things to think about

today i am thinking about: lez fashion
January 29, 2010, 2:11 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So suddenly I am a visual artist and I have openings, as you do when you are a visual artist. Me and my video art and my friend Quito and her photographs. So suddenly, because of this, I am dressing up again, dressing up but in a “funky” “arty” way. you know what I mean.

And friends, I have gained some weight over the past year. I no longer fit into most of my clothes. So today on my lunch break I went to church, aka Century 21. I needed some suspenders to hold my pants up. I needed a dress shirt, and friends, I needed a bow tie. Or several.

And I got it all, and brought it home, and played fashion to find the best outfit for my opening. And what we arrived on — new grey shirt, grey and black striped suspenders, dark jeans, black boots, orange tie — means that hello, my name is Ariel and I am the most stereotypical lez of them all.

I keep almost making my peace with my new masculine — butch? — identity. I keep almost making peace with my body. And then I cross some kind of line and I freak out and I run away. Some intersection of gender and size and my body and my fashion crosses the line and I go running the other way; I get horrified by myself.

And I was having, as of last night, this whole deep moment of introspection — oh god, is it butchphobia, lezphobia, homophobia, fatphobia, what is systemically wrong with my politics — when I figured it out.

Friends, I was having a bad case of the BAD FASHION PHOBIA.

Here’s what’s wrong with the outfit, as it currently exists. I am wearing a dress shirt and dress suspenders with normal jeans. The normal jeans are the jeans I wear almost every day — they’re dark, and cut skinny, but they’re still jeans with belt loops and everything. The grey shirt is a really nice grey shirt, now the nicest button-down I own. The suspenders are dress suspenders. The bow tie, also formal. The whole thing is a very formal outfit, and I put it with jeans — and so until my mid-stomach, I’m a fancy guy going to a fancy wedding, and from the mid-stomach down I am going to a farm hoedown. BZZT. DOES NOT COMPUTE.

Now it’s easy — I either dress up the pants or dress down the rest of the outfit.

I think so much of my phobia is about being seen as a BAD LEZ. You know, the kind everyone — including the queers — loves to hate. BAD LEZ with some gender but not enough, BAD LEZ with a tie and a t-shirt, BAD LEZ who is never appropriately or interestingly dressed — especially “interestingly.” BAD LEZ who doesn’t actually care, who looks good but not thoughtfully good. My fear of BAD LEZ execution keeps me away from sweater vests and keeps me wary of the sweater-collared shirt combo. It makes me triple check before I wear a tie that the outfit I am wearing can actually support the formality of a tie. And it makes me so wary of things like haphhazardly mixing levels of formality. OH NO. CAN’T BE A BAD LEZ.

There’s some deep lezbophobia that I am working out here that I think a lot of kids I know would do well to examine. I identify as queer, generally speaking, but lately I am thinking a lot about bringing the lez back into my identity. Let’s face it: mostly, I am lez in practice and my gender is one rooted in the world of lez, even if my experience of my gender is still reacting against the danger of being lumped in WITH THEM.

What am I so afraid of, anyways? Being lumped BAD LEZ to me means a failure (of fashion; of femininity AND masculinity); it means being called unsexy (at least in my head, and around my community); it means being called naive or misguided or incorrect; it means being called BORING. I don’t want to be BAD LEZ, I want to be HOT AS SHIT QUEER. It makes me uncomfortable the ways in which I find those two categories to be self-excluding.

And the real red flag — as I think about people who might read this and be offended, I think, “But I don’t mean you! I mean some OTHER lez who is actually bad fashon!” This categoric unwillingness to include anyone I like in this category means that it is a bias, not a real axis of judgement. Telling. Very telling.

10 Comments so far
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i just put on a fleece to go to the gym. does that make me a BAD LEZ? while some people do not wear good outfits, true, it does not make them The Worst Thing Ever. so yeah, i think the intensity of your dislike for this category is something to think about.

and i still think your outfit from thurs was good. remember what i said about postmodernism.

Comment by aleza

yeah i know. i have been thinking and chewing on this. something about it made me feel like a mockery, not a revolution. and so i freaked out and changed it all around. weird. very weird. and i say that wearing a hoodie and pj pants and little ankle-height leg warmers. clearly i fail at my own paradigms.

Comment by arielariel

when did looking “thoughtfully good” become more valued than looking effortlessly good? and when did “some gender” become devalued in relation to lots of gender?
we obviously don’t live in the same aesthetic universe, but to me “thoughtfully good” reads as ‘trying too hard’ or pretentious. and the everyday examples of people with lots of gender (frat boys? beauty queens?…or even their queer equivalents) are not especially associated with positive qualities.

what i really don’t understand is how mixing formality registers is indicative of thoughtlessness anyhow? it seems like the kind of thing that necessarily requires intention; that consistency of formality registers would be the mindless/easy/boring thing to do?

Comment by ephraim

i admit pretty readily that i live in a semi-fascist fashion rule world of my own making. i feel like i am one of the more rigid people i know about stupid rules, like white shoes and matching formality. what is REALLY dumb is that i end up feeling more like a failure than anything; i don’t even succeed at my own game.

it’s funny because i don’t think of frat boys or beauty queens as having lots of gender in the same way that i think of me or my friends having a lot of gender — but the difference is the queer context, not the amount of masculinity or femininity. the difference is that we are taking these genders on in a way that is not generally speaking heteronormative.

mixing formality is not always a measure of thoughtlessness. i think i didn’t say it well. what was not working for me abt the outfit was that it was such a mixup — it was this weird mash of styles and it felt discordant, not interesting. i like people who play with fashion and fuck with the rules; i aspire to be one. i am working on remembering that the only reason to know the rules is to break them.

