I've been desperately trying to put together the right words to explain why I didn’t feel like myself until very recently, even though I was so openly queer. After giving it a lot of thought, it seems like it has to do with style: I’ve always been into the idea of fashion, but nothing hit home. I was barely interested in women’s fashion, and I didn't (and still don't) feel comfortable in suits.
That being said, I have (with the help of Tumblr and Instagram) really figured my shit out in the past year and a half. So, I wanted to speak with other people who love fashion but went on a journey to get to where they are today. And, since yesterday was National Coming Out Day, I also took the opportunity to ask them about why it's important (if at all) to be out and open about their sexualities and gender identities. Click through the slideshow to get to know 10 queer humans through their very real talks on fashion.
Identifies as: Ari FitzPronouns: she/her
It’s hard to find a style that really fits who you are when that isn’t reflected in mass media. How did you get to a place where the things you wore really reflected who you are and how you feel?I'll always experiment with my personal style, so I'll never reach that "place." That said, the constant is that I now allow both sides of me, the masculine and feminine, to come alive and breathe through every outfit. It took time to find that balance. What matters most is putting something on and knowing that there's no comment, no insult, no jab that can change the way I feel about myself. As a perceived queer woman of color, it gets hard out there and people can be definitively ignorant. So, protecting myself through my style is how I manage.
Plus, you're right. I'm not reflected in media. People like me are not reflected in media. Part of why I started TOMBOYISH, (my androgynous style channel) was just that. I never see people who dress like me anywhere not on YouTube, not on TV, not anywhere. There are literally millions of beauty channels on YouTube and hundreds of millions of dollars invested into this industry and I'm pretty much the only one tackling androgynous beauty and fashion. That's strange AF. But that doesn't mean we don't exist. I get letters and emails and tweets and comments from people everywhere, queer and straight, who want more ambiguous, more genderless, less-restricting fashion. That's why I do it.
Why do you think it’s important to be out, how has increased visibility helped you feel comfortable?Not sure I think it's important to "come out" at all. We're slowly moving away from a world where being definitive about the way you love and the way you identify is important. There's so much ambiguity in gender expression and romantic preference that explicitly saying anything is somewhat unnecessary to me. I don't have to call myself queer to be queer. I can just love openly and freely, and let that be that. The one thing I admire about a "coming out" experience is you typically find community through being explicit. Yet, we can do this in an even more inclusive way if we didn't require a name badge (e.g., the difference between "Hi I'm Ari, I'm a lesbian and I'm here to join the other lesbians," and "Hi, I'm Ari. I love people and wear androgynous clothing. What about you?").
Why is style important? Getting dressed in the morning as a queer person is, unfortunately, like putting on armor and preparing for battle. The right outfit ensures you can take on anything that comes your way with please-try-me confidence.
Indetifies as: Female + not-straightPronouns: She + Her
Being out in fashion is very different from being out in most industries. Can you tell us about that?Stepping out of someone's expectation can feel really vulnerable, whether that be their assumption about my wardrobe or my sexuality. Trying out something new usually incites some questions which can feel aggressive by the time the fourth person says, "You trying to be a hipster today?" or "When did you turn gay?" I had to get comfortable with that before I could experience the freedom on the other side. Fear of being judged definitely held me back. I used to dress in basically a uniform of skirts and dresses. I wanted to be considered feminine and cute. I never wore anything too attention grabbing or fashionable, and I was careful not to look like I was trying too hard.
*Side note: I used to hang out with some pretty judgmental people who would laugh at anyone for wearing anything out of the ordinary, and I definitely soaked that shit up like a sponge. It requires confidence and bravery to deal with the repercussions of breaking expectations. Once I stepped out of the straight and narrow, I realized there was so much more out there. You can dress however you want and kiss whoever makes you feel incredible, and eventually people stop asking questions because that's just you. It’s hard to find a style that really fits who you are when that isn’t reflected in mass media.
How did you get to a place where the things you wore really reflected who you are and how you feel?I looked at Tumblr a lot. There's more culture and fashion and encouragement on Tumblr than on any other form of media, I've found. Obviously, I had seen skinny girls looking cute my whole life, but on Tumblr I saw girls of all sizes, killin' it, unapologetically. I saw fat girls in crop tops—something I'd never seen anywhere else—and they all looked dope. I would find one girl who had cool style and scroll through her whole blog, mostly telling myself I'd never be confident enough to try any of her looks, but slowly all that body positivity, feminism, and allure of looking cool pulled me in. I bought my first crop top during my first week in L.A. but I never wore it outside, only in my room. Eventually, I got over the fear that people would look at me weird if I tried to wear something they're used to seeing on skinny people. Some people do look at me weird, but one: I don't care, I look cute, and two: I think going out in the world and killin' it unapologetically can help remedy the lack of diversity and body positivity in mass media. Maybe I can help inspire someone who's got a crop top in their closet they're scared to wear outside.
