Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2017-07-26

Overcoming Stereotypes and Busting Out My Own Style

When I was eleven years old, I remember vividly the relief of exiting the school bus while girls viciously taunted me. This time the impetus was not my fat, my usual crime. It was having the audacity to wear a half ponytail with several different colored fuzzy ponytail holders on it—and the fuzzy ponytail holders did not match. I was in middle school and my greatest longing in the world was to fit in and go unnoticed. On that excruciating bus ride, filled with shame and regret for my bold choice, I learned that I better not try to have fun with my style. Folks who have been bullied on a bus know how endless the ride can feel, and how painful it is to endure taunting, staring straight ahead pretending it doesn’t bother you.

Fitting in when you’re already wearing adult sizes in sixth grade is basically impossible, especially in the early nineties. Plus size fashion is limited today, but before online shopping and Torrid in the mall, we had nothing but boring career wear to work with. The idea of looking like the typical American pre-teen girl, with her Guess jeans, hypercolor tee shirts and high top name brand shoes was my dream but I neither had the funds or access to make that dream happen.

As I absorbed the other lies I was taught about being a fat woman—that I was not sexually attractive, I better not wear anything revealing and I should try not to draw attention to myself—I lost any desire to discover my own style and perform my gender. Performing gender is a way of showing your internal gender identity externally—usually through clothes, accessories, and maybe make-up.

When I got to college and started the coming out process, I let the same kind of limiting beliefs affect how I presented myself. Due to femmephobia and anti-butch sentiment in my collegiate LGBT community, I learned that having a strong expression of masculine or feminine gender was not acceptable and it was better to lean towards an a-gender or hippy outdoorsy look. I thought that in order to get a girlfriend and be attractive I should be as androgynous as possible. This was kind of a relief because shopping in the men’s department at Old Navy made it marginally easier to find clothes that fit me (this is before Old Navy carried plus size women’s clothes).

I never actually pulled off androgyny, my inherent Femme presentation busted through no matter how many times I heard the term “Lipstick Lesbian” thrown around in a derisive way.

When I moved to Philadelphia for law school I fell into what I like to call the “right” crowd. These friends were supportive, believed I was a babe in a fat body and wildly applauded all of the new things I was doing to express my style and my gender. I began slow, in cute dresses, wearing sleeveless tops, showing cleavage.

Going sleeveless was a revolution for me. I had always believed that stereotype that a fat person I shouldn’t show off my arms, I have no idea how that rule came to be. Arm fat isn’t dangerous, it’s just a benign part of your body. It took a lot of work to get comfortable going out without sleeves on, but having that “right crowd” was really helpful to develop my confidence.

As I began performing on stage first as a drag king and then as a dual drag king/Femme queen I began really pushing the gender envelope. Leaning into different gender presentations I began to figure out what was expressing who I was and what I felt an inherent aversion to.

Far beyond fitting into the standard American womanhood, whatever that is, my actual gender expression is a sort of exaggerated femininity. Like Dolly Parton and Miss Piggy, I feel the most myself in bright make-up, big hair and sexy clothes.

Many queer women (and people) cannot relate to the standards of beauty and femininity that society promotes. Queer folks come in all shapes, sizes and gender presentations and the standards of beauty are not representative of actual human diversity.

Legendary storyteller Shonda Rhimes is partnering with Dove to shift the power of media representation from Hollywood into the hands of real women. Using an all female crew, Dove is helping open up the conversation about the effects of gender stereotypes. Meet Kylee!

Kylee Howell’s story is the second film from Dove Real Beauty Productions and empowers others to find their real beauty. It is a powerful message of non-conformity, self-assurance and shedding the narrow definitions of beauty imposed on herself and other women in her community. It also has a really sweet message from her mom.

I love this video—Kylee is a dapper stylish barber who had to unlearn gender stereotypes to become herself.

Quentin Crisp said, “Style is being yourself on purpose.” I really believe that you have to let go of everyone else’s expectations of you and fitting into stereotypes in order to truly discover your own style. This is so difficult in a culture that commodifies insecurity and prizes fitting in. Thank goodness for the internet and the ability to see so many gorgeous people out there working their own looks, their own gender and their own idea of how to be a woman/man/limitless gender they want.

