How To Glow Up Into Your Self-Identity - Interview With The Ever Stylish And Ever Lovely UK Instagram Fashion Influencer, Jay
LH: Let's start with some Rapid Fire questions. In your own words, who is Jay?
J: A Queer, masculine of center and gender non conforming person; Lover of good coffee, clothes and a fresh fade, forever trying to find gay bars in new cities and spending way too much money on hair products.
LH: What would you say is the biggest misconception people have about you?
J: Probably that my confidence and comfort with my gender presentation and sexuality is a lot more effortless than it really is. Although I try and make sure I talk about the positives and the negatives of being gender non conforming, it’s hard to tell from a photo that I changed 6 times that morning because I couldn’t cope with the outfits I wanted to wear not flattening or covering my chest or hips. Or that I deliberately de-queered my outfit because I was visiting my family and I didn’t feel like I could cope with negative or judgemental comments. It’s something I’m working on being more transparent about because it’s so important to know that everyone has good days and bad days even when you’re being your real self.
LH: What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?
J: I love ABBA. I’m literally planning a trip to Stockholm next year purely so I can go to the museum there. I’m not even embarrassed.
LH: How would you describe your personal style and aesthetic?
J: I feel like I have a real range when it comes to style choices, but the overall theme is always androgynous, with a focus on clean lines and masculine style cuts. 90% of my wardrobe is in neutral colours, and then every now and again I find a piece of pattern or colour that I can’t resist. Something I do a lot is mix formal and casual pieces, so for example wearing a button down shirt with sneakers, or a blazer over a t-shirt.
LH: When and how did your interest in fashion develop?
J: For me fashion and style has always been intertwined with my gender identity. I didn’t start dressing in the way I really wanted until I was about 21 (I’m 26 now), so before that I had absolutely no interest in clothes. There’s something very powerful about looking in the mirror and really feeling that you see yourself, and exploring fashion and style allowed me to do that. Once I’d broken the barrier of wearing “men’s clothing” I just found myself more and more interested in style and feeling better and better in my own skin. I find it so empowering to put on something I’d never previously have had the confidence to wear and just to feel good about myself.
LH: What brands have you found fit your sense of style and your body type?
J: I spend a LOT of time and money in the Zara men’s section, they have a great range of basics and statement pieces, and they often have good imitations of more expensive designer pieces. ASOS basics are also a super cheap option, the men’s cuts vary, but they have a lot of sizing options, so you can usually find something which works. For a more expensive options, I love AllSaints, Fred Perry and Ted Baker.
LH: Do you prefer shopping online or in store? Why?
J: This has actually changed recently for me, I used to shop 100% online, but now I’m really starting to enjoy going in store. I find when I go in store I’m more likely to try on a range of options and find something I like which I wouldn’t usually order, just because you can try before you buy. That being said I think online shopping, especially when you can get free delivery and returns, is a really good option for anyone who is anxious or nervous about buying menswear or shopping in certain places. It’s really nice to be able to try on clothes in your own safe space, when you feel ready to do so.
LH: Where do you find inspiration for your outfits?
J: I am honestly that person who sees someone on the street and makes a note in their phone of something they’re wearing which I like (I have an ongoing “to buy” or “to look into” list). Also of course Instagram, but also online in general, most clothing store websites have a look book page which is great for giving you ideas on how to pair different items, or outfit ideas to start from.
LH: What are some of your favourite Instagram accounts to follow in the fashion space?
J: SO MANY people and accounts, but especially:
@jade_fraser, @straydaze, @queeringstyle, @thenewmixx,
@gender.fluids, @nikkacyfootwear, @kirrinfinch, @queerlydapper,
LH: Ok, let’s dive in. You and your girlfriend both recently quit your jobs and uprooted your life for a chance to travel the world for the next foreseeable future. Tell us about this decision - how did it come to be, how long are you guys planning to travel for and what countries have you and plan to visit?
J: This trip was in the pipeline for about 3 years, Chlo always wanted to travel for a few months when she finished university, and as I went straight into a full time job when I graduated it was something I’d also wanted to do at some stage. In the end it took us just over two years to save the money we needed. Whilst living and working in Bristol in the UK we were paying pretty high rent on our apartment but we kept to a super tight budget and ended up saving enough for a 6 month trip. We did a LOT of research and decided to spend a good chunk of our time in South East Asia and Indonesia as we could spend longer there and travel more for a lower budget. In February we’ll be heading to New Zealand to spend two months camping and travelling around the North and South islands. It was frustrating at times getting to this stage but it’s so completely and utterly worth it. We’re very lucky to have been in a position where we had no dependants or responsibilities in the UK which stopped us from going long term. I’d love to travel longer but it all depends how far our budget stretches.
