Now more than ever, we’re seeing a huge shift in support of the LGBTQ+ community. After decades of ostracisation, inequality and ignorance, there finally seem to be positive changes.
Yet, there are still some groups within the microcosm of the queer community that are still underrepresented. In the mainstream, we seem to be seriously lacking in androgynous representation. Sure, we’ve had big stars like David Bowie and Boy George paving the way for a more fluid gender expression. But do people know what androgyny really is?
Model, actor and activist, Sommridho Dasgupta, is on a mission to change that. Since 2018, Sommridho has been raising awareness about androgyny, queer BIPOC issues, and fetishisation and tokenism within the fashion industry.
"Androgyny to me means that you can express your gender in whatever way feels natural to you," Somriddho says. "It shows that you don’t have to adhere to gender stereotypes or feel restricted in your expression.
“I raise awareness about androgyny because when younger I didn't know this existed and wasn’t something I explored until much later in my life. It’s important to make people aware that you don't have to be either masculine or feminine, you can be whatever feels right to you.”
Originally from India, he moved to the UK aged 15 and quickly developed an interest in the acting and fashion worlds.
"I think I always wanted to model and act, but I never saw anyone in the mainstream media who looked like me," he says.
Sommridho was inspired to pursue his modelling journey by Sasha Velour, saying that "the way she expresses herself is neither male nor female, she’s just using her body as a canvas and her gender expression is the art".
Over the last few years, we’ve gradually begun to see an increase in representation through TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, in which Sasha Velour was a competitor. But it’s clear that there’s still so much more work to be done, especially within fashion.
"About a month or two into modelling, I noticed that certain people, queer POC especially, were being used as tokens in certain projects."
He finds that certain companies do not care about the real problem within the industry, "but will include one of us in an entirely white campaign to look diverse and inclusive". That can be seen as tokenism, which is the practice of using a small, marginalised group of people in a project to give the appearance of equality in the workplace and being supportive of marginalised communities.
"To be truly inclusive, you should be supporting the community outside of campaigns," Sommridho says. "Brands should represent people properly and accurately, and do things outside of their campaigns to actually support the communities they’re representing."
But it’s not just tokenism that’s an issue. There's full-blown racism as well, and stereotyping people is a common occurrence in the industry.
"I was part of a project where the company wanted to portray me through negative stereotypes against Indian people. They put me in a dirty shirt and slippers, which is a completely outdated perception of India.
"These companies are presenting models in ways that fit the false narrative in their head. It's racist and is not okay."
So what can these industries do to try and solve these issues?
"Representation is really, really important," he says. "There are so many brands like Pretty Little Thing or MissPap that are hiring white models just to make them look like POC, with big lips and tanned skin. Just hire actual people of colour!"
Education is also something that Somriddho thinks is crucial to achieving equality, and he says: “When working with people from different walks of life, you have to educate yourself. It’s so simple, but just don't be ignorant so that we can make the industry a more healthy and positive place.”
Another important part of Somriddho’s activism work is challenging the internalised homophobia of the queer community, which according to him is an issue that isn’t spoken about.
"When I presented as masculine, people were more accepting and nicer, but when I presented as more feminine, people automatically had some preconceived notions about me and were not as accepting," he says.
"It’s time the queer community wakes up from its own ignorance." Somriddho’s activism work is incredibly important to him, as he doesn’t want other people to grow up feeling like he did – he felt alone and invalid, and he says: "I don't want people to feel that.
"I would love to work in the mainstream media, so people know that people like me exist and that it's okay to be different. I want to create a world for future generations where people aren’t afraid to portray themselves however they want. That’s my goal."