Fashion designer and performer CHANG13° about gender, not wanting to make a decision and what clothes got to do with it
Writing the introduction to this interview is proving to be the most difficult introduction I ever had to write. Because writing an introduction is about giving a direction. It gives the reader a category, something to hold on to — it tells them what to expect. It is about putting things in boxes.
So I’m trying to do that as little as possible because this piece is about not having to put things into boxes and not having a definite answer for every question.
Which still leaves me with the problem of introducing you to the star of this edition of The Moment — HFT’s new series in which we explore what happens with our identity the moment that we get dressed.
Let’s try a non-exhaustive list of keywords: Chang-Zun-Gabriel-Pierre-Chanel Chung is our star’s given name, he was born in South Korea but has lived in Cologne for most of his life, he is a fashion designer and performer, he loves Madonna and Voguing — and his current topics are gender, identity and letting go of the pressure of having to make a decision.
Tell us how you grew up and how you felt about your gender as a kid
My parents pushed me towards being a boy. I wasn’t allowed all the things you’re not supposed to do as a boy, like ballet, for example. I was petite and I had a high pitched voice. I somehow looked like a girl. At a certain point, my environment, my friends and the rest of the family, started to perceive me as a girl. Look at K-pop-stars, it’s all pretty androgynous and that’s accepted in Korea. I lost orientation and I didn’t know what was considered masculine or feminine anymore. Maybe there was a lack of male role models. I was basically raised a feminist by my grandmas and my female cousins. I was forced into certain roles. Boy? Girl? And anyway, I wasn’t even aware — how do I feel?
And as a teenager?
In my formative years I slowly started to ask myself the question, what I was. And then I tried it all, tried to put myself into a box — which I felt that society demanded of me. I had girlfriends for a while. I played the macho, trying to have as many girls as possible. I dated a butch lesbian. To me, she stood for the masculine, she was attracted to my femininity.
When I went to college, I said, that’s it. I’m into men. But at the same time I wanted to live my femininity. I was almost ready to cut it off. I felt pressured to behave in a certain way, just like I forced myself to write with my right hand, even though I am left-handed. It’s just how I am and for a long time I didn’t question these societal norms. I didn’t go through with surgery in the end because I also realised that I simply like men — as a man!
I had one long lasting relationship with a man, for ten years. Living the gay life. In this relationship my partner more or less pushed me towards being a boy. It was rough. The pressure to be masculine. To have short hair. To having to go to the gym to be more butch. I had more success flirting with gay men at the time. But it didn’t make me happy. I lost myself.
What is your answer today if you’re asked?
I am CHANG13°
[Why 13? It is a combination of the connotations of the syllables for 13=dreizehn „drei“ (dry) and „zehn“ (zen), Chang’s history, his affinity to numerology — and then some. It’s as complex as describing Chang himself. There are also other personas, CHANGDARC being the stage name, for example.]
Do you still feel the pressure to have to make a decision?
No. I could let go of it. I never really wanted to and this is the year where I actively want to communicate it. I don’t fit in one box and I don’t feel comfortable in one. Even in the LGBT community I’m asked to define myself. If you’re not ”either or“ — clearly identifying as transgender or go to the gym to be the butch guy — you’re kind of being dismissed and not recognised within the niche that should actually give you comfort, not by everybody but by some members of the community who don’t understand where I’m coming from. It is the same that happens to me in the heterosexual world: if you don’t fit into a box — you’re strange. I don’t want that definition because it is not how I feel.
At the end of the day it’s my personal thing and it’s actually nobody’s business. I don’t feel the need to define myself, although I do understand that the community pressures you to do so, to be a role model for others. But outing myself as one thing or another was never my own desire.
However, I am behind the community because it is this community who paved the way, so that today we can mostly live our lives the way we want to. I want to show solidarity even though I’m not always fully recognised. I’m somewhere in the middle of it all. And, to be honest, I don’t even know if I wanna be recognised. At the end of the day I don’t really mind.
Fact is, that every day I am confronted with making a decision, without me asking for it. Gay, transgender, straight? The term gender fluid suits me perfectly. It doesn’t ask for a justification, explanation or decision. It suits my inner peace and freedom.
What kind of role do clothes play in all this?
I love clothes and fashion and I do whatever I like. I can take on different roles and I can observe how people react to me. It also helps me to understand. If I wear high heels then I understand the women better who wear them. It also helps me to understand how restrictive suits are, or menswear for that matter, because there is simply less options. I can break out of these categories.
I dress according to my mood in a certain moment. Or I dress because I want the look to define how I feel that day. I have different personas and I can’t be all of them at the same time. Clothes help me to take on a certain persona and differentiate between them. When I want to be CHANGDARC then the clothes help me to be CHANGDARC. He can be a more masculine performer in women’s clothes or a feminine performer in men’s clothes — or just like a Dada object. Clothes serve as a certain uniform or armour, if you wish. The look sets the target of who I want to be in that very moment. One day I can be Ziggy Stardust, the other day I can be Madonna. With my alter egos I want to fuse extreme masculine and feminine clichés into one hybrid. It’s neither about being at one end of the gender spectrum or the other, nor about being neutral. My evolution is my revolution.
Do you remember the first time you wore girl’s clothes?
I was about eight years old. I used to invite to fancy dress parties for my birthdays. I would wear my mum’s bathing suit which is black and I’d apply white stars to it because I always wanted to be Wonder Woman — who probably was my first role model and my first love. I dedicated my diploma to Wonder Woman! This is the first time that I remember to make a conscious decision to dress more feminine.
How did you feel, what did it mean to you?
I felt like a certain person, the person I have always been.
What is your message to people who feel similar to how you feel?
Don’t let anybody pressure you. You don’t have to make a decision. Don’t think you’re forced to out yourself. Do it the way you want to do it!
Watch Chang perform in the performance piece “Bold Move” with the artist collective 3nidad (Fenja Ludwig , Felipé Gonzalez und CHANG13°/CHANGDARC) — about his role in the putting together of the piece: ”For reasons of tolerance we add an endless number of letters to the acronym LGBTIQ+xy … what if I cannot identify with any of these, is it okay be my own minority?“
”3nidad“ premieres on May 11th, 2018 as part of the Britney X Festival in Cologne
Art direction, camera and editing: Robert Bartholot
Idea and production: Björn Lüdtke