The Importance of Visibility
For the past several months, we've been hearing about how "it gets better." I love the Trevor Project--it's hugely important, and it will save lives. But as LGBT people plugged into the gay community and gay media, it's easy to start thinking that positive messages are virtually ubiquitous.
A few miles away from your local gay pride parade, though, there's a 13-year-old boy crying in his room because he was beaten up for asking another boy to a dance. There's a 40-year-old woman down the street who thinks that killing herself would be better than coming out to her husband and kids. And these people aren't necessarily the ones watching "It Gets Better" videos. I know that if I had watched one of those videos six years ago, I would have thought: Maybe it will get better for them, but it won't for me. Campaigns like the Trevor Project are terrific, but it's crucial to remember that they are strategies, not solutions.
I've mentioned that I moonlight as a community college English professor. Six weeks ago, one of my students came out to me (asking during office hours, “Uh… I was wondering, mmm, what it’s like to be… uh, different?”). Let's call him Doug. Doug is 21. He had only come out to a few of his friends, and none of them were gay. He desperately needed practical advice about self-presentation, dealing with parents, dating, safety, etc. I'd never mentioned my own sexual orientation in class--but, heck, I regularly wear a shirt and tie, so I'm not exactly closeted. Because I was identifiable as gay, he decided to come out to me.
Over the course of the quarter, Doug and I had a few conversations about his sexual orientation. When I told him the outlines of my *own* story, his look of relief nearly made me cry. (Especially since, less than a decade ago, I was in Doug's position, coming out to a gay professor of my own.)
Although Doug lives in a relatively cosmopolitan area, and although he's on the Internet constantly, he had no idea that there are two gay pride celebrations within an hour's drive of his house. I showed him some pictures of a few gay neighborhoods online, saying, "There are places where you can hold another guy's hand and no one will even blink." Doug couldn't believe it--he just stared, open-mouthed, at the pictures of rainbow-flag-adorned buildings.
Doug isn't particularly "sheltered." He's a smart, pretty typical 21-year-old kid from a conservative family in a moderate-to-liberal area of the country. Yet he didn't have a single gay friend, and was afraid to join the college's LGBT group for fear that his straight acquaintances would find out. The last week of class, he gave me a big hug and told me that talking to me had changed his life. Doug had even mustered the courage to come out to his father (who was pretty upset about it, but told Doug he still loved him).
If I hadn't been identifiable as gay, Doug wouldn't have approached me. But by being my normal self in the classroom, I did something good. Visibility of regular ol' gay people (even if they’re cramming subject-verb agreement down your throat) is invaluable to kids--and adults--struggling with self-acceptance. It's one thing to know in the abstract that life is improving for LGBT folks, but there's no substitute for seeing gay people in your community who are out and "normal" and happy: reading books at the library, shopping for groceries, going to movies with their partners.
Many of us think a lot about the perils of being butch. To be comfortable in our own skin, we often have to be outsiders. We get called "sir" in the restroom. We get stared at in the department store. And often, this sucks.
But we also have the great privilege of being one of the most obviously, identifiably queer subgroups of the entire LGBT community. Just by showing up as ourselves, we raise visibility. Remember that you are doing awesome, important, life-saving work just by showing up as you really are. In ways that you may never know, your identifiably gay self is making some other questioning person more comfortable, more confident, and more hopeful.
I don't know what, exactly, possessed me to wear a tie to jury duty. But I daresay I was one of the sharpest dressed civic-duty-doers in the vicinity. Admittedly, I *did* get looks from some the other jurors--and the bathroom was a Small Issue as well. My DGF accused me of liking the attention that I get (even negative attention) as a tie-sporting she-person. I disagreed, telling her I just like to be "comfortable." But as my DGF pointed out, that's not totally true, since arguably I could have been just as comfortable without the tie and garnered fewer significant looks from my fellow prospective jurors. Here's the deal. First, I felt like looking sharp. And the variety of usual ways women look sharp (make-up; a nice purse; other things that flummox me) is not comfortably available to me. Second, I felt that as long as I was doing ONE civic duty, I might as well do another one and provide some much-needed homo-visibility for my fellow county residents.
Today's outfit, by the way, exemplifies an acceptable way to pair two striped patterns: a shirt with very thin stripes and a tie with much wider ones. The conventional wisdom is to stick with solid or patterned ties if your shirt is striped, but in my opinion, this is outdated. Simply don't pair two striped patterns if the stripes in each have similar width. And if you want to be extra safe, make sure that at least one of the colors in the shirt (not counting white) is the same as one of the colors in the tie. This (like many other fashion fundamentals) is a useful guideline, not a hard-and-fast rule. For some other examples of striped shirt-and-tie pairings, you can check out some nice examples.
