s queer folks love to talk about foreshadowing from our childhoods. Later, with the experience that comes with adulthood, we often look back and say wow that was uh, pretty damn gay. Or we may jokingly discuss as “I should’ve known I was gay because I liked/did ____ as a child.” My childhood lacked what I have termed as Queer Foreshadowing; adolescent encounters and thoughts that, in hindsight, could be perceived as indicators towards adulthood queerness. As I have always been aware of my queerness (to a certain extent) and expressed it overtly, I personally did not experience this phenomenon. However, I had plenty of what I will refer to as Gender Omens; harbingers of gender fuckery and befuddlement. These can come in the form of internal conflict and questioning or at the influence of outside perception. Mine came in the form of both. I used to think I was a tomboy.
When my mom finally let me choose my own clothes, my wardrobe consisted of big t-shirts, hoodies, and baggy jeans. These are still important staples in my closet today. To my grandmother’s dismay, I was not a delicate, baby-doll loving, straight hair-obsessed child. I liked video games, reading, wrestling, and got into fights on a very regular basis.
She repeatedly told my mother that how I dressed was not how girls dressed and my interests and habits were notladylike. Funny enough, she was right and I recognized these comments as my first encounter with a Gender Omen. It would not be my last. I knew I was absolutely not a boy, but being a girl was not right either. Admittedly, I did prefer the husky boys’ section of clothes and their better-looking sneakers.
While my grandmother’s comments were malicious, they mirrored some of my own budding thoughts. I wondered to myself what exactly it meant to be a girl, and what about me was so different than that expectation and definition? Was it my predilection for certain types of clothes? My preference of shades of greys and blues over pastels? My youthful stoic demeanor or my wit that was as quick as my temper? Presently, I still ponder how and why certain traits and interests have become so uselessly gendered. And where did that leave me? I was confused by reactions to my wardrobe. Furious when I was mistaken for a boy. Embarrassed when I had to wear dresses. But I was too young to process and express my thoughts and was left with unexplained anger and frustration.
It wasn’t until I was taking a course on human sexuality in my freshman year of college that I finally had an answer. Genderfluid. Non-binary. I finally encountered what my Gender Omens were trying to show me for years. My world was rocked by the sudden knowledge that there are more than the two options that were presented to me. I was intimidated and scared, I must admit. Here they were, tangible and presented to me in an academic space no less. I later realized that genderfluid didn’t quite fit either, but it sparked the idea that led to me truthfully observing my gender identity (or lack thereof — I finally landed on agender). Although I grappled with accepting this truth, the most burning question I had was: “how do genderfluid people dress?” which I posed to Google, of course. I was inundated by pictures of Ruby Rose lookalikes: thin, white, and androgynous (read: AFAB folks wearing “masculine” clothing).
Where are the fat people? Where are the black people? Why did androgyny only seem to show up in one form?
This messaging of what gender non-conformity looked like was troubling because I did not at all fit that standard. My excitement slowly gave to those feelings from my childhood — forlorn confusion. I eventually became all too aware that queer representation mostly consists of thin, abled bodies. This is consistent even in black spaces; fat bodies are often unrepresented, underrepresented, or misrepresented. Without the validation of seeing myself anywhere, it made my journey a little harder, but not impossible.
I found that style advice blogs and articles were useless, and shopping for clothes had become increasingly frustrating for reasons I had yet to fully realize at the time. However, I came to realize that even in my adulthood I had to learn to dress myself again. Except this time with purpose and intent. Granted, this meant making my way through some interesting phases and experimenting with different looks to see how I felt about them. For some reason I even took it open myself to dress like a walking advertisement for The Gap. It seems as though that’s where most queer people start to figure out their wardrobe. However, one of my favorite moments was the era of suspenders.
No disrespect to the great Marian Edelman Wright, but the phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see” is bullshit. It not only discredits our brilliant and badass pioneers and predecessors but insinuates that we are incapable of defining ourselves. I had to create my own style and sense of self. I forged a relationship with my wardrobe that allowed me to uniquely express myself for myself and to effectively communicate that expression to others. Parallel to the desire and necessity to do so, I began to realize that how I dressed reflected how I was feeling. In turn, I had to take an honest assessment of my own body image. Being fat my whole life and having my adult body associated with womanhood and femininity directly influenced how I viewed myself. I came to understand that what my body looked like had nothing to do with my gender.
I came to understand that people’s perceptions of my body have no importance to who I am. Once I was able to do that, I was liberated to dress how I genuinely felt. Realizing I don’t actually have a gender helped plenty too. The resulting ‘fit was secondary to what it evoked from me. An outfit’s aesthetic is simply not enough. This was why fashion blogs and style advice columns were of no use to me. This is why I struggled so deeply with shopping for clothes when I was younger. I was only concerned with how the clothes looked and not how I felt wearing them. I was not considering if it was something I actually wanted to put on, or just what I thought I was supposed to wear. Sure, some days I get dressed for the praise and compliments from my friends, what can I say — I’m a Sagittarius. Nonetheless, all the other days my outfits are feeling-based. This is why I require a versatile wardrobe; now when I check in with myself, I get dressed accordingly.
When discussing style with enby friends, we may choose to express our feelings of power, seductiveness, or confidence differently through our wardrobe but the recurring theme is that that expression begins and ends with a feeling. While we are not the only group of people that process our wardrobe this way, that specific relationship is crucial to our identities. My attire has drastically changed through the years because how I have felt about myself and how my body has changed. Once I accepted that I am not bound by gender and therefore free from internalized expectations (non-binary and cis alike), I was liberated to dress however I saw fit. I embrace my sensuality and sexuality regardless of what I am wearing and allowed myself to feel and exude them both.
Today, I am the most secure in who I am and how I dress. I know that my wardrobe will continue to develop as I get older but I know without a doubt one thing will remain the same: no matter how I’m feeling, or how I choose to express myself, I will always look fucking amazing. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can say this with such assuredness and confidence. I hope if you are reading these words, you internalize them and feel the exact same way, too.
Photos with blue hair are taken by K.Brewer (@getyousomebrew)