Photos C/O Katie Cui

By Anonymous, Contributor

The idea of femininity is one that, for a long time, upset me. I remember distinctly hating to wear the dresses my family bought me. I didn’t want to be exposed. I didn’t want to perpetuate the notion of what a woman should be within society. I didn’t want to feel objectified by men, I didn’t want to be regarded as “weak”, “fragile” or “sensitive”. However, that didn’t mean I didn’t want to be noticed by men. I was “straight”, so I assumed that, as a woman, I wanted attention from men. 

There have been countless times when I’ve been told by my family: “Dress nicely so that boys will notice you.” Sometimes I would cave, and I would receive the standard compliments that one would receive from a heterosexual male: “You look hot/ nice/ pretty/ beautiful.” Other times, I’d find my strength in going against the world’s expectations, and put on a suit instead. I did not receive any typical compliments, but seeing men gaze at me in half jealousy and half admiration was good enough. Afterall, I looked hot and powerful.  

Boys, I wanted you to notice me—but I also wanted to be noticed for who I am, not for conforming to societal expectations of what a woman should wear. 

A jacket on a red background.

In grade 10, I started to wear snapbacks. In grade 11, I started to wear muscle shirts. In grade 12, I started wearing suits and called myself heteroflexible. In my first year of university, I began to wear men’s t-shirts and men’s joggers. In second year, I made it a habit to check out the women’s section and the men’s section in clothing stores. I went from calling myself heteroflexible throughout my high school years, to declaring myself as bisexual in university. 

Fashion, sexuality and gender expression have always been a messy knot in my brain. I frequently dress like someone who, if you took one look at me, you’d know I am not straight. Maybe you could even infer that I’m bi. 

You’re told not to judge a book by its cover. But what if I want you to?  

Symbolic interactionism describes how our world is made of symbols which convey meaning to the people we interact with. Fashion is the pinnacle of my interaction with the world. 

Pants on a red background

Every day, what I choose to wear is a reflection of who I am. Sometimes, I want to go undetected—that’s a day for dark jeans, t-shirts and a sweater. Other times, I want to be noticed—that means wearing a suit or a dress. Other times, I feel incredibly gay and just throw on a Henley, typically a shirt for men, and men’s joggers. 

Our world has always had an invisible hand in how I present myself. I am well attuned to how I dress and how that will draw different kinds of stares and gazes; however, as someone who is interested in both men and women, this has become a habit of practiced expression.

Our world has always had an invisible hand in how I present myself. I am well attuned to how I dress and how that will draw different kinds of stares and gazes; however, as someone who is interested in both men and women, this has become a habit of practiced expression.

I used to feel almost guilty about how I dressed, I never felt feminine enough for those around me. As I grew more comfortable with my sexuality, I realized that I didn’t need to dress to attract men to me. How I dress on a daily basis, with a style between androgynous and masculine, is both more comfortable for me, and the ladies like it. 

I remember dressing to go to a party one night and turning to my friends saying, “I’m going to wear a crop top, because that way people know I’m a little bit of a slut. But I’m going to wear flannel shirt over that because I still want people to know I’m hella gay.” 

Dressing myself is a calculated strategy. I choose my clothing carefully to convey hidden messages. Yet, sometimes I question how whether or not my acceptance of these messages contributes to perpetuating stereotypes around gender and sexuality. Stereotypes can be harmful. Actively assuming details about a person can feel intrusive, belittling and insulting. Yet, I purposely use stereotypes associated with sexuality to communicate with the world. I’ve cut my hair shorter, I wear flannel, I cuff my jeans and I keep my nails short. These are all stereotypically associated with being “bisexual” or “gay”. 

Suspenders on a red background

Stereotypes become harmful when you actively use them to make harmful assumptions. Not every flamboyant man is gay, and you have no right to tell him he is. Not every girl with short hair is a lesbian, you don’t need to tell your friends she is. 

Don’t judge a book by its cover, at least, not actively. 

Yet, when I wear a French tucked t-shirt with a leather jacket with my cuffed ripped black jeans, I am trying to tell the world I am not straight. It’s me telling the world that typical compliments about my general appearance won’t woo me. Maybe compliment my graphic t-shirt with the teenage mutant ninja turtles on it, then I’ll entertain a discussion with you.   

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

 

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