BESPOKE IDENTITY: Kato on Kpop and BDSM

BESPOKE IDENTITY is a series of profiles examining the personal significance of fashion and suiting in the context of intersectional gender identity and/or presentation. The goal? To challenge the idea that the Queer experience is a monolith.

This profile is dedicated to Kato Trieu, a trans man who came to The Tailory for his first custom suit in the summer of 2019. Read on for highlights from our conversation ranging from Kpop to BDSM. But first, here’s Kato’s suit:

On how fetish informed Kato’s trans identity

As a bartender and party promoter in the fetish community, Kato revealed how working in the NYC fetish scene allowed him to comfortably navigate and explore his trans identity. 

KATO: “BDSM continues to be sensationalized as a spectacle of violence and sex, but consent and trust are the core principles of fetish play. Not all fetish interactions are sexual by nature. Kink was very important to me coming out because it allowed me to have intimate relationships that didn’t involve genitalia.”

Kato also explained how working in the fetish scene allowed him to reconcile the dissonance between socially-constructed masculinity and femininity, ultimately minimizing feelings of gender dysphoria pertaining to binary gender presentation.

KATO: “As I get further into my medical transition, I’m realizing there are still moments when I need to code switch at work because femininity is more profitable in the fetish space. Over time, I’ve learned to indulge my femininity as a form of performance or dress-up in the fetish space, which creates a clear mental divide between different gender presentations as they pertain to my identity.”

What suiting means to him

I worked with Kato to create a custom suit that would affirm his gender identity without impinging on his unique self-expression. His suit, a beautiful navy number with black contrast paneling, remains one of my favorite client design collaborations to this day. 

KATO: “I usually enjoy a lot of layering, which allows me to present a masculine appearance in society. I also enjoy wearing tighter tops with baggier pants as a way to explore androgynous presentation. Getting fitted for my first custom suit was a euphoric experience. Not exclusively due to its masculine or virile connotations, but because it was a sign of my progress in my transition and my commitment to my personal happiness. Suiting became a form of self-care, a way of allowing the world to see me and desire me the way I want to be desired.”

The personal significance of Kato’s first experience getting a custom suit is further proof that, for many queer people, clothing transcends the erroneous misconception that fashion is trite or superficial. Suits aren’t worn to fit in – they’re a way to stand out.

On his personal style and fashion inspirations

I asked Kato about his style inspirations, which are equal parts eclectic and fascinating.

KATO: “I grew up without any women role models, it was just my dad and brother, and I always felt like an imposter. I would wear my brother’s hand-me-downs to school in proper tomboy fashion. I always wore masculine clothing. Nowadays, I’m inspired by men’s fashion that’s soft and gothy but still professional and clean cut. I see a lot of it at The New School, which as a community is a little more expressive, a little more cool. In older days, people would have said these men were crossdressing, but it’s becoming increasingly common as a new style choice. It’s now an accepted look. There are definitely more ways to wear more “feminine” garments as a man or masculine-of-center person than ever before.”

Although we are slowly moving away from the idea that gender is binary as a culture, mainstream fashion continues to think of garments according to masculine and feminine modalities. For instance, putting a male model in a dress to provoke is fundamentally rooted in the concept that a dress is a gendered, hyper-feminine garment. In an ideal world, people would compliment the dress itself and not the fact that a man is wearing it. However, Kato was quick to note the importance of Kpop in normalizing a new mode of globalized “soft masculinity.”

KATO: “The men’s grooming market grew concurrently with the globalization of Kpop. In the Kpop scene, tending to one’s appearance in the form of hair treatments and makeup is expected. Self-presentation isn’t understood in terms of sexuality or gender, but purely as self-expression.”

As for Kato’s Insta style inspirations?

KATO: “None of the people I look to that embody my desired gender presentation are binary men, but to me, they’re still super masc in essence. My friends @valentinthedestroyer and @amish_witch Valentin is like a goth you would find at Pret A Manger and Dani is the softest butch I just LOVE. I also love how @thegothshane and @johnnybonushole bring elements of kink into their style and @akneli7 just has a sort of vibe that I’m into.”

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