How we dealt with gender expression after coming out

By GILLIAN LELCHUK and JACOB TOOK | February 22, 2018




Jacob used tattoos as a way to express himself as a queer individual.

When you come out, you get a lot of things. You get an ID card from the Human Rights Campaign. You get a welcome basket with a gift card for a free body piercing. And you get a fuckton of expectations about your gender expression.

Let’s be clear: There’s not actually a gay ID card. However, the expectations about gender expression are very real. While most people probably don’t get a gift card when they come out, piercings are a very real way to embrace or contradict those expectations. Those expectations can vary and are certainly different for queer men and women. 

Jacob and I figured we’d start by taking stock of our piercings and everything else we see as part of our respective gender expressions.

I have my nose pierced: a silver stud. I have two earrings in each ear: Lately I’ve been wearing two silver arrows in the left and two silver balls in the right. I have an undercut that I haven’t been very good at maintaining. I usually wear my jeans rolled up a couple of times with a pair of Doc Martens, and I have a rotation of six or seven flannel shirts in my closet. 

I don’t fall into the typical categories of “butch” or “femme,” but I have made a decent effort to curate a queer look. I don’t wear makeup, and I don’t like dresses. I’ve worn a tie more than once, and I stopped shaving my legs in September.

I’m comfortable with the way I present myself right now, but sometimes I wonder why I dress the way I do. Do I cuff my jeans because I like to or because it’s a subtle way to send out queer vibes? Did I get my nose pierced because I thought it would look cool or because it’s kinda gay?

In high school and early college, I was uncomfortable with the way I looked. I thought I was supposed to appear more feminine, so I wore skirts and kept my hair long. Evidently, that wasn’t right for me. I bought my first pair of Docs, the red ones with laces, before even I knew I was gay. That was the beginning.

After I came out, I wanted to “look gay.” I bought my first flannel shirt on Black Friday sophomore year specifically because I knew that was a lesbian stereotype, but now when I wear plaid it’s because I want to, not because I want to look especially gay today (at least not every time).

But would I have garnered my pants-dominant closet without aspiring to be recognizably gay? Honestly, I don’t know.

Gender expression is weird, and clothes shouldn’t have genders, because they’re clothes. But we don’t live in a utopian vacuum, and I still shop predominantly in the women’s section. Lesbian stereotypes helped me grow into my appearance, but so many lesbians and queer women don’t fit into any of these expectations, and that’s okay. 

Personal styles change and grow just as we do as people. Sometimes we’ll subscribe to stereotypes because they make us feel like part of a community, and sometimes we’ll reject them because we don’t want to fit into a box. 

Maybe I’ll stop wearing cuffed jeans or Docs someday. I’ll still be me, and I’ll still be queer. But for right now, I’m just a huge fan of my nose piercing.

Gillian dragged me with her to get that nose piercing. I’m also a huge fan. As a rule, nose piercings make everything gayer.

My piercings are, arguably, less cool than Gillian’s. I have a silver loop through my right nostril (the gay side — I checked), which I got right after my first tattoo, a Deathly Hallows symbol on my left calf.

A few days after my birthday last November, Gillian talked me into getting an industrial bar while getting her nose done. During Intersession, I went back to the same parlor to get my gayest body modification: a tattoo reading “Boy In Love?” on my ribs.

In high school, back before my piercings and ink, I painted my nails a lot. At prom, my best friend and date did my makeup.

Back then, it was a response to the many people who consistently told me that it was inappropriate to do that “girly stuff.”

A lot of queer people struggle to sort the expectations about their femininity and masculinity from how they actually want to express their gender.

For me, that struggle has been going on since years before I came out, when I was teased for the feminine lilt in my voice or my overcommitment to drama club. Part of my efforts to deny my sexuality included acting more “manly” in school.

Like Gillian, I wanted to look gay after I came out. I could describe my aesthetic back then as “baby gay.” I wore brightly colored everything, loved cat shirts from WalMart and played up the femininity. I used “yas queen” as punctuation and called girls “bitch” endearingly, you know the type.

I was influenced by the gay stereotypes that I saw in the media and the expectations I felt from the people around me. I embraced the femininity full-on, because I thought that’s what gay guys were supposed to do.

Now, I don’t worry so much about what gay guys are supposed to do, because I know the most important thing is doing what I feel comfortable with. 

I wear the same shoes almost every day. I say “yas queen” sometimes (though I thankfully phased “bitch” out of my vocabulary). I keep my nail polish in a drawer in my nightstand but haven’t even thought about using it in months.

Nowadays, I think of myself as more masculine. Do you agree with me? I don’t care. I feel comfortable right now with the way I express my masculinity and my femininity, and that expression is not the same as it was four years ago.

Maybe four years from now, it will be totally different. Maybe I’ll paint my nails every night to match the color of my outfit for the next day. Maybe I’ll talk in a manly Ron Swanson voice. Maybe I won’t have my industrial bar anymore. But right now I think it looks sick as hell.

If you fit right in and you feel most comfortable expressing your masculinity or femininity in a stereotypical way, that’s great. If you don’t think those stereotypes are true to you, don’t feel pressured to embrace them. The most important thing is that you’re doing what’s best for you.

And also, remember that life is short, so get that piercing you’ve been wanting to.

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