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Every Day, I Dress Up as a Straight Girl

How my closet keeps me closeted in other people’s eyes

Photo: TaPhotograph/Getty Images

MyMy queerness is quiet. It struts into the room unannounced, ambiguous, cloaked in girlish garb. I match my skinny jeans with loose sweaters (never graphic tees), tasteful pairings of necklaces that shouldn’t match but do, and booties with a pointed toe and slight heel. My curtain of hair is twisted into a messy bun like every other basic white chick. I pull it up top Ariana Grande–style when I’m really feeling myself or leave it dangling to my waist when neither of the former options is workable.

There are no flannels in my closet, no practical shoes. I own a pair of canvas sneakers that I bought for a job I hated. An inspector would conclude that my closet was that of a decidedly heteronormative, straight girly girl who does not like girls. The ultra-feminine attire would satisfy them enough that they would never delve deeper to find the skeletons, which are tucked away at the very back.

My journeys with style and queerness are intertwined. Both have been a means of exploring my truest self, a gradual increase in permission to be who I want to be. I wear the clothes I wear because they feel like me and look like me and convey what I want to project: put together, minimalistic, pretty but with a slight edge, unboxed. My outfits have grown bolder over the years as I have cared less what people think.

Moments like this remind me how quickly I could isolate myself by simply being my authentic self.

When I first recognized, at age 15, that I was definitely not straight (I would have arrived at this conclusion much sooner if I hadn’t grown up in rural, conservative small-town USA), I was too timid to think about being gay, even in the sanctuary of my own mind. Since then, I have come out to my closest friends on five occasions, each time paying a little less heed to the suggestions that I recede into the closet, pray away the gay, or commit to a lifetime of celibacy in order to maintain their approval. I’m not yet 100 percent comfortable with being open about my sexuality, but I am slowly and surely moving toward it.

The idea of someone correctly assessing my sexual orientation is terrifying. Strangers and family alike see the long hair and figure-flattering garments and assume I am the exact opposite of a lesbian. This camouflage feels safe. I enjoy the way I dress, but sometimes I wish I could bend the gender a bit.

A few weeks back, I saw a coat that was definitely menswear but would also look great with skinny jeans, high boots, and a messy bun. When I expressed interest, my grandmother said, “We’ll get you a girl’s coat.” This is the same woman who vowed to shake a hypothetical gay grandchild so hard the “bad behavior” would exit her system if she brought home someone of the same sex. (We were talking about a friend of a friend of a friend who recently came out.) Moments like this remind me how quickly I could isolate myself by simply being my authentic self. My day-to-day reality can be painful, but I’m not quite ready to leave it behind.

Being out in the open with nothing to temper my queer vibe would make me even more afraid to walk alone. I worry enough making my way down the street in broad daylight, warding off catcalls from men who seem to assume I’m straight. I fear that wearing my LGBTQ status like a badge could inspire one of those leering men to try to turn me straight. It happens.

Perceived safety aside, my style has its own small perks and drawbacks. Sometimes I make too much eye contact, or smile too earnestly, or laugh too loudly when a girl cracks a joke. But when we wear the same uniform, it’s easy to pass it off as being a very friendly friend. On the flip side, guys hit on me regularly, and girls pass me up. They seem to assume, because of my feminine dress, that I’m the type of straight girl who will break their heart.

I costume myself, armor myself, every day. I wonder, however, if I am dressing the part of the straight chick to protect myself from the world’s hatred or the hate I’ve been conditioned to feel toward the innermost part of myself. Either way, I’m in the closet surrounded by straight-girl garb. I hope one day this closet reflects who I want to be, and houses just clothing instead of a cautious queer.

Intersectional feminist. Everyday activist. Out/proud enby queer. They/Them. For the rest of the story, read my words. Say hi at mayastrong.writer@gmail.com 💜

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