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Dressing gay: fashion for sexuality and self-expression

It’s LGBTQIA+ history month so let’s reflect on Fashion + Sexuality and dive into some personal experiences of how fashion has been instrumental in self-expression and self-acceptance.

Fashion as a tool for expression, not definition

It seems fitting that I write this piece on the anniversary of the late, great David Bowie’s death. A trailblazer in both music and fashion, he was someone who didn’t let his fashion choices define his sexuality at all. Instead he saw what he wore as a true expression of who he was, and nothing more.

As a queer person, I’m a firm believer that the only thing that can define our sexuality is us. However, for me personally and for people all over the world, our fashion choices play a huge role in how we express ourselves. It’s a way to show people who we truly are and who we truly want to be.

My fashion and sexuality story

I’d say that my relationship with fashion precedes my understanding of sexuality altogether. I vividly remember when I was eight years old my dad taking me to JJB Sports and Sports Direct to buy all of my clothes. It really didn’t matter much to him that I wanted to wear what I perceived as trendy, because, well, why would an 8-year-old boy care so much about what he wore?

Once I started high school my parents allowed me some autonomy over the clothes that I chose to wear (partly because they didn’t have much choice and partly because I found ways to do it anyway). It’s safe to say that I went crazy. I started to wear the brightest, most colourful shirts I could find, adorned with novelty neon ties, scarves, hats, truly wild trainers and boots. It’s almost as if I was trying to make up for all that lost time.

I can understand now my parent’s anxiety to let me pick out my own clothes, and their hesitation when I finally did. As with many queer kids, their parents often know before even they do. My parents have always been the most accepting and provided me with a safe and secure environment at home. But what happens beyond that front door they have absolutely no control over. They did it to keep me safe and that is something I can appreciate and understand.

Expressing my sexuality through fashion

Hearing ‘gay boy’ and ‘batty boy’ hurled at me from across the street wasn’t easy, but I didn’t care because I felt authentic for the first time in my life. Being physically attacked purely because I dressed ‘gay’ certainly wasn’t easy, but I knew even at that young age that this is who I was and who I needed to be. There was no point trying to change that.

My wild fashion days quickly dissipated as I became more interested in trends, fashion magazines, and how I could incorporate my own personal style in a way that I loved but other people would appreciate too.

Now, at 24 years old, I know who I am and who I want to present myself as to the world. I can say unequivocally that I wouldn’t have gotten to this place of self-acceptance and self-love if I hadn’t been sneakily borrowing my mum’s leather jackets as a teenager.

Breaking down the boundaries

I was raised, like so many of us, to understand that women’s clothes are for women, and men’s clothes are for men. But that was always something that never sat right with me.

My sister favoured football shirts and tracksuit bottoms over dresses and heels. She didn’t give much of thought as to what she wore on the day-to-day, yet this didn’t seem to bother too many people.

Whereas my decision to wear flamboyant clothes seemed to have the opposite effect. It was hard to understand why this was an issue as a 13-year-old, but retrospect is a wonderful thing and it’s clear that my defiance of the hegemonic masculine ideal obviously rattled a few cages.

LGBTQIA Gamechangers to be celebrated

We’re lucky enough to live in an age now where the boundaries aren’t so strict, and in many cases, the breaking of these boundaries is celebrated. Men are seeing success all over the world as make-up artists, with role models like Manny MUA, Patrick Starr and James Charles. Little boys everywhere are breaking free from their restricting expectations.

Non-binary and trans folks are finally beginning to feel comfortable enough to express themselves and be authentic. The Trevor Project study revealed that 1.8% of youth in America identify as Transgender, more than double the previous estimate of 0.7%.

Jonathan Van Ness became the first-ever non-female identifying person to grace the cover of Cosmopolitan in 35 years. Women are finally breaking free from the ever restricting and impossible standards of beauty that have been forced upon them for decades. Designers like Christian Siriano including plus-size models on his runway shows.

There’s been a lot of progress although there’s still a long way to go before we reap the benefits of real equality.

Wearing our pride

We’ve been fed the narrative for years that what you choose to put on your body defines who you are, but I don’t believe this is true for all people. Sure, most of us have the autonomy to pick out our own clothes, to decide what we want to put on in the morning but on days where I decide to wear a tracksuit and some Nike trainers, it does not mean I define myself as straight that day, it just means I want to be comfortable and am not in the mood to attract any attention.

We can’t forget, though, that fashion plays an instrumental role in our personal progression and showing pride in that growth. I can look back on some of my more questionable fashion choices and know that without wearing those clothes, I would never feel as comfortable as I do now.

Nowadays, I will happily walk over to the women’s section and try on some coats or shoes. This is something I never would have done had I not developed the pride I have for my queerness, making me feel eager to show it off through what I wear.

Fashion has taught so many of us in the community to be proud of ourselves. Through LGBTQIA+ flag paraphernalia, leather, and the freedom to wear whatever makes us most comfortable in a way that reflects our identities.

So while you and only you can define who you are, I for one am grateful to fashion as a mode of expression, and for guiding me towards who I’m supposed to be.


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