Why do you think it’s important to be out, how has increased visibility helped you feel comfortable?The same way experimenting with fashion and being bold or brave in the way you dress helps inspire more individuality and confidence in others, I think being your authentic self can help spread that impulse, too. Maybe this sounds ridiculous, but seeing Lindsey Lohan—a girl I identified with—publicly date a girl impacted me. Not in some big burst of feeling, but I definitely filed it away like, "Oh yea! That's a thing!" The thought of liking a girl never scared me, and I think that's partly because I saw it out in the world before I felt it inside of me. I feel comfortable being public about my relationship because I feel comfortable being myself and that's part of me. I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up in an era where more and more people are comfortable being themselves, it's inspiring. You can change every day if you want to. I know it's easiest to do what you've already done and I know people are going be weird at you, but they are stuck and you are a phoenix.
Identifies as: Queer person of colour. Bisexual. Indian. Gender fluid.Pronouns: She & He
How did fashion go from a small passion to a full-time gig?Girl, fashion is always a full-time gig. I think sometimes fashion is dismissed as superficial, but fashion has always been a vital and creative way to express my identities. Something as "small" as wearing a bindi, for example, allows me to present a feminine gesture in spaces where wearing a skirt and makeup would not be safe, and an Indian gesture in white spaces.
Being out in fashion is very different from being out in most industries, can you talk a tiny bit about it?Though I deliberately present more feminine in my style now, I don't know that I have ever been not out in fashion. On some level, and despite my best efforts, I think I have always read as queer. This is why being out can be complicated. I never got to come out. I was told I was gay before I knew what it meant, and I was convinced that it was partly my style that had outed me. I paid more attention to how boys dress and changed how I dressed. This was just the beginning of my undoing. Being outed was very damaging and I wish I was given the choice and time to come out. I think this is important to remember, even amidst our justifiable hunger for more visibility.
It’s hard to find a style that really fits who you are when that isn’t reflected in mass media. How did you get to a place where the things you wore really reflected who you are and how you feel?Not to sound trite, but I do think of style as a journey and not a destination. My relationship to style evolves, especially as my relationship to myself evolves. Thinking of style this way helps alleviate the pressure to feel as though my style should reflect me completely or that I should feel comfortable all the time. I don't know if 100 percent comfortability is 100 percent possible for many people. In an ideal world, my style would always present my truest self, but in this world, style is often connected to safety. I love having bangs aesthetically, but sometimes I like having bangs so I have somewhere to hide behind. Nail polish is cool, yes, but sometimes I paint my nails as though they add a protective layer. Most days I don't feel comfortable wearing what I would like to wear taking public transport. It does help to have friends as cheerleaders, especially any time I have taken gender-related risks. This has definitely bolstered my confidence.
Why do you think it’s important to be out, how has increased visibility helped you feel comfortable? How that has effected you, both negatively and positively?I know how lonely a world with only one or two (white) out gay people looked and felt like. Being out has felt important as a way to present an alternate form of queerness: One that is brown, one that is bisexual, one that is gender fluid. I think it might be the other way around for me! The more I have grown comfortable with the word and identity of queer, the more I have reclaimed the adventurous attitude I had in relationship to style in my teenage years.
What do you think about Coming Out Day? Coming out, especially on Coming Out Day, can feel like a lot of pressure. There are many reasons why coming out can feel unsafe and can be tied to certain privileges. Take your time. Know that coming out to yourself—being honest, kind, and patient with yourself—is way more important than coming out to the world.
Identifies as: Queer woman of colorPronouns: She/Her
How did fashion go from a small passion to a full-time gig?Fashion has actually gone from a small passion of mine to be a big hobby. I am still an actor by trade, but I have made almost everything in my wardrobe for the past three years. When my show ended a few years ago, I found myself in a new city with lots of time on my hands, so I immersed myself in crafting and DIY-ing. I first learned to sew in a costume design class in college, but in the last few years I have become so proficient at fitting and constructing garments for myself and my wife that I hardly ever shop retail. There are lots of reasons for this; wanting to reduce my consumption and become less reliant on the global fashion industry are pretty big ones, but another big reason I make all my own clothing is that what I make is so much better than what I find in stores; my clothing fits me perfectly, and it's all completely unique to me and my tastes.
