This is Activism: Santi Sorrenti on reshaping fashion for LGBTQIA+ communities

Santi Sorrenti speaks to HUNGER about why they started to the fashion swapping hub G(end)er Swap.

You’ll see Santi Sorrenti all over London. They/he are a regular drag performer on the stages of the capital’s queer venues, such as Dalston Superstore, under the name Pre-T Boy Spice. They’re also a model and a self-described “DIY fashionista”, but it’s Sorrenti’s work nurturing the UK’s transgender and gender-nonconforming (GNC) communities that we want to talk about.

In 2017, Sorrenti, now 35, held his first G(end)er Swap, an informal “swap meet” where people within the LGBTQIA+ community could come to find and exchange clothes. Since then the project has grown to become an established LGBTQIA+ outreach organisation, giving trans and GNC folk the opportunity to get their hands on garments that are hard to find or afford – and picking up a National Diversity Awards nomination along the way.

“I came to the UK in 2017. During that time I was having some gender woes and in the process of flipping all of my clothes,” Sorrenti says. “I’ve always reverted to thrifting as a mode of finding clothes, and when I got to the UK I wanted to meet people within the community, so I thought clothes swaps would be a good place to start.”

Santi wears jacket by FILIPPA K, top, bandanna, nose ring, earrings, necklace, belt and shoes Santi’s own and trousers by LA MASKARADE.

G(end)er Swap soon became a hotspot for the clothes you want and the ones you want to pass on among the LGBTQIA+ community, where people gather to not only find new pieces but also to have the conversations that could help them with their own gender woes. “There were people saying that they didn’t know how to do their hair or make-up, or how to find shoes in the right sizes or heels above 39. I thought, ‘I’ve got those skills, maybe I can start doing some tutorials, or even reaching out to different organisations to do collaborative events.’ It very much expanded based on those two things – the requests of the community and my own research/ experience as a queer, trans, gender-nonconforming person.”

Fashion is, on the face of it, becoming more inclusive. On the one hand, there are more LGBTQIA+ models gracing the covers of magazines and billboards around the world than before, and more queer designers at the forefront of the industry. On the other, there are many areas within fashion where there haven’t been any efforts to change. Sorrenti agrees: “There’s an exhibition here and there, campaigns and billboards where we’re seeing more gender diversity in more different kinds of body types, skin colours and abilities. But when you get down to the actual garments and the spaces in which you buy them, they’re not very accommodating to gender-nonconforming people.

“What I’d like to see is [the removal of] gendered clothing sections. I’ve had people say to me that it’s quite difficult because how can [shops] then section out dresses, they can’t be put between trousers. I don’t think it’s really about that. It’s almost just changing the signage and changing the way people navigate a space.”

Noticing the small and gradual progressions in the world and being able to look back on the growth of the widely adored G(end)er Swap means Sorrenti has hope for a more inclusive future.

“Things could be better, especially thinking structurally and legally for trans, GNC and queer people. But we need to take incremental steps towards that. I have hope that things will change and there will be more inclusivity, or at least there will be more space to welcome diversity in. For some people, being included, being integrated or being normalised is not really the end goal, but just to be seen and accepted is important. And I have hope that will happen and that is happening. We are seeing it.”

Taken from HUNGER Issue 27: Call to Action. Available to buy here.

WriterRy Gavin
StylistLucy Parker
Art DirectorKat Beckwith
Beauty EditorMarco Antonio
Hair EditorNick Irwin using SCHWARZKOPF PROFESSIONAL Session Label and WAHL professional styling tools
Photography AssistantsOlly Dundas, Bethan Evans, Alex Heron, Marcus Lister, Chelsea Nawanga Fashion AssistantEmily Gleeson
Hair AssistantsMax Andreas, Tia Feels
ProducerSarah Stanbury
Digital ArtworkTrue Black Studio