Samuel Sims and his partner Jay in dresses on a London street

The pictures are incredible, but it was quite draining mentally (Picture: JustJess Photography)

The wail of tooting car horns was incessant, even for the busy area of London I was marching around in.

Drivers shouted homophobic abuse out of their windows, their words incomprehensible, yet laden with poison and ill-intent. The flashes of leering, baffled faces said it all. 

This is what happened when my husband, Jay, and I were modelling in big dresses during a recent photoshoot on the streets of London.

The incident left me feeling triggered and unsafe, but actually, it only strengthened my resolve to remain unapologetically queer and to live life on my own terms.

It’s important to me to express myself through fashion – especially as a queer person who often doesn’t feel comfortable enough in everyday life to do so without fear of being judged, or worse. 

For the last couple of years, Jay and I have modelled together.

It started when an old uni friend of his – who is now a wedding photographer – asked if we’d take part in a workshop she was organising. It would be a full day of her teaching other less experienced photographers invaluable skills, like how to direct models and or get the best lighting.

As someone who has previously modelled, Jay immediately said yes. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure. That’s because, as a classic introvert, this was way out of my comfort zone.

I’m the sort of person now – as I’ve got older and more confident – who likes to try new things. I also think it’s important to do things that scare you, so even though modelling definitely did that, I said yes.

That first model job was a day-long event at a gorgeous sprawling field in Kent during the tiny window we were allowed out in the Summer of 2020.

Samuel Sims and his partner Jay modelling in dresses

Nothing could prepare me for that recent shoot we did in and around Hyde Park (Picture: JustJess Photography)

Before shooting took place, we were ushered into a bedroom to get ready and once the outfit was on – a tan suit, trilby and cowboy boots, I felt pretty good. In my everyday life, I don’t dress super smart – I’m more of a jeans and multi-coloured trainers sort of guy – so being decked out in something like this was a real treat. 

I walked out of the bedroom and the photographers immediately started taking pictures, telling us we looked amazing. I didn’t care if they were just saying it to make us smile – I felt fantastic, like Beyonce when she’s full-blown Sasha Fierce. 

I had become someone else – a person that wasn’t shy or self-conscious. Despite Jay almost losing a finger to a horse while he was trying to feed it for a photo, I felt great throughout the shoot.

Since that first job, we’ve modelled regularly. 

We’ve done shoots in various styles of Asos-ordered suits, laughing maniacally together in the middle of a busy road on Regent Street in cozy knitwear.

Being so openly queer as a couple and showing not only how open we are – but proud of it too – pushed us to take the modelling in a different direction in 2021.

We hate how people are put into gender-specific boxes, depending on whether they were born or pass as female or male. Why should we only wear traditionally male clothes? 

So we did a shoot in the Lake District where we took a hammer to the rigidity of gendered fashion by wearing wedding dresses. 

We felt so inspired doing this, even though we submerged ourselves fully into the lake, which was freezing. The pictures turned out incredible.

But nothing could prepare me for that recent shoot we did in and around Hyde Park. Not for a specific campaign and not just for fun. We had a point to make. 

Samuel Sims and his partner Jay modelling in dresses under an archway

I felt self-conscious, but I tried to stay in character and just get on with it (Picture: JustJess Photography)

Jay had arranged it with a photographer and we’d adorn pastel-coloured designer dresses, made to be worn on red-carpets and highly impractical for anything else. They were gorgeous, totally over-the-top and ultra-feminine. 

In our minds, this would be the ultimate F-you to those who think we should stay in our small, confined boxes. Here were two men wanting to wear whatever the hell made them feel good in a very public space.

Up until that point, our gender-fluid shoots had been in private or controlled spaces, so we didn’t have to think about what statement we were making until the pictures were on our Instagram. 

The idea of being around people who might not like what they saw – a very strong possibility, even in what many assume to be the safe streets of London – was anxiety-inducing. But I knew I had to take everything I had equipped myself with to become more confident and just go with it.

For the most part, I was able to push past my insecurities. Many passersby were encouraging and loved the proclamation we were making – of being gloriously, unapologetically queer. 

We got a lot of ‘yes queens!’ and even some tourists on passing buses waved and took pictures too. Some people asked to have pictures taken, so we felt like celebrities. It was nice knowing that they were here for us. 

Some didn’t get it, which didn’t surprise me. People laughed at us, muttered under their breath as they walked past, stared and as mentioned, shouted abuse from their cars. 

Sure, I felt self-conscious, but I tried to stay in character and just get on with it, remembering the statement we were trying to make and who we were making it to. 

By the end of the shoot though, all of the attention – even the positive – started to wear me down. Having that many eyes on you and feeling like you’re under a constant spotlight is not healthy for an introvert.

I fully cannot imagine how people who dress outside of the gender binary every single day feel. No matter where you are, you’re bound to get some sort of abuse from people who feel the need to tell you you’re a freak and don’t agree with how liberated you are. 

Samuel Sims and his partner Jay modelling in dresses

This photoshoot felt life-changing (Picture: JustJess Photography)

I definitely hold back in my everyday life. Those that wear whatever the hell they want should be commended – they’re my heroes. 

But I got through the photoshoot and I’m so proud of myself for doing so. Jay says he’d do something like that again in a heartbeat. I’m not sure I would, if I’m being honest. At least not right now.

I felt so empowered by the statement we were making and the pictures are incredible, but it was quite draining mentally. 

This shoot felt unsafe at times but we knew our amazing photographer had our back and if we wanted to call it a day and quickly jump in a taxi back to the hotel, she’d be totally cool with it. 

At the same time – and definitely in hindsight – this photoshoot felt life-changing. Looking back, I can’t believe it happened.

I can’t believe I walked around one of London’s busiest areas in a huge pink dress, acting like I was the winner of Monopoly. But I did and it just shows what we’re capable of if we put our minds to it. 

If I can go from being shy and introverted to some frill-covered icon treating London like a catwalk, you can do anything you want too. 

I understand why some people were shocked by the way we looked – we’re conditioned to think that anyone who passes as male and female should look a certain way.

But I get angry when people feel the need to put us down. We shouldn’t be threatened and made to feel unsafe, just because we’re not like you.

No doubt, these attitudes will continue to exist, but Jay and I will be ploughing on and holding up two fingers.

I hope that at some point, I can become just as confident as him and care even less about what people think. 

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