off-Key The first issue
THE GENDER ISSUE
It's OK to be
OFF-KEY FEATURING Ashley Wood
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY Alice Turrill
Dressing up is not just for children
Childhood is an abundance of dressing up as any character we like, whether it’s wearing a tutu to the supermarket, a Spiderman all-in-one to the park or a tiger suit to dinner.
As we grow older, dressing up - once seen as a fun opportunity to experiment with our identity – becomes unacceptable and taboo. Whether you are male or female, society is brought up on pre-conceived gender prejudices - a man wearing a floral dress to work would raise more than a few eyebrows. Over the years, some of these social restrictions have become more diverse and relaxed with the arrival of androgynous fashion for females. Women can dress in a pair of ‘boyfriend’ jeans, a loose fitting top and trainers and be deemed fashionable and applauded for it, whereas the majority of men are restricted by the jeans and T-shirt societal formula. But this idea that boys can’t wear make-up and dress-up in the way that girls can is now changing, and Millennials are the ones fronting this transition. To quote the director of the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group, “It’s this very self-confident, hyper-individual generation who are constructing their identity in fashion and makeup outside of their traditional gender buckets.”
Someone who is not afraid to be himself and identifies with gender fluidity, putting on a sparkly cocktail dress, six-inch killer heels and a two and a half hour long make-up procedure, is 21-year-old Ashley Wood. Ashley is a transvestite who likes to dress up occasionally in drag, but it wasn’t without experiencing the struggles of gender conformity. Wearing three pairs of eyelashes at once, most likely his favourite rooted jet-black wig and his Dior Airflash Spray foundation, you could say Ashley turns heads. Living in the small genteel town of Harrogate, where the biggest crime is not going out for lunch, he enjoys being the eye-grabbing talk of the town. “At least they’re talking,” he says. Alongside hair and beauty at college and performing in burlesque shows, Ashley has a normal part-time job. His drag-style description is ‘fish,’ meaning to be convincing as a woman, terminology from his idol Ru Paul. His dressing up and make-up is not flamboyant like a lot of drags, but more of an enhancement of himself, in the same way women dress up and use make-up to
Make-up ASH L EY Photograp hy AL ICE Dre ss AMAZO N
enhance how they look naturally. At fourteen Ashley went as Alice in Wonderland for a family costume party. “I wore a wig, dress and grey Converse, and a guy behind the bar looked at my mum and said, ‘your daughter is beautiful.’ It was quite funny.” It was his ‘drag mom’ and burlesque teacher, Maisie Martini, who helped him with his identity and finding his passion of performing full-time. ‘Ashley le Moore’ is his drag name. “The ‘le’ reminds people I am male and I don’t want to change that.” The assumption is that transvestite males wear make-up and girls clothes because they want to become female. Celebrities and people on social media who speak to Generation Z are changing expectations, like rapper Young Thug, who said in an interview that 70 percent of his wardrobe is actually womenswear. “I’m still the same person,” Ashley continues, “I don’t want a sex change to become a woman and I wouldn’t change how I am, I just do it for fun. I am interesting as a bloke – but dressing as a girl makes me more interesting.” Ashley embraces his diversity in his everyday life whether that’s dressed as a boy or in make-up and a dress. “People around me are supportive.” Even as himself, Ashley wears foundation and does his eyebrows on a day-to-day basis. Last year Ashley was taken aback by the homophobic treatment he received on a night out. He wore a pink dress, black heels and a blonde wig; he went into the girls toilets to avoid conflict. “A bouncer waited outside the toilets for me and took me outside, confessing to another bouncer that I had been using the girls toilets and I was told to use the disabled toilet. It made me feel vulnerable, but after that I stopped caring about the bullies.” Being shamed for dressing up, for any gender, but for being male is shameful. “It’s not a phobia, you’re not scared, you’re an asshole” Morgan Freeman said once. The fashion industry is taking on male beauty more, whether that’s heterosexual or homosexual men. Fashion continually grows and shocks, “I think it’s great that more people are engaging in grooming themselves and taking care of their appearance,” Ashley says. Today it is seen as much more acceptable for guys to experiment with fashion, wear things that are feminine and wear make-up. At the end of last year CoverGirl had its first male ‘cover boy’, James Charles, a make-up fanatic known to the Instagram world. The cover was another ground-breaking aspiration for men to wear what they want and not be ashamed or scared to experiment with make-up, whether it’s a passion or done subtly. The judgement that follows people who act against the societal restrictions needs to be a positive one. Every age, sexuality and gender can wear make-up or dress up and it should be celebrated. Ashley was bullied but isn’t afraid to be expressive and simply do what he wants. He goes against the gender norms and embraces a side of him that other people might not. Interestingly he says, “guys are accepting and I’ve had more attention from males since drag.”
We hear from men how women spend hours to get ready when actually men are now taking longer. Men are showing they care as much if not more about their appearance and spend longer on their grooming. “Guys like compliments as much as girls,” Ashley says. “It gives me confidence when I put on a sparkly or strong red lip.” Whether you think it is just a phase, a way of expression, just a bit of fun or a day-to-day routine; make-up and clothes are materialistic things that shouldn’t categorise gender roles and assumptions. Make-up and dressing up isn’t for everyone, but it can be for anyone.
"I wore a wig, dress and grey Converse, and a guy behind the bar looked at my mum and said, your daughter is beautiful."