If you have been struggling to overcome stereotypes and let your unique beauty shine, I highly recommend figuring out who the “right” group is for you. When you’re feeling good, write down who your body positive, supportive, style encouraging friends are. Who in your life believes in an expansive definition of beauty? Write it down and put that list someplace you can see it next time you need encouragement, or some folks to go out with wearing your first sleeveless top (or whatever your equivalent of a sleeveless top may be).

When I walk into the room doing my style and not stereotypes, I’m writing the conversation instead of landing in a narrative laid out by stereotypes. I am showing people I am bold, I take risks, and I am confident. I know now that fuzzy ponytail holder thing I was rocking in sixth grade was a stylish risk and it was fiercely nonconforming.

Photo by Jes Baker.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

2012-09-18

Q & A with Gaga Feminism Author J. Jack Halberstam and Book Giveaway

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When I was asked to be part of the Gaga Feminism blog tour, I engaged my collaborator and dear friend Taylor Black to help me write some questions for QueerFatFemme.com. We’ve had bourbon/coke zero/cherry juice discussions about Jack Halberstam’s work before. Gaga Feminism, out this week from Beacon Press, is the latest in the academic arsenal of the USC professor, blogger, and ubiquitous Queer Studies scholar.

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Me and Taylor performing Bob Dylan at Rebel Cupcake. Photo by Ms. Liederman.

Check out what Jack has to say about desire, feminism, Lady Gaga and failure below. Beacon Press is giving away a copy of the book at the bottom of this post!

QFF: In Gaga Feminism you acknowledge Lady Gaga as a post-Warholian pop hybrid. Today it seems it’s not enough for our pop singers to just be good showmen, like Prince or Dolly Parton, but they have to do it all: Catchy recycled pop tunes/performance art/pushing sexual boundaries/becoming a new feminist icon enough to have a branch of feminism named after them. Is there a place in mainstream culture for just a showman? Someone who gets famous just being talented and doing what they do instead of being a Gagaesque “Fame Monster?”

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Jack Halberstam, photo by Assaf Evron.

Jack: In truth, no one ever just gets famous for being talented – there are hundred, no thousands, no millions of talented and smart and original people in the world but only a few become famous and only a very few become mega global brand names like Lady Gaga. I happen to think Lady Gaga is extraordinarily talented and smart but not just because of what she says but on account of the way she markets her image, captures an ever expanding media market and makes body art out of her live and video performances. Lady Gaga calls herself a “student of fame” and like Andy Warhol she thought very carefully about how to make an impact, how to use the market and how to manipulate the technologies available to her. In my book, though, Gaga is not just Lady Gaga, it is a practice, a way of being and a style of revolt. Lady Gaga is only one incarnation of that.

QFF: In the introduction to your book The Queer Art of Failure, you cite one of Quentin Crisp’s most famous phrases: “If you try once and don’t succeed, failure may be your style.” In fact, Crisp’s aphorism about failure being a style for queers is given alongside Foucault’s idea that it can also be a way of life. What differences you see between these two statements—between a queer style and a queer way of life? Or is this coupling only to suggest that Crisp and Foucault were saying the same sort of thing in different ways and from different places?

Jack: Right! They were kind of saying the same thing about queer life – Quentin Crisp was articulating a new logic for failure – if at first you don’t succeed, he was basically saying, why on earth would you just keep trying. Maybe our notions of success are not engineered for everyone. For some of us, failure is literally something we aspire to. We strenuously object to the models of success that exist all around us – wealth, conquest, normativity—and we prefer failure as a mode of critique. Foucault’s point about a “queer way of life” is made in the middle of an interview about homophobia and he commented there that what fuels homophobia is rarely the idea of homo-sex simply. What fuels homophobia is a sense that gays and lesbians and trans people actually want to change the way we live; that their queerness stands as a rebuke to the forms of life that heterosexuals have fashioned, consolidated and defended.

