Tag Archives: homosexuals

Rainbows and Glitter, Ties and Skirts

22 Feb

The Queer Look: Why and How People Outside the Gender Norm Express Themselves Through Style

Born This Way, Bitch.

As a flaming queer, I am often asked by less in-the-know people (such as my parents), “Why do you have to look so… gay?” This is a question I have been asked in many forms on many occasions throughout my relatively long existence as a queermosexual. After sitting through three back-to-back classes in which we discussed either the gay lifestyle, civil rights, and/or feminism, today the thought occurred to me to address the topic in writing, something that I am particularly fond of as an English major:

Why do gay people look gay?

Broadly speaking, of course. There are many in our community who choose to live a less “visible” lifestyle, which is perfectly respectable. At the other end, there are those of us who are at our happiest when we are openly and fabulously throwing all convention and moderation regarding personal style to the wind. Both decisions are of personal choice, and both stem from the same main cause, with a complete contrast in implementation.

It is first important to realize that there are prevalent stereotypes regarding the LGBT community and our choices in style. Lesbians always have short hair and wear flannel, gay men wear glitter and feather boas, transwomen wear nothing but dresses and makeup, and so on. These stereotypes, as I will discuss, are both hindering and useful at the same time.


All images via LGBTQ Tumblr.

First, let’s discuss those of us who chose to fly under the gaydar. Without calling specific attention to those who are not completely “out” to either themselves or anyone else (a topic for another article), many in the queer community do, in fact, subscribe to more socially “acceptable” patterns of dress. There are several different reasons for this that I can identify:

  1. Social Mobility or Necessity. Personally, I don’t see it as a disagreeable reason for not wanting to “look” queer. There are many of us who see modern society as relatively adverse to queer expression, and this puts them in a situation of compromise, so to speak. In order to progress, or at times simply get by (professionally, socially, politically, with family, etc.), there has to be a degree of give-and-take. It is important to remember that many of those who do conform to a relatively normal pattern are not compromising their identity. At times, this particular reason for conforming to the gender norms can seem somewhat pandering, but it is often born out of necessity. As long as they know who they are, what does it matter what others think they are?
  2. Integration. On the PFLAG website and in many of their publications, the organization has outlined “The Five Stages of Coming Out.” The last stage is what they call “integration.” I have had several discussions with LGBT advisors and professionals who describe this as the stage in a person’s life when they are so comfortable with their identity that they no longer see it necessary to “explore” it anymore; they decide to merge back in with the mainstream society rather than express themselves in a way that makes them more visible. This relates in a large part back to the first reason, with a much larger emphasis on having confidence and security in one’s own identity, rather than taking on a more conforming look out of necessity. I have a very dear friend who has expressed this very same sentiment in a rather profound way: “I’m tired of being the big flaming queer who happens to be ____ and ____ and ____. I’d rather be everything else and just happen to be gay. I just want to be me and do what I like to do.” Paraphrasing, of course.
  3. Insecurity. In the context of the last two topics, this is probably the “worst.” It’s ok to be insecure; I’m sure many people live their entire lives not being completely comfortable with who they are. I blame other people for this. Never, EVER hold someone’s insecurities about their sexuality against them or pressure them to be “more out.” I’ve had this thrown in my face several times, people who say I’m not “gay enough” or that I need to make a statement with myself. The catch is, I’m actually pretty comfortable just being me (I’m getting old and integrated, I guess), but I know that there are some of us out there who are really scared, sometimes terrified, of being impacted negatively just because they look a certain way. I’ve read and participated in many discussions in which someone admits to being very insecure and wanting to “fit in,” and they have been encouraged to “play it safe,” as long as they realize they need to work on their own perceptions of themselves. Ultimately, I see that as the best answer anyone can give another queer dealing with insecurities regarding themselves and the way others see them. It’s ok to not be gay to other people, but you need to at least come to terms with yourself.
  4. They identify best with their expression. Sometimes, a lesbian actually sees herself a “traditional” woman with dresses and makeup and heels. This kind of expression (also upcoming in another post) brings about terms of gender identity such as butch, femme, bois, twink, bear… In terms of fitting the “social acceptance” threshold, many gay people already “fit” by appearance simply because they chose to be a feminine woman or a masculine man. Just because a person is gay does not mean that they instantly take on appearances of the opposite biological sex.

Now for the piece de resistance:


All images via LGBTQ Tumblr.

Raging, Flaming Queermosexuals.

I’ll go ahead and spill a few personal details about myself. I am an out queer woman (I hesitate to say lesbian, another topic for another post). My motto, if you will, is “If you don’t ask, I won’t tell… but you’ve probably figured it out already.” I am very conscious about the way I look; the hair products lining my full-wall mirror are a testament to this. When I was in high school, a couple of years after I came out (I was out to myself at 12, out to the whole school at 14 or 15), I actually laid in bed one night and decided that I wanted to look more queer. Seriously. I went and cut my hair off the next week, bought my first skinny jeans, and started wearing ties and vests with my Converse. I’ve pretty much kept this up for years. So why? Well, I’ll just go ahead and give my personal reasons, with the assumption that they more or less apply to the greater community.

