Semper Augustus: More Than Rainbow Capitalism
Every year as June approaches, I brace myself for the onslaught of corporate “rainbow-washing”. Where corporations and other entities claim to support the LGBTQ+ community with rainbow logos and tokenized queer spokespeople. Then in July they toss the rainbow flags and go back to supporting anti-queer organizations and policies for the next 11 months. So when Sophie asked me to model for her jewelry brand, I immediately said… let me think about it.
I’ve modeled before and it has rarely gone well: modeling as a trans person can often put you in a situation where you’re either being tokenized or fetishized. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I trusted Sophie. On set, it was such a relief to collaborate on her artistic vision and work with people committed to a goal that goes beyond turning a profit.
I had the opportunity to model several collections but modeling the Pronoun Pendant was significant for me because displaying my preferred pronouns, they/them, isn’t a fashion statement, it’s a large part of my identity. Finding one's pronouns is something the cisgender community takes for granted. For me, it took the first thirty years of my life, to break free from conservative binary norms and be my authentic self. Pronouns are much more than a word for me and people in the transgender community.
Transgender people have existed since the beginning of human history. Almost every pre-colonial civilization has a version of transgender people like the Hijra in India, the Muxe in Mexico, and Two-Spirit people in North America. It’s only recently that we’ve widely begun using terms like ‘transgender’ and the singular ‘they’ which already existed. The word transgender was first used in 1965 in American English. Many examples of the singular ‘they’ are found in the works of William Shakespeare and in early works by other English writers. There are many languages that don’t have gendered pronouns. Using the singular ‘they’ is simply the byproduct of a limited language.
Using ‘they’ disrupts the gender binary because it forces people to grapple with the reality that gender is a social construct; no one is completely masculine or feminine.
The Pronoun Pendant has the potential to open up peoples’ minds to new possibilities around gender and all the ways the binary limits us in our daily lives. It gives closeted transgender people encouragement to be themselves.
The trans community is very small and incredibly marginalized. Many of us lack the basic necessities to live and have to resort to sex work and other alternative means of survival. Representation, visibility, compassion, and support matters at a time when every day I wake up to new bills being drafted to take away our rights. Wearing my pronoun ‘Theirs’ is a quiet yet powerful protest to the countless “Don’t Say Gay” laws being passed around the country; an act of rebellion.
I have a family and people I love in my life, something I didn’t expect to ever have, and every day I wonder if the dream will end. I sometimes feel like I snuck into an amusement park and I’m just waiting for someone to grab me by the collar and escort me out of this life, telling me I’m not supposed to be here.
The trans community has been reduced to a conservative talking point rather than being recognized as vibrant and diverse human beings deserving of dignity and respect. That kind of hate-filled rhetoric is convenient for politicians disinterested in actual governance. And they’re preying on a population already marginalized by society. There are people of similar identities to mine who don’t have access to basic necessities, and can't do ordinary things without having to worry about their safety. Anti-transgender rhetoric has very real consequences for people in my community; they can lose housing, family, and even their lives.
I can speak for many of us in the LGTBQ+ community when I say, we need more than a rainbow; we need the support of cisgender allies. We need committed engagement and representation. We need donations to trans-led and trans-supportive organizations like Immigration Equality. We need LGBTQ+ political candidates and politicians who support the community. We need more allies and more businesses committed to supporting us all year round—especially at a time when we are regularly being targeted. This is why a brand like Semper Augustus is so important. Their commitment to social justice gives people like me hope that we’re not in this fight alone. The community doesn’t go away for eleven months. We’re still here.
Lara Americo is a journalist and performer living in NYC. They are an advocate for people whose voices are rarely heard. They’re the host and director of TransContinental, a travel show on GayCities and Queerty. To read more of her words subscribe to her newsletter, Bricks Wigs and Gay Crimes.