Discussing Sari Curtains and Gender Identity with Yori Yamamura
Okinawa-based Yori Yamamura made her Instagram debut with a photo of them wearing a traditional cream and gold Kasavu loom, fingers ready to dig into the spread on a banana leaf in front of them. Two years later, the 34-year-old thread has become a vehicle for nuanced discussions about internalized Orientalism, sexual politics, and degenerate fashion – all pivotal stops on Yori’s roundabout journey to their gender awakening as transmasculine individual. Only one aspect remains unchanged: their devotion to the sari. Every second photo is a hymn to the six yards, where the scientist and aspiring fashion entrepreneur deconstructs weavings and drapes, while elucidating the intersecting histories and social foundations of clothing in its current context.
Yori’s date with the sari is not entirely accidental. Their father, who had several South Asian colleagues, made it a point to organize dating games for his child, introducing them to various cultures from an early age. Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia until the age of three, Yori, who then lived in Geneva, Switzerland and now Tokyo, Japan, watched in awe as their classmates dressed.
in saris and salwar-kurtas on special occasions.
Yori draped her very first saree, gifted by her father’s Bangladeshi colleague, in Nivi style using a YouTube tutorial. When they met their Uttar Pradesh-born ex-partner, their interaction with Indian culture took on a more personal meaning. In this interview, Yori tells ELLE India about the evolution of their relationship with the saree and unpacks the intricacies of using clothing from a different culture to spark important conversations about ownership and activism. Edited excerpts:
ELLE: Did you get any feedback from people in your own culture when you first started wearing the saree?
Yori Yamamura (AA): Yes, especially from my family. People usually give me Eurocentric compliments like “You look exotic!” Which are problematic in their own way, but are not meant to discourage me from wearing sarees. My parents, however, think this is weird and ask that I dress more “normally” ie in the modest, minimalist, feminine, western-style outfits that are commonly worn by Japanese women. from my age group. I think they would react the same if I wore less conformist Western clothes or even kimonos, which is unusual in Japan today. There is an added layer of suspicion that comes from the fact that South Asian cultures are associated with spirituality in Japan. Spirituality here has a negative connotation as it is associated with unscrupulous cults or Western influencers peddling questionable remedies.
ELLE: Were you afraid to culturally appropriate the sari?
(AA): Initially, yes, but that’s how I came to think of it: I think it’s counterproductive, in general, to control cultural references strictly along racial lines, as this can lead to minimization dividing lines within each racial group. Whether borrowing an aspect of a culture other than your own is tantamount to liking it or not, it ultimately comes down to being aware of your own power and privilege over that culture, as well as taking action to dismantle it all. power differential that exists between his people and you. Do you give credit, express yourself and buy people intrinsic to the culture? Do you actively fight against harmful stereotypes about culture that exist within your own? Are you listening to the marginalized voices of the society that produced the culture so as not to perpetuate internal discrimination within that society? All of these questions must be considered.
ELLE: How has your approach to sarees changed since you identified yourself as transmasculine?
(AA): I think the degeneration of fashion has taken on greater immediacy for me personally since I realized I was transmasculine. I didn’t know I was transgender until I was 33. But once I did, all the discomfort I had felt throughout my life suddenly made sense. Since then, wearing clothes that don’t make me look masculine feels dysphoric to me. These days I often end up draping my sarees over and over again, and sometimes I give up because it’s too hard in my current body. This has been a painful conundrum for me – I still love sarees and wish I could style them without worrying about whether they look assertive enough. However, I also don’t want to compromise on feeling completely comfortable with myself. I plan to switch to testosterone soon; I look forward to my physical transformation and being able to drape the saree more freely while feeling like myself.
ELLE: What are your favorite curtains? Any favorite sari labels?
(AA): The drape of the Odissi pants was the first non-Nivi drape I learned. I also came back to experimenting with variations of it, and the seedha palla curtains, as pant curtains. Unfortunately, they are impractical when it comes to using Western-style public toilet seats that have become ubiquitous in Japan. Parama and Ghuri from Debjani, two Calcutta brands owned and designed by women, selling fantastic hand-woven, hand-embroidered and block-printed sarees. I am also a fan of Bindaas and Manas Ghorai’s commitment to artisans. The homeland has stunning sarees influenced by Japanese calligraphy.
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