century. Many gay and genderqueer people who would otherwise be homeless relied on drag ball culture and competitions for income and housing.

Just one decade before Paris is Burning is set, New York police heavily enforced anti-crossdressing laws. These laws were actively used to persecute the LGBTQ community, as wearing more than three pieces of the opposite gender’s clothing could lead to arrest.

It took revolutionary and often violent acts, such as the Stonewall Riots of 1969, to get to the point where drag queens weren’t criminalized for simply putting on a dress.

Fast forward to 2019, and one of the most lauded fashion events in the western hemisphere proposes camp as a theme. The subtitle of this year’s gala, “Notes on Fashion”, is an allusion to a Susan Sontag essay, “Notes on Camp”, originally titled “Notes on Homosexuality.”

Queerness and camp cannot be untied.

In queer spaces, camp has historically been used to denounce gender roles by taking gender stereotypes and exaggerating them. As Judith Butler would say, gender is a performance.

Camp takes this performance and holds it up to a light. It’s loud and humorous and fun, but it also forces us to ask real questions. Do glitter and lipstick make a woman? Do suits and ties make a man? Why can Harry Styles show his nipples when women still struggle to breastfeed in public?

Camp is a sociopolitical tool, one that is undeniably rooted in queer history. As we applaud celebrities for genderbending, we need to remember that some people don’t have that privilege.

Don’t get me wrong, we are blessed to live in a time where gendered fashion is contested in the mainstream. I’ll always be here for women wearing suits and men wearing gowns, and genderqueer folks (or anyone, really) wearing whatever the hell they want.

But we have to take care to always center queer people, their history and their sacrifices. After all, fashion is political.