Queer visibility part 1: In cognito

August 4, 2019

When I was 16, to avoid the lines for a changing room, I made the mistake of trying on a wrap dress over my clothes in a crowded Urban Outfitters on a Saturday afternoon. I got totally tangled and lost in it. I finally emerged, sweaty and humiliated from the struggle. This is Part one of a mini-series on queerness and fashion, appearance, and visibility.

 

Suffice it to say, I’ve never been a fashionista. But I wasn’t a tomboy either. Perhaps my childhood affinity to a certain pair of royal blue zip-off quick-dry pants should have given me a heads up about my sexuality…As I got older, I stayed with my jeans and shirts style, and the odd suit jacket or dress.

 

This was still my style when, in the summer of 2015, I spent a perfect six weeks in Europe with my best friend. On that trip we acknowledged our love for each other. It was magnificent. I vividly remember the glee I got from flitting through the small medieval streets of Dubrovnik, Croatia together. I wore a blue cocktail dress and she wore a black dress with bright floral patterns.

 

In cognito, we called it. No one knew we were making out in all the nooks provided for us by medieval urban planners. We looked so straight. I revelled in the secret sexuality between us, in the queerness happening right under the noses of the ignorant straight masses. It was fun, and transgressive, and fucking hot. One woman even asked to take our pictures as we ate pears by a church, looking sweet, happy, and innocent. Little did she know we’d be hooking up against the church later that night.

 

When I got home from the trip, I was in a lesbian relationship. I essentially became a 12-year-old baby dyke doing online quizzes to see if I was gay, listening to Melissa Ethridge, and researching lesbian fashion.

 

Armed with my new baby dyke knowledge, I hit up the Toronto Eaton’s Centre. I would pretend to peruse the women’s section and then head over to the men’s. I stocked up on basics such as plaid (to be honest, most of my initial knowledge of queer fashion came from this song). I remember trying on a pocket-t at urban outfitters and tearing up with I saw myself in the mirror. I even rolled the sleeves up a little. This is me, I thought! But was it?

 

I wrestled with wanting to look gay, but not too gay. I also knew that my baby face could not pull off a hard-butch aesthetic.  I spent lots of time online shopping buying hypothetical queer wardrobes that I never purchased. I did buy pride socks, but to this day I do not wear them around straight people.

 

In the spring of 2016, I felt like I hit a milestone. I was in a department store looking for gay summer shoes. I picked out four, and three of them ended up being Ellen Degeneres brand. I felt proud that I could connect with ‘my people.’

 

It’s now summer 2019 and I still do not have an answer. I never cared about how I dressed when I was straight, or what messages my clothes sent, but now it is something I borderline obsess over. My current style goal is hard femme aesthetic, soft butch biceps. I doubt I have achieved it.

 

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