Sexuality: Fashion and Theater’s Cultural Complication
Through a series of interviews I talked to different people about their various experiences with the media, fashion, and beauty industries and how they believe those affected their view of the world we live in. I started by asking them a few questions surrounding sexuality and our perception of what “sexy” means in society. These conversations lead each one of them to different places and answers yielding intriguing conversations about what it means to be a member of our changing world.
Lucas Esteves used to run his hand over his mothers clothing as a child, feeling every fabric and being fascinated with the way his maternal figures got ready every day and prepared for their lives through clothing. When he got older and realized that this was something that meant more than just beautiful patterns and fabrics he says this was a source of power and discovery for him.
He calls fashion a device for storytelling, the clothes you wear are a display of your personality and gender expression. When Lucas mentioned this idea of storytelling we moved to why theater uses fashion to tell a story and how. But the beauty of theater is darker than simply costumes and wigs, outside of the cutthroat world of auditions there are underlining tones of colorism and racism. Lucas calls himself a clearly “white passing” Latino male. Which he says attributes advantages to him.
“I know I’ve definitely been treated better than some of my darker counterparts.”
(Photo courtesy of NCCJ)
Colorism is the idea that certain privileges exist for people of lighter skin tone within their racial groups, unlike racism everyone is apart of the same race however the closer you are to the Eurocentric ideal the higher up you typically are. Within theater this is partially due to what we talk about as the phenomena of “white passing” which typically gains ethnic actors more roles if they can portray the ideal Eurocentric beauty, or that of European descent (small nose, wide eyes, light skin).
In a similar way, as an actor we “have to learn how to play straight” which is a debate that many in the theater community feel fuels a heteronormative, or the ideal of a male-female relationship, display of characters. We are only given stories about straight white people and while many plotlines in theater are revolutionary they don’t portray the way the real world is.
Theater’s role in society as not only a racial, social, sexual, or class barrier doesn’t make it any less important to produce theater. Yes, these factors are difficult to ignore when we discuss the accessibility to theater and its inclusion. However, it is still a platform to tell untold stories and to convey unheard ideas. Theater and fashion are both essential parts of the human experience, we just need to shift away from a white, heteronormative experience for all people.
In fact some theatrical pieces try to combat the experience of racism, genderism, heteronormativity, etc in the world and in their own small communities. There’s plays and musicals like Fun Home, which won a Tony for Best Musical in 2015 and told the story of a lesbians struggles growing up, or the productions of Lin Manuel Miranda, who only casts racially and ethnically diverse people to tell stories because he wants there to be roles that are accessible to those who are not white or white passing.
(Fun Home- photo courtesy of Variety.com)
(Hamilton- photo courtesy of Buffalo News)
In answering the original question of “Do you see yourself as sexy?” Lucas answered yes. Because he believed he was conventionally pretty and knew what he brought to the table. This idea of “conventionally pretty” is something we discussed off the recording as well. The heteronormative, racial, and colorist factors we discussed in influencing his career in theater and fashion are the determining factors in knowing he has a conventional beauty. He can pass for the societal standard of beauty and sexy, even though he does not fit that under the surface. Society takes everything at face value, what we see is how we judge it. When we watch theatre we believe the actor’s portrayal, when we see someone white-passing we don’t consider their background, and when we assume things we ruin the wide variety of human experience around us.
Listen to the full interview here: