Butch Please: Butch Works It

BUTCH PLEASE is all about a butch and her adventures in queer masculinity, with dabblings in such topics as gender roles, boy briefs, and aftershave.

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There are three interview outfits in my closet.

The first outfit is a black suit from the mens department at H&M. I pair it with my favorite skinny tie. I purchased it in parts because I couldn’t afford to buy it at once, so none of the parts were technically meant to go together. On my body, they do. I credit my strange knack for making my wholes from odd ends.

The second outfit is a dark blue blazer and pressed shirt, but the blazer is cut for a lady and would probably look nice with gold jewelry. I keep reminding myself to pick up earrings or a necklace when I have the money to shop for clothing. I never remember, because trying to shop for jewelry feels like trying to finish a conversation with a version of myself from five years ago, and I wasn’t very talkative that year.

The third outfit is a dress. I’ve never tried it on, not even in a dressing room. It’s there as a kind of emergency switch, a fire extinguisher, a hazmat sut. In case of very desperate times, break glass.

I went for the second choice on my latest interview. I took out my single earring so this time the interviewer wouldn’t touch my shoulder as I was leaving her office and ask me if I’d lost an earring. No, I didn’t say, I like wearing a single earring because I’m fascinated with the kind of nineties teen heartthrob masculinity that I was socialized to adore, and I like all the ways it allows me to play with a certain kind of vulnerability in my gender expression. Instead, I said absolutely nothing, smiled, and didn’t get the job.

For this interview, I wore a pair of Oxfords from Target. Women’s shoes, with bright pink soles. My mother paid for them out of sheer excitement that she could buy me something from the women’s department and know I’d actually wear it. Unfortunately, the pricetag and the pink soles should have tipped us both off. I was mentally cursing like a sailor as I limped up and down Market Street. The soles of those shoes were soft plastic and my toenail was so pinched that I’d later learn it had turned black and fallen off. When I finally found the elevator and let my foot rest, I expelled a stream of expletives that would curl my grandmother’s ears, and I can tell you that my grandmother had no trouble expressing herself when needed. I have fond memories of being picked up from school, and Grandma hissing “Cover your eyes, baby” while she flipped off the car she was cutting off in an illegal turn. I try to call on her spitfire nature in moments like interviews , but she’s a pretty monumental spirit to summon.

Despite a noticeable limp, I thought things were going pretty well. I typically enjoy things like interviews: I’m a Leo and an ENFP, if any of those things matter to anyone else, and as a result, my people skills can outweigh my anxiety when needed. I was smiling, nodding, taking notes to show that I was serious about the position. I was asking all the questions I’ve become practiced in asking, the ones that show I’m paying attention and interested in doing the best job possible. After a while, though, I noticed that the interviewer wasn’t making eye contact with me. She was making eye contact with my hair.

Let me talk about my hair for a hot second. I have a lot of it. When I was little, there was even more of it, and my dad learned to braid so I could wear it in a form more fitting for the kindergartner who couldn’t give less of a shit about brushing her hair. This trend continued until I cut it all off four years ago, when a magical transformation occurred. I became an utter and complete diva about my hair. My morning hair routine is a half hour at the very least, with that time often stretching into an hour or two if I’m going for something particularly difficult. I blow it out, wax it up, and treat it like my baby. I take great pride in my ‘do not only because it is my singular point of vanity, but because it communicates more than a few things about my gender and sexuality. Perhaps our world is a shallow place because we tend to assume things based on haircuts and jeans fit, but I’ve grown to a state where I don’t mind my hair doing the introductions for me. In this case, though, my hair seemed to be talking over me at a high and frightening volume.

I continued to make intense eye contact with my interviewer, concentrating to the point of not blinking. I probably looked ridiculous. To her credit, she did sometimes look down, but it was usually to take in my tie, skipping my face altogether. By the time the interview was over, my eyelids were dryer than a desert. A handshake, another in a series of once-overs, and then I was directed back to the elevator.

I did not get the job.

As you have probably guessed, I am currently in the business of trying to work for a business. By business, I mean any entity that will pay me in a semi-steady amount to cover my rent, student loans, and the other expenses I have factored into a Google document budget that is permanently open in my tabs. I’m lucky to live in a city where being poor is not necessarily a death sentence, but a kind of camaraderie that makes me feel like all of our hunched shoulders on the trolley are a garden bed rather than a cemetery.

Philly is cheap, cheaper than Boston and New York certainly, cheaper than the places I could never live because the amount of money in my bank account wouldn’t last long enough to keep me fed or under a roof. I have heard many critiques of this city, and I’m the first to admit that some of those critiques hold water. The thing is that the rest of those critiques seem to be about how Philly is “ugly” or “dirty”, and I get a bit defensive. See, it’s the dirt and rust that I like best. There’s a way in which the rough edges of Philadelphia are close cousins to the sagging barns and abandoned hunting camps I built forts in as a kid. I grew up next to a stream that acted as the town dump in the twenties and thirties, and the beauties we dredged out of there every summer solidified in me a desperate ache for broken glass and imperfect shapes. What I’ve found in life is that I don’t trust anything or anyone without visible cracks.

So maybe it’s strange of me to go into interviews with all my cracks patched or hidden under layers of very uncomfortable clothing. Strange of me to consider my queerness one of those cracks, but I strongly believe that cracks are where the light gets in and the light shines out, and my queerness is the source of both.

I don’t need to tell you about the economy, that doors are closed to a lot of people for a lot of reasons, and the way our society works in regards to who gets opportunities, who gets money, who gets the jobs and holds the power is a system that infuriates me like nothing else. Being a gay person trying to survive in this society means that your existence doesn’t really follow the rules of society to begin with, so that whole survival thing? It can get a little complicated.