Comment by arielariel

Ariel, I SO wish I could teletransport you to the Yakima queers. Every single one of them would fit a BAD LEZ description and every single one of them is the fucking funniest person I know. Part of it is that they’re broke – not like NYC I’m paying exorbitant rent and I carefully carefully carefully plan my discount and thrift store exursions broke – but broke, I-have-a-record-unrelated-to-civil-disobedience broke, OMG the only endocrinologist who won’t run away from me in horror is 150 miles away broke. Even writing about them makes me miss them. Yakima is super hostile territory but they’ve carved out this messy tough hilarious space where everyone is hot and you’re only despised if you cause harm to someone. And even then, it’s hard because there’s only a limited number of folks and you will end up at the same 3 bars over and over again. In any case, BAD LEZ is getting majorly laid in Yakima, WA, and it’s definitely considered the hotness. I worry that BAD LEZ mockery is related to the sheer and absolute scorn reserved by city people for rural people and is connected to lady-hating and good poor vs. bad poor and fat shame.

I’m thinking about this so much because when I left the West Coast everyone thought I was straight and now that I’m back everyone thinks I’m a lesbian. Nothing’s changed, except the person I’m in love with. I’m still queerish identified. Although definitely more interested in stuff related to feminine-spectrum and/or fem pronouned people. I’m totally over stuff related to m-pronouned people. Dude-angst is currently my most major (personal) turnoff. Well, maybe only second to NYC angst about who knows the most secret bars and who can act snottiest about their food “sensitivities” that ultimately boil down to being allergic to fat but not being willing to say that out loud.

I still queerish identified but currently revelling in all the lez attention. I love the fleeces and the Subarus (omg I had forgotten about the Subarus) and the corderoy pants and the ways that 60 year olds with grey hair in terrible cuts look at each other all lovesick. It makes me wish I had not just defaulted to the guys who answered my online personals and had fucked a bunch of people from the Rose and learned something from it. It makes me lonely for a past that might have been more fun in my early 20’s. I am having total tremendous fun being the neighborhood dyke, especially neighborhood dyke priest in the vast suburban confusion that is Vancouver. I only miss one thing about the restrictive, horrifying, mean and mean-spirited queer gender norms of NYC, which is the availability of events at which to wear false eyelashes.

Comment by Ms. Rev.

I don’t even know if that comment helps. Sorry, Ariel, all this thinking about the LEZ for me is connected to all this other stuff about moving and my job and how people did not actually want to be friends in NYC and the starfucking and lady-hating and fat shame and and and. And I had – shockingly – a much better time in YAKIMA WA than I ever had in NYC, especially around gender and queerness, and I’m still trying to parse that out, and it does have to do with who hates the lez the most (hint: L.A. and NYC) and who thinks the lez is oh hell yes hot.

Comment by Ms. Rev.

hey ariel– nice post. shelly told me to comment, probably because we talk about this precise topic almost everyday. anyway, she’s right about the yakima crew. you need to meet them.

i grew up in rural upstate NY. i think i might’ve been the baddest of bad lez teenagers (and i don’t mean bad in a hip way). i wore a lot of flannel– not in deference to grunge but in deference to my grandpa. truly bad. and while upstate was harsh on my gender identity, NYC was harsher. i worked my ass off to keep a scholarship and eat for most of the time i was there, and i was pretty devastated that i couldn’t figure out how to get more queer friends/dates. scholarship aside, the hope of getting a date was the whole reason i’d moved to NYC at all.

i mean, i did get a few. probably seven dates in six years, which is not bad. but shit, for the amount of body-hating/self-hating/class-shaming/not-eating-so-that-i-can-pay-rent that i got stuck with, none but one of those dates was really worth it.

anyway, i don’t like cities. not even little ones. i thrive elsewhere. this may, by default, make me bad lez.

i’m also in a place with my gender ID these days where i’m trying to communicate it with as many people as possible in a short amount of time, usually across a lot of experience gaps. i’m trying to do a gender that’s authentic AND accessible to the little old ladies, toddlers, and super-awkward awesome teenagers i go to church with. this usually ends up looking like the nyc definition of “bad [butch] lez” and the vancouver definition of “gender-from-outer-space” but so far it’s been manageable. and totally fun.

Comment by aaronpetryscott

you and shelly both gave me a lot to think about.

i don’t know where i picked all this shame up. i grew up in the pnw, but in seattle; it’s different there. i told shelly that i think sometimes nyc has made me into a monster and i stand by it. i’m pretty sure this kind of evaluative, judgy bullshit does nothing other than make me suck. i am trying to find a way through it and i feel awkward doing it publicly. i think there is something to be said for lgbti — queer? — communities that are small enough that everyone still needs everyone. people can’t be expendable in smaller places in the same way that new york queers can diss and dismiss.

i am interested in how your gender has shifted as you come into this new community and if things still feel good. it sounds like it does and i am glad.

Comment by arielariel

This post was hard for me to read — it confirmed so much of the uneasiness I’ve always had around the word “queer” as a Cool Kid Club. Bleh. 😦

Comment by Bond

I feel so interested in this. I think I am opening up a seamy and judgy underbelly that may not accurately reflect the queer world I live in. So many of the queers I know are awesome, open people; but then, I get that experience because I am one of those kids who at least am close enough to “cool” to count.

I dislike feeling this exclusion. I work a lez job and it has really forced me to face my own issues, one, and two, realize how important this larger culture is to me. I dislike how queerland valorizes faggot culture and throws out the lez. I dislike how easy it is for me to internalize this hatred. I am trying to work against it in the best way I can but I see the limits of my own imagination.

I’m sorry if this was no fun. I wish I had more vision to see past this.

Comment by arielariel

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