Dressing The Part: What You Think You Should Wear When You First Come Out

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Not a day goes by that I don’t have to come out to someone. I recently mentioned my wife to a co-worker and she literally asked me three times if I meant my real wife. 

“Do you mean you call your husband your wife?”

“No, I mean my wife.”

“So you mean your roommate then?”

No lady, I mean my wife! I don’t know what other way to say this for you to understand!?  All the femme women know what I’m taking about: We don’t fit into the mold of what society thinks a lesbian “looks” like, so we are automatically deemed straight because we wear dresses and carry a purse. 

When I first came out I knew very few lesbians and the ones I did know had a very limited wardrobe that consisted of mostly button down shirts and baseball hats. I, of course, would get teased by my tight jeans and my giant purse. “Dude, lesbians don’t carry purses.” This was not only was news to me but completely took my breath away—where was I going to keep all my stuff? My jeans were WAY too tight to fit a wallet, keys, lip gloss, gum and the rest of the bullshit I had in there!  Not to mention I was so proud of having the courage to come out and the fact that no one knew I was gay when they looked at me, was depressing. Even the lesbians thought I was straight. 

I decided I should make more of an effort to look the part if I wanted to fit in and headed to the only store I knew carried button down shirts: American Eagle. Not only did I walk out of there with bags of clothes I never imagined myself wearing, but I bought a big leather bracelet. Those seemed to shout lesbian (?). I went to such lengths to prove to everyone around me that I WAS gay and this was NOT a phase. I even contemplated getting a rainbow tattoo on my arm just to seal the deal but decided against it because it didn’t go with my new pants. 

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My first night out in my new threads, everyone was very impressed. I didn’t need my purse anymore because my new cargo pants had enough pockets to fit everything. I traded my wallet for a money clip, my lip gloss for Chap Stick and my hoop earrings for studs.  The teasing about my tight jeans or my painted nails subsided and I began to blend in with everyone else.  I was officially a lesbian in the eyes of the rest of the world. I knew I was supposed to be proud, but I couldn’t shake the fact that I didn’t like how I felt. This is what I wanted, right?

I met a straight friend for lunch the next day and out of nowhere she says, “I love you no matter what, but if you wear those cargo pants one more time I am going to burn them while you sleep.” At first I was appalled. Didn’t she know the great lengths I went to in order to make sure I looked gay? I opened my mouth to tell her off and all that came out were tears. I wept because I knew she was right. I wept because it had taken me years of gathering up enough courage to come out and be who I truly was, only to feel like I was being shoved back into the closet, but this time it was a gay closet filled with gym shorts and softball cleats.  I was saddened that even in a community of people  who know what it feels like to be ostracized because you are different, there was a set of ‘rules’ to follow in order to belong.  I didn’t come out so other people would know who I truly was, I came out for me!

That day I went home and put all my cargo pants and button down shirts in a garbage bag and donated them to Goodwill—and a few friends who lived in that stuff, of course. I decided that being gay wasn’t about what I was wearing or how I did my hair. I knew it would be annoying at times to constantly have to come out to people and wince every time someone is completely shocked when you tell them you are a lesbian. 

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“Yep, I am really gay.”

I also knew that there would be young people in years to come who would be afraid to come out of fear of being judged by the rest of the world and they would be even more hurt to find judgment in our own community. I felt like I owed it to them and myself to be an example of what it means to truly be who you are, even if it’s in high heels.

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