Interview: Arabelle Sicardi
Below is an interview with Arabelle Sicardi, American fashion and beauty writer. As a teenager Sicardi launched Fashion Pirate, an alluring fashion blog, and has since worked for ROOKIE, Shondaland, Them, Allure, Refinery29, and Buzzfeed.
Note: Anything italicized indicates a link to a source.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are now.
I'm a beauty and fashion writer. I've been writing professionally since I was fifteen or so? I was a fashion blogger in another life, and just pivoted exclusively to the other side of the byline when I was in college. I wrote stuff for ROOKIE and then became BuzzFeed's Beauty Editor out of college, then left that to go freelance when the opportunity presented itself.
2. You wrote "Spas Aren't Relaxing or Safe for Trans or Gender Non-Conforming People", which was about how the gender binary is heavily enforced in Asian spas. Aside from spas and bathrooms, are there other spaces that aren't safe for Trans or GNC people that most cisgender people don't typically think of?
I mean, the world, generally. I don't like to speak on behalf of all trans and gender non-conforming people, because the matrix of identity is limitless and everyone does their identity differently. There's a public conception of trans "success" being when you've 'completely' transitioned and totally 'pass' so to speak, but that's not the only way to be trans. The less cis you look the more danger you're typically in and the more vulnerable you are to discrimination and violence. Trans people face discrimination from their own family, from doctors, from judges, from airlines, from landlords, from police officers. Basically any institution which requires some sort of documentation can discriminate against trans people.
In a national survey it was confirmed that 26% of trans people have lost jobs due to bias, 50% were harassed on the job, 20% were evicted or denied housing, 78% were harassed or assaulted. Right now there have been at least 18 transgender murders in 2018 so far. There are few protections for trans people enshrined in law and the ones that exist are being repealed by the Trump administration. Some trans folks are having their passports revoked.
In history judges would deny name and gender changes for trans people under the guise of "national security" - like, someone's personal identity was some sort of act of national terrorism. Imagine feeling that fragile. Let people be people. Pathetic.
3. What is a safe space to you? What is a sanctuary? Are they different, and why are they important?
A safe space is a place I don't have to worry about being misgendered, assaulted, reported on, mined for information, etc. A safe space is temporary, a sanctuary is long-term.
Everyone deserves sanctuary. People shouldn't have to worry about being made fun of, dehumanized, or deported. The U.S is supposed to be the land of the free and home of the brave or whatever. The statue of liberty is supposed to represent a country that takes in the tired and the poor and people hoping for better opportunity. We are not that country right now. There are deportation officers just hanging around subway stations asking to see peoples papers like they're Gestapo. It is horrifying. Imagine being afraid to leave the house, to send your kids to school, to go to work, to go to the doctors. Imagine not knowing if you're going to see your family when they walk out of the door, or having to hide under your boss's desk at work because someone showed up to check everyone's papers and will have no problem bringing you to a cell and shipping you off somewhere you ran away from. This is happening all over the place. Sanctuary places, like churches, are some of the only places immigrant families can run to and the police and ICE don't typically enter places of worship and drag people out. You can read more about it here. There are specific states and also countries with explicit rules regarding sanctuary.
The sanctuary movement existed before the Trump administration and will only expand and grow to combat it. Religious institutions have been places of refuge in America forever. Churches used to provide sanctuary for runaway slaves and later on civil rights workers and draft dodgers during the Vietnam War.
When I write about beauty in relation to safe space I'm trying to engage people in a conversation where they have to examine what it means to be respected for who they are, where they are. I don't expect everyone everywhere to love me, but I do hope there's enough general humanity in everyone to not be a jerk and make me or anyone else feel bad about themselves.
4. Why do you write about beauty?
Besides writing being kind of the only thing I'm genuinely good at, I never stop thinking about beauty, ever. When I was in middle school all my science projects were basically just reviews of beauty products. I transitioned from writing about fashion to writing about beauty pretty quickly early on in my career because I recognized that fashion was never going to be revolutionary or democratic and I wanted to be able to talk about identity politics in a way that more people could identity with and participate in. Most people can't afford anything mentioned in a review of New York Fashion Week, but they could probably find a way to afford a $22 lipstick. Of course, the beauty industry isn't utopia and in fact reporting on it means you deal with even more censorship and consequences and pushback than you would in the fashion industry, but that kind of problem interests me. It's like waving a red flag in front of a bull. As a storyteller I just find beauty to be really interesting and criminally undervalued as a reporting field. Beauty is just an industry about how we take care of our bodies. That's very political. It seems foolish to ignore the political power of our bodies, don't you think?
5. What do you wish more cisgender people understood about trans and GNC people?
I would ask that more people be prepared to do their own work and come to the table asking what they can do to support people not like them, rather than try to have people justify why they deserve respect or tolerance or understanding. I think if someone says they're trans you shouldn't automatically engage in a quiz interview with them on their identity, if you wouldn't ordinarily do that to anyone else. Like, do cis people ask each other whats in their pants? Do cis people ask what their former names were? No. Trans peoples bodies are none of your business and your body isn't any of theirs. A practical tip would be to not introduce people by their transness before their name, for example. Don't explain someone's gender identity to other people without their explicit permission. Generally just be chill. People aren't sideshows. If you're cis it's a matter of statistical luck. You could have been born differently. Anyone else's story could have just as easily been yours.
Understand that trans and gender nonconforming identities aren't like, new. You may already know someone who identifies as such, but hasn't disclosed that to you. These identities have existed all through human history, they've just been systematically erased or hidden and otherwise marginalized.
6. So, what's next for you?
I'm workin' on book stuff and continuing to expand my side project, Beauty Fire Sale. It's a non-profit collective of beauty editors who combine our resources to sell beauty products to the public and we donate the proceeds to various charitable organizations, like RAICES, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and United We Dream. Leftover products get sent to homeless shelters, rape crisis centers, and other organizations who ask for them. The first sale raised a little over ten grand in a few hours and we're going to continue the sales in other cities and try to raise as much money as possible for organizations doing important work right now.