Natash EffortlezA queer tomboy’s reflections on androgynous style.

For me androgyny, it all started at a young age. I can remember, as a child, asking my mother if I could have some of my older cousin Damien’s hand-me-downs. What kid ASKS for hand-me-downs? Well, a kid who wanted to wear boys’ athletic pieces; that’s who. My mom was always reasonable about buying me clothes I wanted and liked. I didn’t know how to come out and ask for boys’ clothes.

Being the forever-pleasing parent, my mom followed through and gave me some of Damien’s clothes. I’m not sure why because there wasn’t a chance they would fit. Damien was tall and slim, built like a sculpted Olympian – the kind of kid with a six-pack at age 6. We were about as opposite as could be. He had white blond hair and a dark tan. I was much shorter, had freckles and was soft around the edges. So when I put on his clothes, nothing I could manage to get on looked right. It pulled in the hip, I walked on the pant legs, and the crotch sagged, only not in a cool ’90s hip-hop vibe.

By high school, I’d figured I needed a better fit if I could make this work.

My mom’s youngest brother Johnny was still at home, and I was always with my grandparents. My friends lived in their neighbourhood, so after school, I’d often head over to spend evenings there. I’d help with chores, sit on some curb with my friends incoherently laughing about stuff tween girls laugh about, and finish my night falling asleep watching sitcoms with my grandma. While watching sitcoms, my grandma always asked, “What will you wear tomorrow? Want me to wash your clothes?” This was my opportunity. I’d practically tell her, “No, it’s OK. I can just wear something of Johnny’s. Besides, I can’t wear the same thing twice in a row to school.” She’d say, “OK,” and I’d sleep buzzing about picking out an outfit in the morning.

I loved wearing Johnny’s clothes. He was so fashionable. It was the mid-’90s, and he had the widest selection of everything that was on-trend. He had every colour of waffle shirt you could imagine: Wine, charcoal, olive, and fantastic vests to finish them with. There were flannel shirts and a collection of concert tees to die for. Although Johnny’s clothes were a bit big, I felt more comfortable in them than anything else. They hid my newly changing body and didn’t hug my figure or make me feel constricted like some skorts and sweaters in my wardrobe. I just felt more at ease and confident in men’s clothes.

I didn’t know then that I was queer (or rather, I hadn’t thought it relevant enough to admit). Identity issues didn’t complicate my clothing choices and preferences. I knew what it was to be a female. I just didn’t get what that meant for me in terms of my aesthetic. While my friends were effortlessly feminine and revelled in bikinis and make-up, I awkwardly experimented with burgundy lipstick and swam in a t-shirt over my bathing suit. I almost always felt awkward. I wanted to wear comfortable men’s style clothing, but I also wanted to wear eyeliner, tell secrets and be considered pretty.

Thank god for grunge. It was my saving grace. It was plaid shirts, boyfriend jeans, concert tees and khakis. Between that and soccer uniforms, my high school years were saved. I was comfortable, walked with my easy spirit and got to be socially accepted while doing so. Thank fuck, because high school had the potential to be a ride for a lesbian in a small town. Lucky for me, my thrift store vintage jackets had me accused of being stylish once or twice and not queer. High school was an exciting Epoque of hat-wearing for me. I experimented a lot with fashion. There were many failures, but I learned they usually came when trying to be something I wasn’t, like ‘busty’ or into platforms. I knew up-do’s and semi-formal dresses made me feel awkward and overdone, but I was ‘OK’ with a prom queen nomination. I was introduced to who I thought I was outwardly and fell in deeply love with androgyny – the one who understood me.

Today, not much has changed with my relationship with fashion, other than I dress more for myself now than ever. I feel less pressure to experiment with things to fit in or be on-trend. I know what I like, and I know what works for me.

I stick to a few basic rules for myself:

  1. Is this comfortable.?
  2. Does it feel natural?
  3. Do I feel confident?

As much as I love fashion, I try not to get too caught up in trends that aren’t ‘me.’ Sure I love crop tops and high-waisted jeans! Boy, do I! But I’m not a crop top and high-waisted jeans kind of girl. I like my jeans low and loose on the hip with a skinny legs. So, that’s what I wear.

‘Androgyny’ may be popularly understood as a trend currently transforming the fashion industry. But what is really is an identity and a way of life. The fashion industry is only mimicking and selling the lifestyle of a group of people who don’t fit into their polarised binary of men’s and women’s fashions. It’s not about becoming the most androgynous person who has ever lived to be fashionable. Being who we are, bravely when it wasn’t popular, is what made androgyny fashionable. Being who we are is what continues to liberate us. Image is nothing; the thirst is everything. That’s why I love androgyny because it is us. In loving androgyny, we are learning to love ourselves.