by Madeline Grubert
Photography by Noor Nasser
I was 17 years old when I realized that I was gay. I was in my room on my computer watching a coming out video on YouTube and all of a sudden I started bawling my eyes out. I was really confused. Why was I having such an emotional response? What about this video made me want to cry? In the past, my thoughts on being gay and coming out had been pretty typical of a confident, loud, young adult. I really had no grasp of the realities of being a closeted queer person. For some reason this video resonated with me in a new and inexplicable way. In retrospect, I think that in that moment, I finally came to understand the true significance of “coming out” and how difficult it was. Somehow an acute, emotional reaction was triggered in the back of my mind, jolting me awake and suddenly my sexuality became blatantly obvious.
From a young age, I had a very specific but completely ambiguous style and underwent an unusual amount of changes in appearance. Despite my many transformations, I was never content with the way I looked or the kind of person I felt I was portraying. As a girl brought up in a heteronormative society, I was wholly unaware that these moments were probably indicative of my sexuality and a deeper instability with my identity.
Following my 11th grade revelation, I did what any closeted, newly aware queer teenager would do. I turned to Google for some much-needed advice. In those first few months, I concentrated on developing a sense of personal identity and a place for myself within this new universe I found.
Through my journey, I discovered queer female role models, many of whom dressed fairly androgynously. To be honest, I’m not altogether sure where my admiration for them stemmed from, whether it was that I wanted to BE them or be WITH them. Or both, which turns out is a common issue. What was clear was that my newly-discovered sexuality and queer female role models had prompted a desire to change my outer appearance. However, this task was not simple. There were a few variables I considered:
1. Visibility: Although I was not yet ‘out,’ I was compelled to incorporate my newfound sexuality into my wardrobe. From my perspective at the time, the most obvious route would be to turn to a more typically masculine or androgynous look in order to portray an outer appearance of looking gay.
2. Fashion: I was always conscious of new fashion, as it was always something I was interested in.
3. Body Image: Throughout high school and into my first years of college, my weight had fluctuated. For months at a time I’d feel compelled to take up a new diet and workout regimen. Ultimately, my wardrobe had been more-or-less in a state of flux as a result of weight gain or weight loss.
So I was queer, I wanted to (sort of) show it, and I wanted to look fashion forward in my ever-changing jean size. Great! What does this all mean? Well, I don’t know, but I can tell you what I did.
My exposure to queer culture was almost exclusively based on my Internet exploration. I began by finding inspiration from various queer-culture websites I frequented. From there, I started buying more androgynously designed t-shirts and a whole lot of flannels. I shied away from skirts and dresses as I sought to find a look the leaned toward tomboy-chic—a look that I understood to be more about typically masculine silhouettes. However, no matter how hard I tried, I was still unhappy with my appearance. Despite my newfound sexual identity, I couldn’t quite grasp a physical identity to match.
I continued to grapple with my physical appearance for another two years. As I matured, I found it increasingly difficult to find clothing that complimented my figure while maintaining an androgynous look; it’s no secret that women with curves have a harder time finding figure-friendly androgynous clothing. Over the past few years, the fashion industry has seen a fascinating and much-needed paradigm shift, embracing the multiplicity of body types that all deserve their rightful place in the fashion world. That being said, there is still a long way to go, and I myself have struggled a lot with this.
When I came to college, things quickly began to change for the better. I found myself in an environment surrounded by far more diverse people than ever before. I met some real-live queer women; these women varied from theatre fanatics, fashion lovers and women involved in STEM. What seems so obvious to me now, but was so difficult to understand then, was that I had contrived a persona for “the queer women” and denied myself the concept of diversity. Through cultivating these important relationships, I have finally come to terms with my own physical and emotional identity.
And to those who say, “who cares! it’s just who you date!” I say: yes, of course, and that’s the only way my sexuality should be perceived. However, beneath the surface, we all strive to look a certain way, to maintain an image of ourselves that we’re okay with. When I realized I was gay, I adopted an entirely new facet of my identity. Through my personal journey of coming out I felt compelled to shed my outer skin in search of one that was better suited for me. In doing so, I learned a great deal about myself and found a way to celebrate my newfound identity.
When I wake up in the morning, I feel amazing about what I put on my body. If you will, I’d like to return to my list of variables I had made earlier. I have revised my variables based on my journey.
1. Visibility: Regardless of how you dress, you’re going to look gay anyway. It’s who you are. Therefore, you really had this visibility thing on lock-down the entire time. Wear what feels good and what makes you happy. Moreover, change people’s perceptions about gay women! Defy people’s expectations, I DARE you.
2. Fashion: Hipsters all look like lesbians anyway. Also, you’re great and you’ve got an awesome sense of style. Stick with it. Also, your friends have some really cool clothing too so you should go steal theirs.
3. Body Image: You’re lucky and you’re beautiful and others agree! The idea of others loving your body is a new concept for you and it’s been very important.