It’s hard to find a style that really fits who you are when that isn’t reflected in mass media. How did you get to a place where the things you wore really reflected who you are and how you feel?I started paying attention to how we are all being marketed newer, better, trendier items all the time, and we have become inclined to always want more, more, more. At some point, I started to wonder how our own personal style fits into this mold—what would we wear and how would we present ourselves if we didn't have examples of perfectly put-together humans advertised to us all the time? As an actor, I would get invited to events and I was expected to always be photographed in something new, which meant that my wardrobe was growing rapidly and I was spending money on items that I would wear only once. After a few years of this, my closet was a mess, filled with items that I had no connection to whatsoever; it felt wasteful and impersonal. I decided to reboot. It happened very gradually, getting rid of things that I wasn't in love with or that didn't feel like me. Instead of shopping in malls, I frequented fabric stores and started buying sewing patterns by indie designers online. I became much more thoughtful about what I wanted to wear. If I was going to spend countless hours constructing a garment, I wanted to make sure that it was something that I would wear for a long time to come.
Why do you think it’s important to be out, how has increased visibility helped you feel comfortable?As a femme, queer ciswoman, I have a lot of privilege in terms of finding (and making) clothing that fits my personal style. I am very well-represented in terms of my body type and gender identity. But nine years ago when I first started dating my wife, a woman who generally presents herself as slightly masculine of center with various stops along the gender-presentation spectrum, I became aware for the first time of the difficulties she faced finding clothing that suited both her tastes and her body. Tailored shirts were particularly tricky for her to shop for; most button-up shirts for women have bust darts and tapered waistlines that aim to show off a feminine figure, while most button-up shirts for men are boxy and gigantic on female figures, swallowing them whole. Claire wanted something in-between, a shirt that fit her body without defining her curves, in cool, interesting fabrics, not just black, white, and blue. It took a while, but I finally settled on a pattern and fit that compliments her style and body perfectly, and to date I have made her 11 button-ups that she wears religiously. It feels so good to see her walking around in clothing that we both had a hand in creating (she chooses the fabrics and I construct the garment).
Identifies as: Gay/QueerPronouns: She/Her
How did fashion go from a small passion to a full-time gig?I grew up very into dressing myself, though looking back at old photos, I definitely made some incredibly interesting choices. I don't think I really did it well until a few years ago. Now it's only a "full-time gig" because I'm a professional touring entertainer and I've gotta look slick on stage.
Being out in fashion is very different from being out in most industries, what does that mean to you? I think it's just hard because I can't go to a fashion site and type in exactly what I'm looking for. There's no clear word for the type of style I'm into. And it's not even that strange of a style! I'm a female-bodied, female-identified, gender-non-conformative (I think?) person who likes to dress boyish. Most sites are divided into men's and women's fashion, and I fall somewhere in between.
Why do you think it’s important to be out, how has increased visibility helped you feel comfortable? How that has effected you, both negatively and positively?I think if you have an audience, you should be yourself with that audience, because people are paying attention and may need you. Living in an era where many celebrities my age are out and it's not a big deal has really made it possible for me to be successful in music without any weird stigma attached to the fact that I'm queer. Before I came out, I was worried that it would be all the press would talk about, and they'd forget about my music. Thankfully that hasn't been the case at all. I just had a new record come out and literally none of the publications I spoked with (save for a few queer-focused ones) asked about my being gay.
Do you have a Coming Out Day message? If you're thinking about coming out and you haven't yet, I'm really excited for all the boys/girls/people you're going to make out with and fall in love with as soon as you do! Happy Coming Out Day!
Identifies as: LesbianPronouns: Female pronouns
How did fashion go from a small passion to a full-time gig?I actually kind of fell into fashion. I've always loved it, but got my professional start in feminist media at a small journal published in the basement of an abortion clinic. I eventually started writing for Autostraddle where I was surprised to find myself covering style and really enjoying it. That eventually led me to a job as Refinery29's beauty editor, and now that I'm at NYLON as deputy digital editor, I'm more of a generalist within the fashion realm—covering all the topics under the lifestyle umbrella with a focus on the fashion world and all its many repurcussions.
