"Young Choice" Beijing Activity
Credit: Getty Images / ChinaFotoPress

Fashion has only recently become an important mode of expression for me. Before this past fall, I actually felt pretty constrained by fashion, and these constraints were, by and large, gender-related. I would be remiss if I attributed the full constraints of my physical representation to gender exclusively — these feelings were also a product of environments that I had both grown up in, and grown into. My previous experience with fashion was an expression of all things I’d been told I should do in my life, which easily turned into things I thought I must do: You should be feminine, thus you must wear heels and dresses, and so on.

I have never been particularly comfortable in heels. For a long time I attributed this to the self-doubt that had shadowed me off and on for most of my life. Alternatively, I reasoned that my discomfort was a rebellion against being forced to wear dresses and heels from a very young age. It had never occurred to me that there might be some other explanation at work, just as it had never occurred to me that my gender might be anything other than female. Mostly, I just lived with my discomfort, and took it to be a thing that other people dealt with as well. Then, things changed.

Recently, I saw a quote that read something along the lines of, “Most of us don’t know where we’re going until we arrive.” That quote accurately captures my experience with the genre of music commonly known in the US as K-pop, and the effect it had both upon my fashion and gender identity.

By some quirk of fate I found myself re-introduced (or rather, fully and properly introduced) to K-pop last August. My first exposure to the genre was through Psy, of Gangnam Style acclaim. From there an acquaintance of mine had pointed me towards a couple of South Korea’s girl groups (Girls Generation was likely one of them, though, the details escape me now). I found the videos visually interesting, but ultimately they proved to be little more than a momentary diversion.

Enter BIGBANG last fall. My first taste of a K-pop boy band was the “Fantastic Baby” music video, which left me feeling surprised, confused, and downright giddy. At first, I didn’t really understand what I was seeing. All I knew was that I wanted more of it, and so I disappeared down the BIGBANG rabbit hole.

I mentioned that quote earlier, and how it applied to my K-pop experience. Well, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined spending hours watching K-pop videos, pinning boards full of Korean fashion, or creating new workout routines based around their music. But here I am, several months later, just as enamored. Why? Because through it, quite by surprise, I had arrived at one of my life’s destinations.

G-Dragon, BIGBANG’s defacto leader and image cultivator, burst my interest in fashion right open. Always on the cutting edge of fashion, always pushing boundaries, he evokes a variety of gender fluidity that I had never even thought to dream of before. But, the more I watched him perform, read about his life, listened to his words, I knew that I had arrived at some beautiful place within myself. Through him, and what some may dub a superficial medium, I had shed constraints that I hadn’t even realized I’d been weight down by for so long.

A few months with G-Dragon, and I’ve packed away all of my heels and skirts. Maybe half of my wardrobe has been bagged up for donation, and I’ve started to replace it with pieces that I actually want to wear. “Should” is no longer part of the equation. My hair is short, my undercut pristine, my colors fresh. I’m exploring everyday and pushing my own boundaries, because it’s not about being G-Dragon, David Bowie, Garrett Borns, or any of my other gender-bending style icons. It’s about finding myself, and maybe, just maybe, discovering my next destination.

Dani Lee Collins is a gender fluid storyteller, music maven, and adventurer extraordinaire currently galavanting around California’s central coast. When they are not running through the woods sporting a notorious white wig, you might catch them cultivating their stoic practice or watching the latest K-pop video for the 100th time. Find out what they are plotting next on Twitter.