  1. I want other queers to know I’m here. Remember what I said about queer stereotypes surrounding style? Well, they’ve helped me meet most of the people I’m friends with now. For example, I showed up to my first class at the university I transferred to wearing a particularly gay outfit: A slim-fit shirt for the band Iwrestledabear once that proclaims in large shining rainbow block letters “Metal Just Got Gay,” a really nice beanie, dark-wash skinny jeans that are one size too big for me, and some $75 Lakai Limited Edition skate shoes. Another queer girl a few rows down from me approached me after class, introduced herself, and then asked “Are you gay?” Instant friend. Didn’t have to beat around the bush or spend time trying to figure out “How do I let her know?” Let’s face it, even with people we think are gay, it’s awkward to straight-up say “Heyyyy… I’m gay too.” It’s a lot easier when we have identification, things that readily pronounce “I AM A QUEER.” It’s a way of at least lowering, if not removing, a barrier of communication between ourselves.Indeed.
  2. I want to fit in. Queers can be extremely cliquey. In light of the first point, some of them might not otherwise consider me as a possible friend. If I look like them, hey, I’ve got to be one of them. I generally tend to find friends in people who dress similar to me. It’s a sort of “tribal” identification. As a metalhead/computer geek/skateboarder/English major/queer, I operate on the basis that birds of a feather flock together, and eventually the way I dress will bring up a conversation with someone with similar interests. I just need to advertise. Back in my hipster days, when I wanted to hang out/date the cute gay hipster girls, I dressed a little differently. So they would like me more, and so I would be in their circle. It’s basic sociology, and it doesn’t apply just to gay people; everyone who’s ever been in middle and high school knows this.
  1. I want straight people to not assume I’m straight. This has a deeper meaning for me than just “flaunting” my gayness in front of church people every Sunday. When I have discussions about the particular subject of discrimination, I always advocate this point. I often say, “Even the most bigoted, homophobic people know someone gay. They just need to know that they know them.” I feel like my gender expression and my unique place in society (I am a high school teacher. Well, soon… anyways) allows me to be an example for others, that I am a person and that I have every right to be treated as such. I don’t want special privileges because I’m queer; I just want to be me. Style is really one of the first things people judge other people by; the way I dress is my own communication to others, especially straight people, that A.) I don’t want to date your son/nephew/boss’ grandson, and B.) I will probably be a little sensitive to your remarks that “I’m so pretty, it’s a shame I can’t find a boyfriend.” (a fairly common occurrence). There is a certain, strange empowerment I feel when someone addresses me as “Sir,” then realizes my boobs and profusely apologizes; I tell them “Either way works for me.” It means I’m doing a good job not being typical. It also shows something deeper: that people judge me based on what they see, realize otherwise, and try to correct themselves. As an overall fabulous person, I love going to get my hair cut.  My hairdresser is an adorable young woman, a few years older than me, who is very straight, and very giggly. Every time I come in with my alternative-lifestyle haircut in need of repair, I am accompanied by my guyfriend, who I’m really close with. My hairdresser NEVER asks me if he’s my boyfriend (my grandma does though, generation gap I guess), but usually does ask me what I think of Pink/Ellen/Ellen Page/Gaga/Other Gay Icons, cuts my hair shorter and dyes it fabulously, and sends me on my way. It saves us both the awkwardness of her asking if he’s my boyfriend, and me hem-hawing around the question so as not to appear creepy. Coming out to acquaintances/new people, no matter how seasoned you are as a queer, is almost always awkward, especially so for people of the same gender. There’s sometimes that fear straight people have that we’re after them. If we can show them that we are US, not lurking behind a comfortable mask of straightness, and that we aren’t interested in them, maybe we can help alleviate some of the fear and stigma. But back to the “straight assumption” and how I personally choose to portray myself as “alternative.” I’ve had this work to my advantage so many times with straight people that I’ve just kept it up. They see me and most of the time assume I’m queer because of my short hair and charmingly androgynous looks. Then they don’t ask me personal questions that a straight girl wouldn’t think twice about hesitating to answer, but that I would find overwhelmingly awkward and hard to answer without seeming “weird.” This doesn’t mean I don’t get bad, disapproving looks or remarks, but I feel like the shock value of being queer is lessened when people already see me, adjusted and happy, in my natural habitat.
  2. I’m incredibly attractive. But not in a dress. Enough said.This is also me.

So, in short, queers are queers. Some of us chose not to be as flamboyant or visible, while some of us chose to wear rainbows and glitter in excess. It all comes down to personal choices, social influence, and the means of how we reconcile the two.