LH: You identify as gender non conforming, and I know that as such you had some very specific concerns about this trip. What were these concerns and have they been justified so far? What in regards to these concerns has surprised you the most during your travel in Asia to date?
J: In the run up to this trip I was concerned mostly about people’s reactions to my appearance, and problems with gendering and misgendering. I was also anxious about how my own mental health would be affected by this, as well as potentially being forced to dress or act differently in order to lessen negative attention.
Overall so far it’s been surprisingly positive. Although I definitely receive attention and interest for how I look, it’s predominantly fuelled by curiosity at someone who looks different to most western tourists, rather than negative attitudes or prejudices. Being misgendered as Sir is a constant thing, however as someone who most of the time doesn’t have a preference, it’s really something you just have to get used to. Unfortunately in the public world there is very rarely the time or opportunity to request your preferred pronouns, and personally I just find it’s exhausting to constantly feel upset or angry because someone has misgendered you. 99% of the time it’s just because someone is trying to be polite, especially when you realise that (as crazy as it is) a lot of people would see it as significantly worse to misgender a man as female, than to misgender a woman as male. It also helps to understand the cultural side of things, for example in Thailand, it’s common for the lesbian community to prefer male pronouns, or to be addressed as Sir.
The biggest surprise so far has been the positive interactions we’ve had from local people, for example a lovely Vietnamese lady called Misa who came over to speak to us just to tell us how happy it makes her to see LGBT couples living their lives openly. (Here’s a link to the story.)
LH: In addition to sharing your current travel experience on your Instagram account, you are also very clearly passionate about clothing, shoes and the LGBTQ+ community. Why have you chosen to highlight these specific topics on your account?
J: I’m not sure if I ever actively chose to feature those topics on my Instagram. It’s definitely been much more of an organic amalgamation of my interests. When I find an outfit or piece of clothing that makes me feel good about myself, it’s a natural next step to want to post a photo. Working with LGBTQ+ clothing companies and brands was an exciting opportunity after building an audience made up of the community, there are so many people putting their heart and soul into building businesses and it’s so important to support them.
Something I know I do actively try to do is be as honest and authentic as possible when it comes to discussing personal experiences. Instagram gets a lot of negative press for creating a culture of perceived perfection which is definitely an issue, but it’s also a platform which allows the LGBTQ+ to connect and be visible in a way which has never been possible before. It’s so important that younger members of our community, or anyone who is in the process of discovering their sexuality or gender identity, can see people not just existing but thriving, whilst also being honest about the problems they face and how they’re working to overcome them.
LH: Do you see yourself expanding into other platforms and forms of social media at some point in the future? And if so, which channels would you gravitate towards?
J: I’m a big Twitter fan, mainly for catching up on politics and queer news, although right now I’m definitely much more of a lurker than a poster. I’d like to work more in video on platforms like IGTV, but for now I’m trying to use this time whilst I’m travelling to create more written content for a blog. I’m currently working on an guest post for @onceuponajrny discussing in more detail the experience of travelling as a non-binary/gender non-conforming person, which will be online in a few weeks time.
LH: Having built a large following on Instagram, I’m sure you get asked this question often, but in the day and age of the much loathed algorithm, what advice would you give to others looking to grow their following and increase their engagement on this particular platform?
J: Instagram’s changes are frustrating for a lot of people looking to get maximum reach on their posts, however they all lead back to the same core concept of genuine engagement. Even before a lot of these changes were made, there wasn’t really a substitute or cheat method that worked better than really trying to connect with people. Search for people or accounts which interest you (hashtag searches are great for this) and follow, comment and like; get peoples attention, make genuine comments or ask real questions. If you’re doing this via your interests this shouldn’t be a difficult task, and you’ll end up building your following but also creating a naturally interesting feed and community.
LH: To wrap things up... What advice do you have for other fashion enthusiasts who are still experimenting with and searching for their own personal style?
J: Just because it’s not something you “usually” wear doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. Experiment. Remember that the only opinion which matters is your own, do you feel good in that outfit? Yes? Good, then wear it. The only qualification on what you are “allowed” to wear is whether you like it and feel good in it, nothing else.
LH: What is the best way for our readers to learn more about you or to get in touch with you?
LH: Final question, how many hair products do you own?
Did you enjoy this interview? Did you find Jay's styling tips helpful? Let me know in the comments below - I'd love to hear your thoughts! -LH