(Un)conventional relationships, gender fluidity and our value system, by Osmund Agbo
One of the remarkable trends of the spring 2022 Paris fashion week that ended on Tuesday, October 4th and that of Milan that happened earlier in the year was not any particular silhouette or colour. Rather, it’s the idea that many designers, matter-of-factly defied convention to put both women and men on their runways in what would have been regarded as women’s attire. As someone who unabashedly professes love for fashion to the point of dabbling into the business side of it, I paid serious attention and have to say, I was a tad bemused.
Seeing young men hit the runway, dressed in long skirts with loose matching tops, one is curious to ask the question; when did the world bid the binary goodbye? While fashion continues to evolve and no one could honestly claim to know where its future lies, what is not in doubt, however, is that the fashion houses of New York, Paris and Milan are putting us all on notice that they are smack dab in the heart of gender agnosticism.
Truth is, I am neither in a position to trust the instincts of the world’s fashion houses nor am I willing to place a bet on the morality of the choices they often make. Heck no! After all, these were the same people that went to great lengths to convince us that a woman’s sex appeal is defined by how long she could stay without food and the ease with which we can count the number of ribs in the torso of a living human being. But then we all have encountered the phrase fashion forward and seen how both the young and old crave to be among those counted. I believe it’s safe to say that paying attention to emerging fashion trends is akin to taking a societal pulse in order to determine what in the future will fall within the realm of acceptability.
While gender agnosticism may appear to be a recent fashion trend, it actually is not. The progression started about a century ago, in the 1920s when Gabrielle Chanel, known worldwide today for her iconic “Coco” Chanel brand, introduced women in trousers, a traditionally men’s attire. Today, we accept women in trousers without blinking, an idea that decades ago sounded as revolutionary and radical as today’s men dressed in skirts. But the future it appears is even promising that the term women’s wear and its corollary men’s wear, may soon become obsolete.
According to an article in New York Times, the New York City Commission on Human Rights interpreted the law pertaining to office dress codes a few years ago as thus: “An employer could require employees to wear certain garments, but only if both sexes could wear the same garments (e.g., if women had to wear heels, so did men)”.
It seems to me, however, that in today’s world, there are very interesting and in fact, pretty significant systemic changes characterised by cultural and social shifts, especially among the younger generations of mostly Millennials and Gen-Z’s that goes beyond fashion. Take for instance, the issue of sexual orientation and gender.
In an interview with Elle UK, Miley Cyrus who starred in the popular Disney show, Hanna Montana, described herself as pansexual. Asked to explain it further, she stated; “I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me.”
Many believed Miley might have been possessed by the witches of Hollywood and was the only reason for her to utter such gibberish. But that was hardly the case. It turns out that there are other young people, many of whom are now starting to identify like Miley.
Few years ago, a market research firm by the name YouGov, asked British adults to plot themselves on the sexuality scale created by Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s, with zero being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual. The survey still found that 89 per cent of the respondents described themselves as heterosexual. But what is remarkable about this study was that, in the younger cohort between the ages of 18-24, 43 per cent place themselves in the non-binary area between 1 and 5.
In a similar American study conducted by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 per cent of female respondents between 20-24 years of age and 7 per cent of men in those age brackets said that they were somewhere in the middle between heterosexual and homosexual.
How about relationships? A friend told the story of a certain woman who had been married for over 10 years with kids. She woke up one morning and decided to share with her husband, her interest in pursuing a polyamorous relationship. Polyamory is a type of open or non-monogamous relationship where people have multiple romantic partners at the same time. The lady was sick and tired of monogamy and basically told her spouse that she was ready to reject all heteronormative structures (read: I wanted to sleep with other people) to which the husband begrudgingly acquiesced. Today, their relationship is more like a Throuple-a consensual and committed romantic relationship between three people. But how about Sologamy?
Since 2014, a travel agency in Kyoto, Japan has been offering self-marriage packages for women. Self-marriage or Sologamy is becoming a trend in Europe and Asia, especially among affluent women. In June 2022, Kshama Bindu, an Indian woman married herself, following an elaborate ritual consistent with Hindu wedding traditions. She identified as bisexual and her reason for marrying herself is that she always wanted to be a bride but not a wife. The question then becomes, what if she gets bored of being a bride, will she then plan on divorcing herself?
I have often self-identified as being socially liberal, yet even for someone like me, I have had an internal battle on what is acceptable as the world continues to evolve and the liberal envelope gets pushed at the speed of light. At the other end of the value spectrum is conservatism which in my opinion has come to represent what is wrong with the world. Not so much of the concept in and of itself but mostly about those who hide under its pretext to perpetuate evil. Take for instance, the issue of Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States.
Trump is leading the pack of those launching a steady assault on American values while selling himself as a post-Reagan neo-conservative. It used to be that before now, those that aspire to public offices in America are expected to live and abide by certain moral codes and values. Today, even those with hefty charges of rape hanging over their heads now believe that somehow that doesn’t matter anymore and that they could still go on to win an election in America. All they need to do is adopt the Trumpian victory template.
In Trump’s playbook, political candidates’ positions as staunch conservatives and fierce defenders of Christian values when he or she casts the media as anti-people accuses liberals of running a world-wide pedophile ring and labels them radicals in cahoots with Muslims to destroy America. By making those egregious but baseless allegations, they have succeeded in gaslighting a big chunk of Americans into ignoring their own shortcomings and rather focusing on fighting “a bigger sin” against God and their country. Today, America’s storied democracy is seriously threatened by copy-cat Trumpies who are election deniers, can only lose in an election because the process is fraudulent, wants to gag the free press and daily launch a barrage of vicious attacks on every pillar of century-old democratic institutions.
And so, the world is facing serious and challenging issues that bother on value systems be it in politics, marriages, sexuality and between conservatism and liberalism. For Democracy to thrive, there need to be rules which will serve as guardrails to protect it. In the same vein, I believe that the world also needs to revisit those values that in the past were used to define certain classes of relationships, marriages, sexuality and everything else in between.
Let me end this piece with a disclaimer. The essence of this rant is not to litigate morality or pass summary judgment on fellow human beings. Far from it. Rather, it’s a writer’s admission of the existence of an internal struggle to comprehend certain life choices and nuances. For someone constantly falling short, it would be tantamount to unpardonable hypocrisy to second-guess anyone or lay claim to moral superiority. This is an open invitation to those willing to join in the conversation about what should today constitute acceptable norms that cut across cultures, religions and geography.
Osmund Agbo writes from Houston, Texas. He can be reached via email: Eagleosmund@yahoo.com