by: Bobby Crowley
“Just grow your hair out.” “I am not going out with you dressed like that.” “Did you notice your hose were ripped?” “Why don’t you ever wear pants?” “Are those men’s boots?” “Really?”
These are some of the nicer comments my family and friends often make regarding my appearance. I’ve certainly never been one for convention, I’ll give them that, but, contrary to popular belief, I don’t wear what I wear for shock value so these comments and suggestions get old, fast.
Being in Warren, Ohio for the summer, I definitely get these comments more frequently, as it appears to be a reputation thing here. So, I’ve been asking myself and others about this need to change what I wear to make them comfortable and whether my inability to succumb is a sign of my selfishness or strength, possibly both.
I’ve thought about this long and hard and though I understand there are certain lines we don’t have to cross, like when I try to dress less provocatively or “eccentrically” for the grandparents, I still don’t quite agree that this issue should actually be an issue.
I have never had the need to tell someone that their style makes me uncomfortable, especially in public. Why? I don’t understand how someone else’s style affects me. I have friends who dress extremely provocatively and friends who wear sweatpants every single day. Sure, I wouldn’t be comfortable in either of those styles. But, neither of them causes my pause and re-evaluation of our friendship and the reputation I might get by being with them.
When I was having this major discussion with my cousin, I was faced with the dilemma of whether or not to believe in myself enough to follow my heart, despite the semi-selfishness of my decisions. It may not seem like this is a matter of following your heart. It probably seems like I’m afraid that I won’t be special enough in a mass of strangers without my shaved head and rainbow makeup. I’m completely aware that this must be what it looks like to others. And, though I don’t like the idea, I still wear what I wear and fight for my right to do so. Why? Because it IS, in fact, about following my heart.
My heart says that I would be doing myself a great disservice if I conscientiously chose an outfit I didn’t feel perfectly comfortable in. My heart told me that if I denied myself this comfort, that also happens to be a form of self expression, I would be denying that I was anything other than just another human being.
My “style,” unlike many believe, is not about showing off and drawing attention to my weirdness and eccentricities. As eccentric as I might be, I wear what I wear because it is the only way to show myself that I accept who I am and believe myself to be a normal human being. To hide me, and what I feel natural in like my skin, would be showing that who I really am and what I really like is something that should be hidden.
I am not, nor will I ever truly be, a freak in my own eyes. At least, not any more than the sadomasochist down the street who hides her desires behind khakis and a blonde-haired, blue-eyed nuclear family. The only thing different between us is that she is ashamed of something that I don’t believe warrants shame. I don’t rip my hose, rainbow my eyes, or shave my head to shove who I am down others’ throats. I do these little things because they make me happy. These silly things mean nothing to me other than proving to myself that I am comfortable with who I am and proud enough to allow myself to be comfortable in public and private.
If the people I love are uncomfortable with what I wear, what does that say about their feelings about me, as a person? It’s all well and good to say that I am a wonderful person but my outfit produces embarrassment and an unacceptable reputation. But, what about when you say that to me, knowing how closely I connect what I wear to what I find comfort in and what I find comfort in to who I am?
I have tried to really look at the other side of this, partially because I want nothing less than to make the people I love unhappy. However, I only wear clothes that make me feel comfortable. Some days that is a huge black mens shirt with paint splattered on it, some days that is a big black and red tutu and motorcycle boots and some days that is a long, flowy and flowery dress. But there are no days that I wake up and put something on just to look outside of the norm or test boundaries. Maybe there is a bit of that in me, because I don’t agree with the norms. But there is not one day I choose discomfort, no matter my beliefs.
I choose what I wear because I am comfortable in it. I didn’t choose to be uncomfortable in jeans, high heels, and t-shirts. My life would be easier if I could change these things. But I can’t, and I find it hard to choose to be uncomfortable in my body after all of these years, when I’ve finally found my long-deserved self acceptance. I used to hate my body. I used to hate myself. Why couldn’t I choose to be something different? I did try. But, I am finally in a place where I recognize that I shouldn’t want to be different from who I am. I am beautiful and amazing. We all are.
This isn’t about what I wear, to me. This is about the acceptance of me, the person. If you think you are comfortable in that t-shirt, simply because it is comfortable, you have another thing coming. You wear that t-shirt because it fits in YOUR comfort zone, because it is a part of YOU. I would never shame you for that t-shirt and tell you to wear a blouse or button-down.
When I see my 52-year-old mother in tiny childish pigtails, I comment on them out of love because they are silly and I know that it is simply her way of showing her child within. I would never seriously suggest she never wear pigtails when we are in public, just like I would never seriously suggest she never giggle vigorously at her own jokes like she always does. She is comfortable in those pigtails, not because they are so comfortable. A lot of women are uncomfortable in pigtails, most likely because they aren’t comfortable with being seen as a child. My mother embraces her age and the child within who has no age. Her comfort in pigtails is, in part, because of this. I love her childishness, even though it sometimes means I take the role of adult. I would never change that.
People say they accept diversity and try not to judge other people based on their “cover.” I am surprised to find this is often not true. I can try to see the other side of this clearly, but I am not able to agree with it and that is probably, in part, because of my stubbornness. I see that there is some selfishness in my side of things. Putting others before your own interest is a noble thing to do, after all.
However, I believe that I do this in relationships and situations where it matters. I don’t believe that my appearance, this small thing that I find so much comfort in, is something I can or should give up. Maybe if it really hurt others, or if I had ever been made truly uncomfortable and unhappy by another’s clothes, I would be less stubborn. There is a lot I could do or say differently to make me seem less selfish in this argument. But, I truly believe that when it comes to our appearance, we should be selfish. We should be able to love ourselves and each other enough to allow for some self-expression. Wouldn’t you love to see a world of people who wore their self-love on their sleeves?
Think of a world where people who feel fancy wear top hats and carry pipes because it suits them on that randomly fancy Friday. Maybe little children could run around expressing their own style beyond our strict little gender norms, boys in pink tutus that don’t cause alarm. An older woman, feeling colorful and in love, could wear all different-colored articles of clothes like a mismatched rainbow on the street. This world seems lovely to me, a world where we are free to love ourselves and each other enough to allow deviation from our own ill-conceived norms.
For me, it comes down to my opinion of myself and what I want for myself. I love who I am and after all of these years, I believe that I deserve to love who I am and show myself that I love me, despite the horrid effect that it might unfortunately have on others. I believe we all do.
Bobby Crowley is a Queer woman with a love for all that is fabulous. She is currently working on her Creative Writing degree at Loyola University where she is also on the board of Advocate and a writer for the alt. magazine LUChameleon. She is in love with Andrea Gibson, her labradaniel puppies, and singing loudly in the shower.