Being out in fashion is very different from being out in most industries, can you talk a tiny bit about it? I feel like bringing a queer perspective to an industry that's typically so thoroughly problematic is extremely valuable. Fashion has really failed women—on a lot of intersectional levels—so coming at it from a critical standpoint and having access to the queer people who are working hard to change the rules makes it exciting. But then again, it's never fun to be tokenized, and there's a balance to strike between working to advocate for your core beliefs and then being the go-to emotional spokesperson for an entire community that you happen to belong to.
It’s hard to find a style that really fits who you are when that isn’t reflected in mass media. How did you get to a place where the things you wore really reflected who you are and how you feel?It took me a long time to feel confident in my femininity. I was worried that other gay women wouldn't notice me or be attracted to me if I embraced the lipstick/dresses/heels that speak so directly to my heart because I didn't really have a reference to follow. When I first came out, it was important to me to be visibly queer, which to me at the time meant presenting as more androgynous than felt natural. I cut off my hair, pierced my cartilage, and wore a lot of slouchy jeans (it was the mid-aughts, okay?). It didn't feel like me, though, and eventually I realized that of course there were women who would like me in my most natural-feeling state. I no longer look to my clothes to communicate my sexuality, which means that I'm often invisible to other queer people, which can be a bummer—but I'd rather wear a dress and have to clarify that I'm gay than wear something that doesn't feel like me.
Thoughts on coming out? Listen, it's awesome that there's a day for coming out, but a lot of us have to come out again and again every single day because we live in a world where it doesn't occur to people that you could be something different from them. And there are some people who can't come out at all because it's not safe for them. Just because we have queer celebrities and queer themes being addressed in the media doesn't mean that coming out is irrelevant: As long as people are being oppressed for being queer, it's up to those of us lucky enough to be out and open to keep making it an issue.
Identifies as: Genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary pansexual humanPronouns: They/Them
It’s hard to find a style that really fits who you are when that isn’t reflected in mass media. How did you get to a place where the things you wore really reflected who you are and how you feel?I’m still figuring it out, trying out different things. I think one important thing is to be able to try different things and explore, and to try to be conscious of what makes you feel good, because it might be nuanced. I think about that in terms of gender a lot, I like to explore with femininity a little lately—pair a more masculine aesthetic with short-shorts or sequins.
Why do you think it’s important to be out, and how has increased visibility helped you feel comfortable?I'm not comfortable. I'm fighting to feel good about myself every day, like a lot of us and there's a reason for that. Increased visibility is important because we internalize the messages that we see in the media, fashion, etc. If you're rarely seeing yourself reflected in the types of bodies and people that are featured or if you're noticing a homogenous picture of what is revered, it affects how you view and feel about yourself. The more representations of different types of bodies and genders there are, the better.
Talk a little bit about how figuring out your style has increased your confidence as a queer human (either within or outside of the industry in which you are involved)?Everybody knows that in the music industry, there are a lot of cisgender, straight men in the majority sharing space with you at shows and elsewhere, and that can be intimidating, but less intimidating if you have a power outfit.
Anita Dolce Vita is the Editor-in-Chief of Dapper Q, fashion for masculine-presenting women, gender-queers, and trans-identified individuals.
Identifies as: High-femme lipstick lesbian Pronouns: She/Her pronouns
How did fashion go from a small passion to a full-time gig?It hasn't. I'm an oncology research nurse full-time for pay. Though, I do own, manage, and serve as Editor-in-Chief of Dapper Q, the most widely read style and empowerment blog and fashion show production company for masculine-presenting women, gender-queers, and trans-identified individuals. Running Dapper Q often feels like a full-time job, but it is not my primary bread and butter.
Being out in fashion is very different from being out in most industries, can you talk a tiny bit about how that has effected you? Both negatively and positively?A few years ago, mainstream fashion designers and media were very confused about and disinterested in Dapper Q's vision to make queer style more visible. People didn't understand it. They would ask, "Isn't fashion gay already?" But, queer style is not simply about white, cis, gay male fashion designers creating binary, gender-normative, heteronormative collections to fit the fashion industry's unattainable beauty ideals. It's about inclusion and dismantling everything we've been taught about beauty norms rooted in ableism, classism, fatphobia, ageism, racism, misogyny, transphobia, and self-hate. Queer style is a social movement.
