Updated: May 20, 2021
W.Collective x Kaleidoscope
Written by Taylor Garcia '23 & Photographed by Sunny Lu '24
For most of my life, my style has been a formless, undefined blob straddling the masculine/feminine binary. Some of my earliest memories are of me at my sixth birthday, parading down the street in a pink, frilly fairy dress. This story doesn’t really match up with other stories I’ve heard from people assigned female at birth who now don’t identify with labels like “girl” or “woman,” but it is the case for me. Gender was never as real to me as the clothes I wore. When I tried to figure out what gender meant for me beyond performance, I came up short.
The first major shift in my fashion came when I turned seven and moved from Stockton, CA to Irvine. In Stockton, where I spent kindergarten and most of first grade, it was common for girls to wear fancy dresses and Mary Janes with lace socks to school. In Irvine, girls wore T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers, and anything outside of that marked you as different. Now, I know that Irvine has a much higher median income than Stockton, and that rich people show you their wealth by dressing down, by telling you they don’t care about what they wear because they don’t have to care. But back then, I only understood that I was being bullied. I wanted it to stop. So, fashion became a means of survival. The more I dressed like a typical late 2000s suburban white girl, the more I fit in with the people around me. The little “girl” who never wore pants became a not-like-other-girls “girl” that shunned dresses, and my mother started looking at me like I had lost something important.
(Later, when I start skateboarding and dressing to play the part, my mother will say that she regrets moving here. Later, my mother will tell me that if only we had stayed, I wouldn’t have changed so much, lost the part of my identity that she misses the most.)
This look lasted from elementary school until Halloween of my sophomore year—the day I came out as a lesbian. Before then, I hadn’t spared a thought toward my sexual orientation. But now I’d discovered, somewhat against my will, that I liked girls, that I had always liked girls, and that my viewpoint was not actually the default but a queer, marginal perspective. I didn’t know what to do with that information. Eventually, I decided that the best thing to do would be to transition my look from typical suburbanite teenager to full out butch lesbian. Butchness wasn’t something I identified with. At the time, I didn’t know about the vast array of queer fashion, the different modes of expression that different queer people had embodied throughout history. I knew “butch,” which I thought encapsulated all gender nonconformity in afab people, and I knew “femme,” which I thought meant “gay, but doesn’t look it.” So even though I didn’t really feel a connection with being butch, I knew that trying to dress like everyone around me wasn’t going to work anymore. I had been trying to hammer myself into a small box I didn’t fit into for a long time, trying to make myself exactly like everyone else I knew. And it didn’t work. I turned out gay. So, it was time to try something else.
To me, “butch” seemed like the next logical step. To my parents, it seemed like nonsense. My mother asked me in a quiet, trembling voice if I was trying to become a boy, while my father outright refused to let me cut my hair as short as I wanted it to be. Every time I went shopping with them, they pushed me towards short skirts and dresses, high heels, makeup. And every time, I rejected it. Eventually, I landed in a compromise wardrobe, featuring pants that didn’t fit me, shirts I’d had since the fourth grade, and hair in my face. Getting dressed took at least a half an hour every day, and every outfit I wore felt wrong.
The truth was, none of it was right. Even when I did have the chance to wear stereotypically butch clothes, it didn’t feel right. I wanted it to. I wanted to break free of my white suburban gilded cage and never look back, but this was as foreign to me as anything else I’d ever worn.
I muddled on like that until senior year, where I was cast as Juror #6 in my high school’s gender-neutral production of Twelve Angry Men (renamed Twelve Angry Jurors for our production). I was really excited for this, in part because it was my first and last speaking role in a major school production, but also because for some reason, I thought that a “gender-neutral production of Twelve Angry Men (Jurors)” meant that all of us would be wearing men’s clothes. My hopes were dashed on the first day of rehearsals, when the director informed us “girls” that we would be wearing period-accurate lingerie underneath our period-accurate skirts and blouses. Then, when I had made my peace with wearing a pencil skirt onstage, I was informed that I would actually be wearing a pink poodle skirt with a matching pink hat. Later, when I dislocated my shoulder, the costume designer made me a pink silk sling to complete the look without injuring myself further. I was really confused and upset about this. The poodle skirt didn’t exactly help my gender issues, and besides, my character was a kickass house painter who punched a guy in the jury room. Why would a woman like that wear a pink poodle skirt?
But as rehearsals wore on, the outfit started growing on me. Not the period-accurate lingerie, of course, and not really the hat or the gloves or the silk sling and definitely not the beige heels. But the skirt really stuck with me. I liked the way it swished behind me as I got in people’s faces, and I liked how big it was, how it announced itself in the room before I could ever get the chance. When I learned how to sew at the end of that school year, I made myself a circle skirt out of black fabric with red and white flowers, inspired by that poodle skirt. It quickly became one of my favorite pieces of clothing. For whatever reason, I felt queerer in skirts and fishnets and combat boots than I ever did in button-ups from the boys’ section. For a while, I thought I’d found my definitive look. I had a style.
Then quarantine happened.
Quarantine meant moving back into my homophobic, transphobic household sooner than expected. Quarantine meant losing an environment where people expected and encouraged me to look as gay as possible. Quarantine meant going back in the closet, being misgendered constantly, and having nowhere to go where I could actually be myself. I started getting frustrated with strangers who used she/her for me without thinking about it, and instances of Wellesley students misgendering me accidentally (and sometimes not accidentally) on Zoom would throw me off for the rest of the day. For the first time in my life, I started feeling dysphoric about my body, and all the cool femme clothes I’d loved when most people were respecting my pronouns exacerbated that.
For me, creating and preserving an authentic queer identity means constantly, constantly reminding myself that binary norms of masculine/feminine or man/woman were not created for me, and I don’t have to belong to them. And the set of norms that are starting to govern androgynous fashion, centering white, thin, abled bodies designated female at birth wearing fairly masc (and honestly fairly drab) attire weren’t made for me either, and that is not something that I have to aspire to. I don’t always do as well reminding myself of that as I would like, but I try as hard as I can. I know, even if no one else does, that my nerdy boys’ section graphic tees are just as queer and just as nonbinary as my skirts and dresses. To me, gender is nothing more than my clothes. And if I feel affirmed in what I wear, that is enough.