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Celebrating the joy of self-expression on International Transgender Day of Visibility

“Curtain Couture” reinforces the need to push for equality and inclusion by reminding us of the beauty and power of uninhibited self-expression.

The LGBTQ+ community understands deeply how clothes play an integral role in affirming their identities.

Miss Trans Global 2020 Mela Habijan articulates this beautifully in a recent Instagram reel she uploaded, where she opened a fashion show wearing a gorgeous robe. She describes the experience as a “poetic moment,” recalling that when she began her transition journey six years ago, she wore robes to “[bring] confidence, courage, and power to [her] femininity.”

It’s a story that many Filipino queer folk know all too well, and perhaps nobody understands the power of clothes—or things that can be repurposed into clothes—to affirm our identities like we do. When we were younger, we used towels, blankets, tablecloths, and curtains to create hair extensions, dresses with fabulous trains, and dramatic capes. We played with clothespins to create nail extensions or earrings. Even covers for food on the table weren’t spared—they make for great avant-garde fascinators!

A still from Bench’s “Curtain Couture,” reinforcing the power of clothing—or things that can be repurposed in clothes—in affirming one’s identity.
Photo: Bench

These moments go beyond child’s play—they are powerful reminders that there is beauty and power in freely expressing yourself, in wearing the clothes that affirm who you are, in styling yourself in ways that show the world: “this is me, and I am not going to apologize for it.”

That’s why on the International Transgender Day of Visibility*, it is only timely to revisit things that remind us of the joy of self-expression. That dressing outside of gender norms to affirm who we are inside is valid and powerful. That we, as queer folk, are powerful and valid.

In Bench’s “Curtain Couture,” LGBTQ+ youth gleefully show off their self-styled elaborate outfits, set on a hundred-year-old folk song, “Mariposa Bella” (Beautiful Butterfly), that describes the grace of a Filipino woman. Updated with an electronic synth beat, its lyrics gain new meaning and narrate the metamorphosis of today’s LGBTQ+ youth.

As they play dress up, some kids display creativity by transforming towels and clothespins into couture.
Photo: Bench

The film was hinged on the common behavior amongst Filipino kids to play dress up. But, while boys who dress up like their dads, or girls who dress up like their moms are traditionally acceptable, most LGBTQ kids who dress outside of gender norms are still frowned upon by the Philippines’ conservative Catholic majority.

It’s through expressing ourselves at a young age that allows us to be more confident in who we are. Self-expression should be celebrated, from the clothes we wear to how we decide to wear it. After all, celebrating and accepting the creative self-expression of children of all genders at home is a catalyst for true inclusion.

View the full film from Bench HERE.


*About the International Transgender Day of Visibility:

March 31st is International Transgender Day of Visibility or TDOV. The annual event was founded in 2009 by trans activist Rachel Crandall to acknowledge their contributions to society. It was borne out of the lack of a recognition day that celebrates living members of the LGBTQ+ community, because before then, the only day associated with the transgender community was the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to mourn members of the trans community who were murdered.