Ah, straight girls... Nearly all of my butch friends have an anecdote or two about dating straight women, trying to date straight women, or straight women trying to date *them*. So when I received the following [edited] email from a BW reader, I decided it was time for an entry about the topic:
Hey there. I am really bad at telling if a girl is straight or gay. I've hung out with this girl a few times and I want to ask her out. She doesn't have a boyfriend. Should I try to date her if she's straight?
LOTS of complications packed into that email, no? In no particular order, here is my (admittedly scant) wisdom on straight women and butches:
I cannot, however, speak to is how straight women respond to dating trans men. I know a handful of trans men-straight women couples who seem to be dating without incident. If any readers want to speak to this (or anything else I've left out), please comment!
Butch at Work!
You can read my latest contribution to Can I Help You Sir's Butch 360 Project, as well as other butches' discussions of their butchness at work, here!
Watch and Learn
In my last watch post, I gave an overview of the three kinds of watches essential to a butch wardrobe: black, brown, silver. But what if you want to go above and beyond the confines of classic fashion? Here are some ideas.
#1: The White Watch
Grand for slaving away at your desk or grinding away on the dance floor, white watches are fun, fashion-forward, and increasingly popular. I scored the one on the left on eBay, slightly used, for $36 (normally in the $80-$90 range new). Other hot white watches include this one from D&G and the Nixon Graduate (which I mentioned in the last post, but *love* in white!).
#2: Color Splash!
Though you shouldn't wear it more than once a week or so (or it will become a little tiresome), a big ol' shock of color on your wrist is a really fun way to smack some style into an otherwise dull outfit. For example, I might wear my lime green Nixon Time Teller (pictured left) on a day when I'm wearing jeans, sneakers, and a plain black button-up shirt. Nixon Time Tellers (pic below) have been ridiculously
popular for the last year or two, and are still going pretty strong--probably due to their simple style and relatively affordable price tag. The Swatch New Gent (which I discovered on the Sartorial Butch's blog a while ago) is along the same lines, but a little less ubiquitous. (I am presently coveting the Petrol Rebel--just an FYI for those of you who are trying to decide what to buy me for July 4.) Look around for a cool watch in your favorite color. The Noon Watch, pictured at right, is kinda snazzy. If you want to be extra retro, go digital, like this Freestyle.
#3: Vintage Virtuosity
Ah, "vintage..." This widespread term can mean anything from "used" to "antique" to "hipsterrific." But basically, anything before 1980 is going to be something most people don't have. For a brief time, I was obsessed with Russian watches from the 1960s and 1970s, three of which are pictured here. I bought them on eBay for between $15-$20 each. The catch? They all stopped working within a month of their arrival. And according to the rather rude watch guy at my local drug store, one of them can't even be fixed. So go vintage, but understand that it can be a gamble. Still... so cool, right? "Oh, this old thing? It's, like, a Russian watch from the 1960s. Yeah, that's Cyrillic alphabet. Beautiful, isn't it? ...Oh sure, I'd love to go out with you sometime." Watchismo, which I mentioned in the last post, also has a small, pricey collection of really cool vintage watches.
#4: The Nerdbucket
Nerdy is IN. And one way to fly your nerd flag fly high is by sporting a dorktastic watch. These can feature calculators (a la 1986), or simply be plain ol' digital throwbacks, like my personal favorite, pictured left. I got it on Amazon for $13.48, and love to wear it with a plain white shirt and jeans, or with a nerdly-cool T-shirt (e.g., my Ninja on a Bicycle shirt), or even with a sweater vest if I'm feeling extra awesome. I put many digital watches, even relatively cool ones, into this category. I do not, however, include watches designed specifically as "sports" watches. These fall into the next category.
#5: Sports/Jock/Survivalist Watches
It is only reluctantly, and at the urging of my DGF, that I include today's final category. It's not that I don't like or appreciate these watches--indeed, I'm rather fond of my own Timex Ironman (which I wear to the gym, or to the grocery store, or other overtly sporty or casual contexts). It's simply that I've found that most butches are already well-acquainted with this category of timepiece--so much so, in fact, that unless they're especially faggy and/or fashion-forward, this may be the only watch they own. Case in point: my DGF's watch, pictured here, is a Casio that gives the time, altitude, barometric pressure, and God knows what else--probably tide tables, the phases of the moon, and the Federal Rules of Evidence. As my DGF is fond of pointing out, it is made of titanium, which makes it lighter than other watches of this stripe. And as I am fond of pointing out, it is solar-powered, which means that it's excellent on sunny days and less useful on cloudy ones. Like many butches, my DGF finds her sporty survivalist watch appropriate for every occasion from snorkeling to parties to weddings. Note to butches: #5, while wonderful, is not, in fact, appropriate for every setting. See my previous watch post, as well as #'s 1-4 on this post, for some inspiration!