‘But you don’t look gay.’
Ah, how many times I’ve heard these words. As a femme lesbian with shoulder length hair who often partakes in a smudge of lipstick, I’ve been told countless times that I really should look gayer. I’m confusing. How are people supposed to quickly and accurately categorise me if I don’t look the way they expect? Perhaps I should also always carry a book, to demonstrate that I have an English Literature degree, or have cats trailing me, so people know I’m a cat person. That way I’d be much more easily recognisable.
Queer women, just like everyone else, don’t have a particular look. If you’ve just come out, you may feel the need to go FULL GAY and that’s completely okay, but it’s not for everyone. Here are some tips from famous queer women on how to find a look that’s completely you.
It’s time for a Glow Up!
Remember Kristen Stewart? The pale, sad girl from Twilight with ALL the brown hair. The woman who only ever seemed to play roles that involved her gasping a lot?
This is Kristen Stewart at the Cannes Film Festival 2018, where she was serving as a judge. Look at that hair! Look at it! And what’s right underneath that majestic cross between 20s finger-waves and a fauxhawk? The most gorgeous smile. The actress who famously never smiled in any of her films, baring her teeth like she’s genuinely happy.
Lots of queer women feel the need to cut their hair when they first come out. I did. There’s something about lopping off your long, flowing tresses, which are inevitably linked to your old, closeted self, and taking on a new look that just makes you feel lighter. Or maybe that’s just the six tonnes of hair that just got cut off.
On me, the short hair didn’t last long. I eventually figured out that I didn’t actually like the way I looked with short hair and decided to grow it out. But the important lesson we can learn from this, and from Kristen’s incredible cut, is we have the freedom to do whatever the hell we want with our hair! If you want a pixie cut, do it! If you still want to look like a princess, albeit a badass one, do it! You don’t have to subscribe to society’s expectations about what you, as a girl, should look like.
Let’s delve in to the stereotype a little here. What are queer women supposed to wear? When those people who don’t think I look gay enough think of a queer woman, what do they see? I suspect it’s a lot of plaid and denim, and maybe some dapper suits if they’re feeling generous.
This look is absolutely valid, and I have more plaid shirts in my wardrobe than you can count. But I also have dresses and, as much as I feel more comfortable in jeans, I do enjoy the rare occasions that I wear a skirt.
Lea DeLaria is well-known for portraying the butch lesbian Boo in Orange in the New Black. In real-life, she is just as butch and is often seen on the red carpet wearing a suit.
Lea knows her look, she knows what makes her comfortable, and she’s sticking with it, no matter what anyone else thinks. For her, suits and jeans express her butch identity.
On the other hand, two of the five women in this picture are out queer women.
Obviously, Lea DeLaria is one, but can you tell who’s the other? The other four women are all in dresses and they’re all wearing makeup. Being queer doesn’t limit what you can wear, because if it did there’d be a lot more women wandering around looking like lumberjacks, and a lot more men wandering around in flamingo-pink shirts. When you wear a dress, do you feel uncomfortable or exposed? When you wear shirts, do you feel bulky and unhappy? Find what makes you feel like you.
I’m going to offer you a revelation now. Clothes are just pieces of material that we use to protect our bodies from the weather. Do you really want to let society’s expectations force you in to one tube of fabric (skirts) instead of two (trousers)?
Hey look, it’s Kate McKinnon!
And what’s that she’s wearing? Is it…eyeliner?
Let’s be honest, Kate McKinnon would look hot in a binbag with no sleep and acne. BUT she chooses to wear makeup, because it helps her express who she is. Makeup is a tool, not a mask, that anyone can use to express their identity. It means that I can go from demure writer to girl who knows all the words to Welcome to The Black Parade backwards, in less than ten minutes, with just a dash of black eyeliner and just a hint of blue lipstick.
Equally, there are days when I don’t wear makeup at all. You don’t have to wear it to express who you are; the simple act of not wearing it does that for you. It’s only when we feel like we SHOULD wear makeup that we encounter a problem. If you’re wearing makeup because someone told you you should, consider whether you really want to. If you’re wearing it because you want to look like a red-lipped goddess and makeup is the way to achieve that, then continue on your quest for the perfect liquid line.
So, it turns out this wasn’t so much advice on how to look than advice on how you should feel about your look. You’ve got to love it, because otherwise what was the point of coming out? You’re still hiding who you actually want to be. WEAR WHAT YOU WANT TO WEAR!
And for those of you who aren’t out yet and, as a result, don’t feel like you can take on the look you want, we’ve got you. Express yourself in the small ways, with badges or hats or a little rainbow bracelet, until you feel ready to really show your true colours. Until then, we’re all here for you.
This is Janelle Monae at the 2010 Pop Conference in Seattle. Eight whole years before she publicly came out as pansexual. If you’re not out but you still want to wear a suit, go for it! Janelle approves!
(All pictures from Wikimedia commons)