This is so silly but there was a solid month and a half when I was like, 22 when I genuinely wondered if I was trans because I sometimes like to wear lipstick and gender ambiguous clothing. Like, masculinity is so toxic and fragile that I thought the options were either/or. Either I’m a male who wears men’s clothing, or I’m a trans woman.
My best friend and me, hosting our first queer, body-positive burlesque show, called Everything is Sexy.
I remember walking through Target with my best friend, picking up a women’s shirt and putting it up against my chest (it was just a plain shirt–nothing really signified that it was men’s or women’s other than the aisle) and asking him, genuinely and jokingly (I didn’t know how else to ask), “Hey, are we trans?”
I think he said, “Um, no.” Or, “What?” Or, “I’m not.”
And I was like, “Ok, well I’m not either.”
For the next few weeks, I knew I probably wasn’t trans, but I occasionally asked myself, but what if maybe you possibly are and you might be–I don’t know–in denial?
It was just one in an endless line of unwanted thoughts that always run through my head, so I didn’t know what to make of it. Listening to a Maria Bamford comedy album, I find out this is called “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome.”
Am I trans? was sandwiched somewhere between, “What if the reason your nails smell like popcorn is because you have olfactory failure because of a tumor growing in your brain?” And “Is it possible that you were molested when you were younger and you just forgot? I heard that people sometimes forget. What if you just wake up one day and you suddenly remember being molested? How fucked up is memory?”
I don’t have brain cancer. I’m not trans. I was not molested.
But I’m too scared to go to Starbucks with a little lipstick on. They try to be quick about it, but I see when the bank teller, the grocery check out lady, the homeless guy who turns down my food all glance at my nail polish.
And we have a vice president who wants gay people dead.
Me, reading fortunez at a queer carnival I co-hosted-ish. My favorite fortune was looking at men in the center of their eyes and saying, “You look beautiful tonight… is what your murderer is going to say.”
And one of my classmates, after reading my essay that mentions that I’m uncomfortable when bachelorette parties go to gay bars (though I understand why women see gay bars as a reprieve from the male gaze, though gay men are not exempt from the male gaze), tells me, “You’re a really good writer. You should write a guide for straight people to go to gay bars.”
To be fair, she apologizes to me after class. I say, “Don’t worry about it.” But, honestly, I hope she worries about it.
And one of my former professors, whom I think is a brilliant teacher and a lovely lady, once told me that I reminded her of David Sedaris–because he makes straight people feel comfortable with gay stuff, and you do the opposite.
To be fair, she added: Which is just what we need.
To be fair, she commissioned one of my essays about Pulse for the latest issue of the literary magazine she runs.
To be fair, it’s so not fair that I have to even think, as a 24-year-old, about the possibility of getting gay bashed. It’s so not fair that I was just finding such a cool, sweet, generous, funny, creative queer community in Orlando and then–a beautiful and devastating thing–I get pulled out of it so I can go to grad school in California. In Riverside.
I used to do burlesque (lowkey embarassing, highkey some of my favorite memories: putting on makeup in the bathroom at Steak & Shake, marching in Orlando Pride with my then-boyfriend while the float in front of us blasting Born This Way blew our hairs back).
I’m wearing the cheetah print corset, backwards green baseball hat, and holding a grocery bag full of lollipops–lol.
I once wore blue eye shadow to Cracker Barrel and none of my friends questioned it, never once did I feel they were embarrassed by me. I wore a $10 grey wig around the swap meet and the shop owners just turned to me and smiled.
I’m still trying to figure Riverside out. I don’t know what’s okay here, what I can get away with, because often, if very much feels like I have to get away with something. I want to wear my queerness like a badge on my chest, especially amidst everything going on politically right now, but I’m not trying to get my ass kicked behind the 7/11 for moving my hips a little too much when I walk, ya now?
My last week in Orlando, my friends and I had a wig day. This is us at Cici’s Pizza, shortly before snatching each other’s wigs.
Most days, I want to wear blue jeans, boots, and a black hoodie. Most days, I’m too lazy to brush my hair. But how fucked up is it that wanting to wear a little lipstick every now and then is actually one of the most stressful things? So stressful that it catapulted me into an identity crisis because I liked a vaguely girly shirt from Target?
Calling gender a performance is so easy. Gender is heartbreaking and shameful and gorgeous and more complicated than learning to do a winged eye for the first time. And who are you performing for when you’re alone in your room wearing your favorite lipstick? Who is it for?