How Do I Dress-Non Binary? - BeNjamyn Upshaw-Ruffner

March 2, 2022

I began with a particular piece of clothing in my closet, one with great sentimental value. I still have the sweater that belonged to my close friend; they lent it to me many moons ago on a particularly chilly August evening, following a day filled with the warmest of memories. The pandemic has prevented us from reuniting since then, and so the sweater waits.

I was ever the bashful “boy,” longing for my coming out story. My dear friend was there as I meditated, gestured to new gender representations. I discovered non-binary possibilities alongside my friend, and thus this seemingly banal garment takes on the ethos of our friendship; it evokes personal emotions of nostalgia and the inclusivity we built together.

Using the technology available to me, I have photographed—up close—the texture of this sweater: outside, zipper, with a bit of the inside down the middle. I then employed a neural network trained to generate images based on text prompts. I asked the computer: “How Do I Dress as Non-Binary?” and used my photograph as a visual input. After several iterations, I was satisfied with my result! Notice the yellow and violet from the non-binary flag are present in this piece, creating a facial structure that is overlayed on top of the fabric texture, like a collage on scrapbook paper.

I also want to share how others in my circle have interpreted this photo I created. At the topmost section of the image, some see a mountain-like structure, with peaks and valleys correlating with the uneven, sporadic capacity for spending time with friends during this ongoing pandemic. Others still view the image in two halves, each their own active agent, each choosing to embrace the other amidst the chaotic scatter of polygonal shapes that cascade up and down the space of the image. Others have noticed how the grooves and contours of the textured figure can be perceived as human-shaped, with the subtle curvature bringing to mind revealed skin, suggesting intimacy or vulnerability to the viewer.

I even find myself seeing new possibilities emerge in the work as I think more about it. In the dark purple blotch, for example, lurks my anxieties about gender expression. Swirling in the center section is the seed of doubt. I might have intrusive thoughts, I might not be totally sure of things. But it isn’t something to destroy or cure; it’s a genuine feeling, part of the healing process. I was very happy to have been able to share this piece in one of my art classes. I feel like more eyes bring more life to this work. And alongside that new life comes a tempest of interpretations, turning my own esteem for the art into exciting new directions.

An undergraduate
feminist art & art history