I never had a “coming out.” No official sit-down; no crying. My parents never questioned “where they went wrong.” No one ever kicked me out. I’m one of the lucky ones.
It happened over a quick phone call to my mom in 2010, actually. I was coming home from college in Boston for winter break, and had recently started dating someone. I was 20 years old at the time and had never lied to my parents. I certainly wasn’t about to start with something, I considered, as trivial as this. As it turned out, my sister had already told them, in typical younger sister fashion. My incredibly logical mother was more concerned with the repercussions of my dating a coworker, and my Southern, well-intentioned father’s response? “But… she’s too pretty to be a lesbian.”
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Alex. I’m half-Mexican and half-German. I have blue eyes and dirty blonde, curly hair that I have a tendency to avoid washing. I didn’t learn how to use eyeliner until I was hired by Agent Provocateur a few days after I turned 21 and was contractually obligated to wear makeup and learn how to walk in minimum three-inch heels.
Nowadays, I’ve fine tuned my aesthetic to lie somewhere in between, “I spent a solid 45 minutes meticulously sharpening the wings of my eyeliner, and damn am I feeling myself,” and “I hit the snooze button probably seven times; I haven’t washed or brushed my hair in 10 days; I ran out of underwear because I’m too lazy to walk the five blocks to the laundromat, so I’ve substituted a bikini bottom today.” My style varies depending on how feminine or androgynous I’m feeling, but to this day, I still refuse to wear anything but a minimum three-inch heel.
The point being: On the whole, I am relatively feminine-presenting.
I’m well aware that being feminine-presenting, wearing lipstick and being able to competently walk in heels while also being a lesbian does not make me unique. After all, the concept of a “lipstick lesbian” is by no means a new one. But the fact that in 2017, so many people — even the ones you’d think were informed and evolved enough to get it — still seem to use those personal style choices as a means of questioning my sexual identity is baffling.
Perhaps my early, high expectations of what I considered the land of understanding and forward thinking — New England — were colored in part because of my own naivety having growing up in Texas. As far as I was concerned, racism, homophobia and xenophobia was contained to the South. I held assumptions of my own: It never once crossed my mind that anyone would be anything other than accepting of my sexuality in what is often thought of as one of the most liberal regions in the country. I never thought anything of the way I presented my version of queer, so why would they?
In the years after that initial conversation with my parents, my dad’s notion that I was “too pretty to be a lesbian” continued to be a common reaction among various other people I’d meet. Usually, it was straight, white, cis men who expressed that judgment based on the fact that I wore makeup and heels. Of course it was. And for these men, the fact that I tend to make traditionally “feminine” style and beauty choices seems to be the basis for the so-called “too pretty” argument. For them, being “pretty” and being feminine are inherently linked, and neither descriptor is readily applied to their preconceived notions of what a lesbian “should” look like.
But not all of those who have made similar assumptions regarding my appearance and my sexuality fall into the category of straight, white, cis men. There was the time I was at a house party in 2014, a few months after I’d started dating my current girlfriend. It was a queer, DIY, punk house party, rife with all types of dumpster-diving, Goodwill-loving twentysomethings — an open-minded group full of people relatively educated on the subjects of gender identity and sexuality, one could have easily assumed.
At the time, I was working at an upscale boutique on Newbury Street — one that required me to look presentable — and so I went straight to the party after working a shift. I was wearing a beige, chiffon baby-doll dress with a beaded neckline that my mother had bought me for my birthday a few weeks before. To me it said, “Hello, rich family strolling through Boston on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Let me help dress you and also help to spend all of your hard-earned money. Rent is due in two weeks, jah feel?” But apparently it seemed to signal something else entirely to at least one of my fellow guests.
About three beers and a quarter of an edible into the party, I found myself plopped on a rickety chair in the alley out back with a few others, including one of my girlfriend’s roommates. About eight or so of us sat in a circle, and at some point, one roommate I didn’t know well at the time — who happens to identify as gender queer — spoke up, asking me if I was really dating my girlfriend. The clear implication was that I somehow didn’t have the “right” look to be a “real” lesbian, no doubt owing to my feminine-presenting dress, heels and makeup. I was flabbergasted. After years of having elder family members or random bros question my sexuality based on my appearance, I hadn’t seen it coming that someone who themself identified as gender-queer would make assumptions about my own identity based on my shoe choices.
To be in a house smack-dab in the center of Boston’s queer community, in an apartment where three-quarters of the tenants identified as queer, surrounded by people of every type of gender, and to still have both my sexual identity and my relationship questioned — based solely on my outward appearance and style choices — was something I had never even considered.
I never gave an actual answer to the question, mostly due to my complete bewilderment, but also because I didn’t have to answer the question. I didn’t need to justify my relationship or my sexuality to anyone. I knew who I was.
It was the result of years and years of patriarchal pollution that has conditioned even the queerest of people in the most “evolved” circles to doubt those that present as something other than outwardly, visibly “queer” — as if wearing lipstick and three-inch stacked heels on a daily basis is any indication of someone’s sexuality or gender identity.
These days, my style hasn’t drifted too far from where it was three years ago. I’m still the same Alex that came out to her parents at 20; still the same loser who is hell bent on seldom wearing pants; still the same person that will never look “stereotypically queer,” and I’m okay with that.
There’s no rule book for personal style, just as there is not one for being queer. It’s a beautiful array of identities, as well as fashion and beauty choices. It’s holding my girlfriend’s hand while wearing coral lipstick, black high-waisted skinny jeans and an oversize ’80s blazer with an Agent Provocateur bra peeking through the lapel; it’s beaded dresses with short, chiffon hemlines and black H&M skirts; it’s septum rings, heels, long and short hair, zip off cargo shorts, bowties and Nikes. But most importantly, queer is whatever the fuck you choose.