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Photo by Kelsey Dickey for Rebel Cupcake.

QFF: It’s pretty clear that Gaga’s “style” isn’t a personal sense of style, it’s more performative outrageousness–part of that “fame monster” situation. As Crisp says, “Style is being yourself on purpose.” How much do you think Gaga’s meteoric popularity has to do with folks believing her style is personal or do you think the “little monsters” know she’s a product of her industry and love her in spite of it?

Jack: Fans always know better than anyone what constitutes their idols’ appeal. Lady Gaga’s little monsters get that Lady Gaga is a performance, one that renounces the personal in favor of the public, one that sacrifices the private for the popular, and a performance that takes in the subcultural worlds that worship Gaga from afar and in turn are worshipped by her.

QFF: I’m wondering if you are familiar with (New York-based academic and PrettyQueer.com and Junebug vs. Hurricane writer) Taylor Black’s work on Quentin Crisp and style and if you could elaborate on your ideas of what style is and how it may be a significant term in contemporary queer studies? Also, while queer style seems to appear in your text as a counterintuitive effort against the logics of heterosexual success, my understanding of style in Taylor’s work is just the opposite: that it is an intuitive force and a form of becoming rather than simply a way of life or a manner of being.

Jack: No, I was not aware of this website or of Taylor Black’s work. It sounds amazing though and I will check it out. Based on your description, I don’t see the discrepancy between my definition of failure and Black’s – my account makes failure into a counter-intuitive site of self-invention. But what makes it counter-intutive is that it turns away from the common sensical embrace of the logics of success. You are saying that failure in Black’s work is also about committing to another way of being or becoming that has its own internal and intuitive logics. Well….exactly! I don’t necessarily make the distinctions between being and becoming, being and performing that you seem to here.

QFF: How has failure influenced your life path?

Jack: Failure has been my life path. I failed to be a girl, to be a woman, to be heterosexual, to be a good student, to pass exams. I fail well every day and I hope to continue to fail. That does not mean that I have not advanced in my career or grown as a person in all kinds of ways but its does mean that I have recrafted the values that are meaningful to me in my career and my personal life.

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Photo by Kelsey Dickey.

QFF: A lot of my work right now explores desire in the queer community. Would you be more or less likely to ask Lady GaGa out on a date if she were not famous? Do you think outrageousness in attire in a queer feminine context makes one more or less desirable for dates in the queer community? Do you think it is anti-feminist to make a blanket statement about desire, for example “I don’t date Femmes/I don’t date Butches/I only date transmen not men?”

Jack: Wow, great questions. Hmm, would I ask Lady Gaga out if she were not famous. Tough question – that is like saying would you ask Lady Gaga out if she were not Lady Gaga? If she were not famous? Who exactly would she be then? As for outrageous attire – depends on the occasion. And as for anti-feminism coming in the form of blanket statements…I probably disagree with that. Feminism is as much about naming one’s desires with precision and care as it is about expressing desire in more amorphous ways. Everyone, even the most polymorphously perverse among us, has likes and dislikes in the realm of desire: I can say with complete confidence that “I don’t date butches or men” but that does not make me anti-feminist, just clear. All sexual orientation and all sexual identities are defined as much by what people will not do as what they desire to do and with whom. Precision is always helpful when it comes to connecting sexually with others…check out personal ads and online dating sites, people who are specific about their desires have a better chance of meeting someone. Now, what is anti-feminist is a kind of phobic rejection of people who fit a stereotype – like lesbians who may well date boyish and androgynous women but say in their personal ads “no butches.” Or gay men who may well like a range of male bodies but say “no fats, no femmes” in their personal ads. These are not boundaries on desires so much as prejudices.

Thanks for your questions!

To win a copy of Gaga Feminism, like the Queer Fat Femme Facebook Fan Page and leave a comment here (see form below) with your favorite Jack Halberstam article or Lady Gaga song. Winner will be selected at random on September 28, 2012.

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Other stops on the Gaga Feminism Blog Tour:

Monday, September 17
My Husband Betty

Tuesday, September 18
Queer Fat Femme (That’s Me!)