It’s hard to find a style that really fits who you are when that isn’t reflected in mass media. How did you get to a place where the things you wore really reflected who you are and how you feel?I find it hard to find style that fits who I am as a black, high-femme lesbian who doesn't fit the tall, blonde, size-zero mainstream fashion formula. Many masculine queer folks think it's easy for all femmes to find clothing that fits, as well as role models that represent femmes, because they wrongfully assume that the fashion industry's definition of femininity is inclusive and embodies all femmes and forms of femininity. I still do not find role models that look like me in the pages of fashion magazines. I still have to get my clothing tailored because pants are made for taller bodies. I still have to get my button-downs tailored because I, too, experience a gap where the buttons lay across my chest. I feel pressured to conform to hetero-normative and queer-normative style ideals. I have to dress in "socially acceptable" business attire (by Western standards) during the day. So, building a wardrobe that truly reflects me and empowers me is a constant, ongoing process.
Why is style important? Fashion is political, whether you intend it to be or not. From the zoot suit to the flapper dress to queer style: You have the power to change the world with your clothing. So, do not be afraid to wear clothing that reflects you and your values!
Celine Michael is a fashion designer, visual merchandiser, and stylist. Follow her on Instagram.
Identifies as: Gay
It’s hard to find a style that really fits who you are when that isn’t reflected in mass media. How did you get to a place where the things you wore really reflected who you are and how you feel?I don't think I've ever really cared about what people thought about how I looked or what I wore. It's funny because I have never been the most confident person, yet I have always had confidence in my style with what I choose to wear always. I think my style has always just reflected my natural ability to throw together outfits and truly understand fashion and trends; or what I believe to be fashion.
Did you have any queer fashion role models growing up? Either people who identified as “queer” or who just looked really fucking good, were a little outside of the box, and ended up inspiring you?I would say two people in the queer community really inspired me in fashion, so much to the point to where I have symbols of them both tattooed on me. The first was Lady Gaga, she really taught me through music and fashion to stretch the boundaries of what can be seen as beautiful, especially when art and fashion go hand in hand. The second is the late Alexander McQueen. Ever since I can remember, I had always been obsessed with his design aesthetic and the emotion he has been able to make me feel through his couture art designs.
Why do you think it’s important to be out, how has increased visibility helped you feel comfortable?I think this is a very important subject. Having struggled with this for a while, as many do. I feel as though that it was important for me just to be able to really open up and gain the confidence that I always lacked, especially the way that I represented myself through fashion. It sort of gave me an inner confidence where, in my own head I was comfortable with myself so I stopped caring if other people were comfortable with me.
What advice would you give about style? Don't ever be ashamed of who you are. Let your fashion reflect your inner beauty, and see where it takes you. Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius.
Identifies as: AgenderPronouns: They/Them
It’s hard to find a style that really fits who you are when that isn’t reflected in mass media. How did you get to a place where the things you wore really reflected who you are and how you feel?I find that being open to experimenting with fashion is freeing and helps me to learn a lot about myself and the ways in which I relate to myself. As I become more comfortable with who I am, I’m less afraid to try things, and I often surprise myself with what I like. Designing my own shirts has definitely helped me to reflect who I am as well, because my own words and beliefs are printed across the chest. When I wear those shirts, I’m making a statement about my values and my personality.
Did you have any queer fashion role models growing up? Either people who identified as “queer” or who just looked really fucking good, were a little outside of the box, and ended up inspiring you?Rihanna’s 2008 VMA performance look changed my life, and during my freshman year of college I went through a huge Shane (from The L Word) phase. Right now, I’m inspired by both Willow and Jaden Smith, but most of all, I just want to be a rad cartoon character.
Why do you think it’s important to be out, how has increased visibility helped you feel comfortable?Growing up, I had no idea who I could become, because people like me were not represented in media. Going through life without ever seeing anyone like me—without knowing that anyone like me even existed—was incredibly confusing and isolating. It’s important for me to be out so that young, queer and trans people, especially those of color, can see someone like themselves surviving and thriving in the world, but I don’t think it’s important for everyone to be out. Coming out is a series of personal choices, and we all deserve the freedom to make the choices that work for us. There’s so much pressure to come out, even when people aren’t ready to do so or don’t want to do so. In recent years, coming out has been equated with bravery and strength, and deciding not to come out with weakness, fear, and dishonesty. That’s incorrect and unfair; that oversimplifies all that coming out entails and oversimplifies the lives of queer and trans people. Visibility is uncomfortable because I live in a society where people have not yet learned how to talk to or about me. However, I repeatedly choose to be an out trans person in media because I want to educate people, and because I have a desire for my voice to be heard and understood.
Do you have any advice about coming out? Any choices you make around coming out—including not coming out at all —are valid and you are loved.