We're now well settled into the '90s fashion revival — grunge is glam, girls; look no further than Marc Jacobs' runway show starring Lady Gaga to see how much '90s aesthetics have filtered their way into current pop culture.
Whether it's plaid shirts, biker jackets, combat boots or pixie cuts, the '90s are everywhere. Chokers, too, are de rigueur once more, none more so than the tattoo choker sported by the likes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Mary-Kate and Ashley once upon a time. And this retro accessory has become incredibly popular with a specific subset of ladies: it's become near-ubiquitous for trans girls, specifically those in their 20s.
It's certainly not a trans-specific fad, these babies are literally everywhere (Madonna's daughter Lourdes Leon, Scream Queens star Emma Roberts, and Miley Cyrus are all fans). But while they might be popular with cool, fashionable girls around the world, they seem especially loved by trans women. But why?
Check Tumblr, Instagram or your local queer party, there is bound to be a trans girl with one of these chokers wrapped around her neck. Even during a recent search of an erotic cam2cam site, I came across a trans girl naked except for a choker, telling her viewers about her all-raw diet as she petted herself.
There are a few easy answers. Hari Nef, a rising transfeminine model, has made the choker her signature accessory. In response to a tweet asking about the choker's appeal, her answer was simple: "tgirls vs. the Trachea," referring to the Adam's apple.
The Adam's apple is a constant source of frustration for many trans women. For those interested in blending into the prescribed societal notions of what a female body is "supposed" to look like, an Adam's apple makes women instantly "clockable" as trans. A choker, especially one that's elastic and molds to your throat, is a cute and easy way to cover up, curb dysphoria and stay safe.
Don't forget, the more "clockable" a trans woman is, the more danger she is in. "When I'm wearing a choker it's a definite bonus in regards to feeling safer," Maya Mones, an up-and-coming trans model, said in an interview. Trans women encounter violence, even violence as simple as misgendering, every day if they are visibly trans, and minimizing that risk could be a huge factor in the choker's popularity, even if it's subconscious.
While safety is part of the reason this accessory has become so ubiquitous to young trans women, it's not the only reason. New York comedian Hamm Samwich, who works in Brooklyn's underground queer scene, added that the choker is "weirdly untainted by drag, whereas wearing a necklace as a marker of femininity can feel a little too drag queen-y. The choker is something I associate with girls, gaudy necklaces are something I associate with drag queens." Being mistaken for a drag queen is something uniquely experienced by trans women more integrated into gay and queer scenes and can be a painful erasure of identity.
For most trans women, it seems that the appeal of the tattoo choker lies in its nostalgia, the same way it does for most women, but for a more sentimental reason.
Most of us never had the girlhoods we yearned for growing up, whether we always knew that we were girls or just knew that we were different. We flipped through Delia's catalogues and watched Clarissa Explains it All, fantasizing about what it would be like to have long hair and halter tops and boyfriends. We walked slowly past the Limited Too or were dragged past the girl's section of Sears by our mothers at the mall, wishing we could look like those happy photos of smiling '90s girls. Now, we're finally living out our displaced adolescence.
"A lot of tgirls, at least the ones in our generation, never got to wear the clothes they wanted to growing up," Emira Hajj, a regular on the New York nightlife scene, explained. "Transitioning is basically a second puberty and the choker harkens back to a '90s grunge girl aesthetic many of us never got to embrace because of how we were gendered. Personally, a lot of my style choices are me just emulating the girl styles I desperately wanted to try but couldn't."
Monès echoes this sentiment. "After I'm done getting ready and I've composed my look, I look in the mirror. I chuckle, because no matter what, I always seem to look like a little girl from the time I grew up."
Whatever the reasoning, it looks like the tattoo choker is here to stay, at least until the next nostalgic trend hits. Personally, I'm rooting for American Apparel to start selling corsets and hoop skirts.