Freshly out to myself, my friends, and my family, I found myself wishing I didn’t straight-pass to acquaintances who didn’t get the Facebook announcement. (Start at Part 1).
I worked at a buffet dining hall during college, where the university paid for two meals a week to their dining employees. I often cashed this benefit out at my workplace, where I could sit between classes for an hour or two and eat several meals for the price of one. I had plenty of work friends there, all of whom usually only saw me with black slacks, a Crayola blue campus dining shirt, and my hair tied and tucked under a campus dining baseball cap. All notable because, at the time, I’d been very convinced people could read my identity based on what I wore. So, by this reasoning, not a single person I worked with could tell I was gay by looking at me because we all wore the same standard-issued uniform.
My outfits became gayer and gayer, and I distinctly remember coming into the buffet hall for lunch wearing a blue flannel with a brown Guinness baseball cap (backwards, of course). One of the boys I worked with saw me stacking my dishes on the conveyor belt. Woah, he said. Aren’t you cool. He had a huge smile and glistening eyes, and it’d been one of the few times I could tell that I impressed a boy with the way I looked. Flattered and annoyed, I wondered when a girl might do the same. It took some time.
I still wore a lot of my boldly patterned pants, which I often paired with a gray short-sleeve button up (sleeves cuffed, always). Not sure what it was about this outfit, but it almost always caught someone’s attention. I spent a weekend visiting my best friend from high school while she lived in Ann Arbor, and a snap she sent out of me in her living room peaked the interested of a few (boys, tragically). I wore the same shirt to the library café to meet up with a new roommate before she signed the lease, when a boy tapped my shoulder on my way out, asking if we could exchange numbers. I told him I had a girlfriend and tacked on a small apology. The boy looked shy despite the bold move. I felt a little bad for him even though I reveled in the power of letting a boy down with the news that girls are better. A few similar scenarios occurred wearing the same shirt.
I wore that shirt and some brightly colored floral pants to an amateur drag show that my campus hosted. I knew the queer to straight ratio would be forgiving for once in my life, and looking the part for my side of the equation had been high up on the priority list. It paid off.
A girl from one of my writing classes was there, and she knew someone I went to the show with. We didn’t have class together anymore, but I remember her for being about as shy as me, for her round glasses and backwards caps, and for submitting the only story with gay characters in it. We hardly talked in class, but she said hi to me when she saw me. I love your outfit, she’d told me, which I interpreted as: I love that you’re gay too.
After that nugget of visibility, I just kept wanting it more and more. I bought more short sleeved button ups from resale shops even when they were uncomfortable and didn’t fit very well. I’d wear them once or twice and donate them again. I wore high top shoes a lot and always cuffed my sleeves. I sported a snapback in the spring and still stuck to practical wooly hats in the cold. My hair still needed covering because I was still too lazy to handle it most days. As far as I was concerned, my style screamed gay, but I still couldn’t be sure if anyone else noticed.
I had a friend in my film program who shared several classes with me throughout the week. He was gay and would talk about his boyfriend sometimes. I talked about going to England, though I never told him I was going to see my girlfriend (for the first time). Even with gays, it was still hard to make that hurdle. The I-fell-in-love-over-the-internet hurdle. So, I never told him then. Never told him I was gay either. Just hoped my style was speaking when I wasn’t.
Film students are quirky and annoying. We all want to be special and we all play the protagonist to make ourselves that way. I suppose this desperation and laidback, yet shy attitude formed the base of the character I built. I came into class in the studio, taking off my jacket and sitting down as we waited for the professor to show up. My friend always beat me to class. I settled in with brightly colored patterned leggings and a gray champion-like pullover. Your outfits are so confusing, he said. I thought visibility nugget part 2 was on its way out of his mouth. Your patterns are on the bottom and solids on the top. Normally people have those flip-flopped. We laughed, I prided myself on being quirky, and sulked about the lack of a response that said something like: A straight person wouldn’t wear that.
And after that, the gay outfits got even louder.