Wednesday, September 19
Sugarbutch Chronicles

Thursday, September 20
The Qu

2011-07-01

Additions to the Queer Lexicography: Pride Edition

Hey, I can get legally married in my home state! How rad! I gave my thoughts to the Autostraddle round-up. Check it out!

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The cast of Rebel Cupcake Pride! Rod Tame, Dominic Berry, Fancy Feast, Regie Cabico, Me, and Rocco Katastrophe. My favorite part of NYC Pride weekend, at Stonewall. It was a precious and incredible event.

I went away on the beach sojourn I mentioned in my last entry! It was awesome, calming and amazing. One night away and two long cloudy days on the beach in awe of the beauty held in gray skies and gray water, the miracle of shells. The sweetness of a shih tzu.

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It has been a few months since I’ve updated the Queer Lexicography!

Gay Stamina Month:
So many people resonated with my declaration of Gay Stamina Month I thought I should include it formally in the additions to the queer lexicography. Gay Pride Month! How incredible that a rebellion in a bar in the late 60s would turn into a non-stop hustle of events for all homosexuals? They run the gamut from family pride picnics to insane nightlife celebrations. It takes a lot of stamina to stay that excited and go to that many events and yet people really seem to do it.

“Ironically I decided to take a break from Gay Stamina Month at Cherry Grove on Fire Island, where everything is so gay the bar at my poolside hotel room played ‘We Are Family’ on the hour, every hour.”

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Me and my former roommate Blaney! Photo by Amos Mac for Rebel Cupcake.

My friend Taylor Black is causing a hullaballoo at the new website PrettyQueer.com because of his harsh critique of Brooklyn nightlife. I have some thoughts on his entry in an upcoming post.

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But that said, I appreciate Taylor as a friend and co-creator and he brought me this incredible Gay Pride quote in honor of the season.

“I don’t think you can really be proud of being gay because it isn’t something you’ve done. You can only be proud of not being ashamed.”–Quentin Crisp

That is exactly it! Anyone in a marginalized identity has to work so hard to love themselves. It’s really being proud of overcoming the shame of a society that makes it really difficult to love yourself no matter who you are, but especially for who you are attracted to.

In the spirit of celebration of gayness, let’s add to the lexicography about sex! One of my favorite parts of being gay is having sex that celebrates the body and all it is capable of.

Sex Tornado: You know how when you have a sexy romp and it goes on for hours and sometimes it lands in multiple rooms? Like the couch cushions are on the floor, there’s sex ephemera everywhere (bottles of lube, toys, wrappers), clothes crumpled places, the bed blankets are on the floor, etc? And you go to the bathroom or leave your hotel room and come back and realize it is beyond obvious what has happened. It needed a name.

“I just got done cleaning up the sex tornado. I think we are due for another storm tomorrow night.”

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Fuck Knot: Glenn Marla introduced me to this term. It’s a good one, and it happened when we were teasing someone who was taking a break from a laycation in process who we noted was sporting a giant tangle in the back of her hair. It’s a thing, it happens. It’s really funny.

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Straight hair is more likely to develop a fuck knot, says Glenn Marla. This is Leslie and me (she is straight) at Mackenzi’s store.

Sex Isle: This is a derivative of sexile, which, according to Urban Dictionary means to be kicked out of your apartment so your roommate can have sex. However, I think the other side of that is part of the Sex Isle and is clearly more fun. Also, Sex Isle is a derivative of Love Island, where you disappear to when your lover is in town or you go on laycation with someone with whom you share romantic feelings.

“I have been on Sex Isle all week and I keep combing fuck knots out of my hair.”

As an aside, I have a different straight friend with a great coping mechanism to the soul-suckage rejection machine of online dating. When she goes onto her website of choice to check her responses she sings a theme song. And when she gets a particularly fun response she reads it aloud. It helps to make it a bit of a game.

Thanks to everyone who reached out after my last post about Cheryl’s passing. My friend Kelli stayed at her bedside literally 24/7 for months. If you are able to donate to the WTF Love Fund to help Kelli’s ability to pay bills you can donate at this website.

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