On Navigating The Pressure To Look ‘Queer’

If you’re on queer TikTok, you’ll know these types of videos:
An analysis of Taylor Swift in brogues and plaid; “I’m just saying if I saw someone wearing this, I’d assume they were… you know.”  A voiceover stating, “I’m putting in the work” as the video cuts to cuffed jeans, tattoos, piercings, a shaggy mullet with bangs and the caption reads: “me trying to signal that I’m bisexual.” 
And if you’re familiar with the most recent Australian Bachelorette, then you’d also know there were several gorgeous ladies competing for her heart. Their photos were released and, “SMH,” [shaking my head] someone on a Facebook group wrote, “of course they all look straight.”
There seems to be a theme here, right?
Look, I get it. Queer identity and clothing have always been intertwined. Expressing your sexual identity through clothes is often synonymous with the queer experience. But can the expression of sexual identity through clothing lead to a gatekeeping of sorts to those who don’t conform? 
There is a freedom in fashion. The items we chose to put on our body can become an extension of ourselves. For me, my closet has always been like a Gemini — a million different personalities — all of them mine. My choice of clothing has always depended solely on how I felt that day.
But that stopped when I first came out.
It was the early 00’s and I was pre-tattoos and feeling the blonde hair, fake tan, peplum shirt vibes. So, when I told the world I was bisexual, the world told me; “You don’t look like you would be into girls.”

In all these moments — dating my boyfriend, wearing art-student outfits, looking like I belong at Bondi Beach — I am still bi.

There was immediate pressure to fit in with the “queer aesthetic.” I was already dealing with the difficulties that often come with bisexual stereotypes (we are promiscuous, just experimenting etc). I already felt like I needed to validate myself in some way to fit into the LGBTQIA community and because women weren’t lining up to date me, my only avenue seemed to be my appearance.
So, I cut my hair short, added a fringe, swapped handbags for tote bags, and sandals for boots. I sadly closed the door on any clothes that were overly feminine, too basic, too 'Valley Girl'. And, lo and behold, suddenly people were taking my sexual identity seriously. I could approach women without being greeted with scepticism. I could enter queer bars and not get that look — the one that’s like, “Oh, the straights are invading our space again.”
And I felt… confined. Restricted. 
It felt like I was only expressing one part of my identity. In fact, it felt like I was making my bisexuality my entire personality, when I know that it is not all that I am.
The other part of it? My heart was hurting because the notion of “found family” is central to the LGBTQIA experience. I wanted that, I yearned for it. And the only way I seemed to be able to come close to getting it was to change my outward appearance to fit in.
But here’s the thing. 
We now scoff at the idea that a woman with short hair must be a lesbian. We’ve embraced that men can wear dresses because ascribing gender to arbitrary items is an outdated concept. 
So why does it seem now that we’re conflating a certain aesthetic with sexual identity and invalidating people with comments like “you look straight” when they don’t conform?  
My relationship now is with a man. Some days I dress in cuffed jeans, Dr Martens and a collared “old man” shirt. Some days, however, I will be the most basic of all bitches in a white crop top and denim shorts looking like a Valley Girl mannequin. 
In all these moments — dating my boyfriend, wearing art-student outfits, looking like I belong at Bondi Beach — I am still bi.
I’m slowly returning to the idea that clothing is an expression of my identity – all my identity, not just my queerness. It’s difficult, and some days I still feel like a fraud in queer spaces if I’m not wearing the “uniform.”
The bottom line, though, is if any community knows the power of fashion — the sheer act of rebellion that can be slipping on an item of clothing, the release when our outward finally matches our inside — it is the queer community. 
And if any community knows the dangers of making assumptions based on appearances, stereotyping or typecasting — it is the queer community. 
So how about we stop assuming things based on appearance altogether. How about we let people dress how they want. How about we remember that being queer just is — there is no set style or uniform. You don’t have to drink iced coffee and listen to Phoebe Bridgers (although both are delightful).
All that queerness requires of you is for you to identify with it. 

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