love, life, and the pursuit of liberation
Jade Foster’s piece No Femme’s Allowed on the perceptions of femme lesbians made reflect on my evolution of how I present myself, not in just the straight world but in also the gay.
My notions of presenting and sexuality began before I realized I was gay. My sister was very much a tomboy, and I recalled her awkwardness with dressing in feminine clothing. I don’t think it wasn’t because of body issues or a self-perception of not being “pretty” in feminine clothing (she was, in fact, stunning) but it simply wasn’t her. I know I teased her a lot over the years for looking like a boy, but I think a part of me both feared her being ostracized for being different but also admired her courage to just Be.
I, on the other hand, dressed very girly. Part of the reason was because it was the 90s and the movie Clueless was popular. I totally was into the stacked loafers, a center part in my hair and barrettes. However, the real truth why I was so feminine was because it was an attempt to feel “normal” and included, instead of the unrelenting “different” that my adolescent years brought. While that difference was anchored in growing self-awareness of my sexuality, it was also very much impacted by being poor, African-American, living in the ‘hood and everything else that was not the upper class, white, girls prep school that I attended.
Around my junior in high school, I finally came to grips with being a lesbian. While I wasn’t officially “out,” I’d like to think that some of my friends suspected and at least one teacher was working covertly for me to be okay with myself. I was scared shitless of actually voicing those words “I’m gay” to anyone but I figured if perhaps I looked more gay, then people would get the hint, ask me, and all I would have to do is confirm. It was the 90s and it never occurred to me that I could be gay without an announcement.
So, I cut off all my hair. I was left with about an inch of curly something or other, and I felt like such a rebel. In a black culture where length and texture are badges of honor, I balked all that, and the defiance felt great. But I didn’t earn the “gay” badge that I thought would come with it. People just assumed I was being my usual rebellious self and never even questioned it, though my mother refused to look at me for 24 hours after the big chop. As it turned out, I would have to come out by traditional means and deal with the ignorant “but you don’t look gay” from the straight world and the “what, you know how to use tools?” from the gay.
I spent some years trying to figure out how to present, using and balking at labels, and 17 years after coming out I’ve finally found my comfort zone. I’ve accepted that I truly love the feminine, girly things about dressing, be it dresses, heels, makeup, and accessories. It has nothing to do with what roles or assumptions of what I should be. It’s simply a reflection of how I feel the most confident. The practical side doesn’t allow me to dress like that every day (though I’m trying to fight her J ) but I’m now okay with how I present as well as asserting myself as a lesbian woman.
At the end of the day, the clothes do make this woman—they identify me as secure, confident, classy, bold, sassy, sexy, and reflective.