I don’t think there’s a single queer person who hasn’t struggled with their identity at the workplace. Figuring out if it’s safe to come out to bosses and coworkers; wondering if you’re supposed to call out homophobic jokes at work of if you need to silently tolerate so no one figures it out; deciding if you can be upfront during an interview or if you need to hide yourself to get the job: all valid and common experiences of a homo at work. I’ve always been Machiavellian about these things, since the ends (getting paid, being able to survive) justify the means (having to hide or tone down my identity, compromising my integrity) to me, but I acknowledge that it’s still a constant and complicated struggle.

The thing is that I’m on my fortieth job application. A few interviews have come out of those applications, but not many. I’ve received feedback that says I’m overqualified, underqualified, or lack the years of experience they’re looking for at their company. They sometimes mention that if I’d like, I can apply for their internship like the other college grads, but I’m not sure why so many employers think that an unpaid full-time internship is something all college grads can afford. Yes, I have certain privileges for which I consider myself extremely lucky, like a college degree and a current roof over my head, and by no means am I arguing that my lack of a job is simply because I am gay. I am saying that queerness and the workplace intersect in distinct ways, and the process of entering the workplace itself has proven to have a volatile relationship with my self-expression.

I’ve reached a point where my faithfulness to my identity no longer feels unfailing, but something I know I might have to put aside to survive. Do I want to work in a place where my butchness won’t be accepted? Under most circumstances, no, but I feel that I don’t have the luxury of that choice anymore. I worked in the tourism industry for six years; I know how to take shit treatment with a smile so there’s a tip attached. The final outfit in my closet starts to look like a viable option.

What are we willing to compromise to get what we need? As a masculine person with their own body issues, I joke that it would take apocalyptic circumstances to get me into a dress. The funny thing is that the world is supposed to end in another week, and I’m going to need a job by then.

I met up with Jaie the other day, a wonderful fellow butch who I met through this column and who coincidentally lives a few blocks from me. We were talking about our recent adventures in the world of employment, and she mentioned having to borrow pearls and a woman’s suit to wear to a job interview, despite being a good old-fashioned masculine-presenting butch. It made me think of all the times I and other butches I know have “borrowed pearls” to get jobs, to avoid harassment, to slip through a crack in the system. We’ve patched up the things that otherwise define us, the identities we’ve given life and limb to protect and preserve. A necessary sacrifice, maybe, but a tough one nonetheless.

I’m proud of us for all the pearls we’ve borrowed. I’m proud of everyone I know who’s shuddered their way into a dress, or flinched in an outfit that would put food on the table. I hope you’re proud of your borrowed pearls, too.


Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

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Hard-lovin' butch made of tears, sweat, and spit, in that order. Professional lonesome polecat. Kate is living proof that you can take the hillperson out of the mountains, but she's still probably going to run back to the mountains anyway. Kate prefers the trashy to the classy, and the tender to everything else. Full-time writer, part-time lover. Heart got so big and soggy that she had to cut off all her sleeves.

Kate has written 124 articles for us.

95 Comments

  1. Thumb up 7

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    How is it that every time, there is a Butch Please article it pertains to my life at that exact moment? You have a gift. A strangely intruding gift, but a gift none-the-less. :]
    Anywho, I can’t tell you how much I’ve compromised my gender identity/sexuality representation for an opportunity at a job over the last couple months. Apparently, it’s not enough because I still don’t have one. But it does make me wonder how far I’m willing to go? Does it feel like lying to anyone else? Like I’m betraying myself in order to fit the system?
    Gah, economy=suck. society=suck. Things better turn around soon, I’m getting tired of eating ramen noodles.

    • Thumb up 3

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      This is at a perfect time for my life as well! I am starting interviews for the first time ever as a research assistant, and I always want to wear my suit with a nice tie to interviews. I keep being told by advisers and associates that my outfit isn’t “business casual” for a ‘lady’. I feel like I’m lying in these clothes and in the interview.

  2. Thumb up 7

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    Although I’m (kinda) feminine presenting, this hit really close to home for me. I work in a very conservative office, and as far as I know I’m the only openly queer person there. (Although there’s another lady I’ve got my theories about, but that’s another story.) No one’s explicitly shitty to me, which I’m very grateful for, but it does get tiring dealing with all the little microaggressions that come from working with a bunch of clueless straight people.

  3. Thumb up 5

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    Oh, this is totally what I needed right now. I recently interviewed for (and got!) a job where I had to dress up for the interview- the first time I’ve ever seriously dressed for an interview. I felt like a little kid dressing up in her mother’s clothes. Seriously, heels are not even close to my thing.

    I really, really, really wanted the job- it’s a great one, with a great organization that I feel honored to say that I’ll be working for. But I know that taking the job, with the relocation to a red state, means putting myself back in the closet at work for two years.

    I’ve been struggling with this- am I selling out on my community? What about all my activism? Does this mean I’m lying to the people I work with? I don’t know. But you know what? The compromise, for this killer awesome job, is worth it. It just is. I “borrowed pearls” to get the job, and I’ll be wearing them to keep it. And in two years, I can give the necklace back and it will all have been worth it.

    • Thumb up 3

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      I find your conversation very interesting. Am a butch woman myself and have been out since the age of six. :) Grew up with a very strong sense of self thanks to my grandmother who bought me, upon my request, at that age a pair of boys’ shorts and shirt. Here in South Africa we have a very progressive constitution protecting the rights of gay and lesbian people. That is in writing of course as in the Black community here a very strong male culture pervades and several Black lesbians have been raped and murdered for being visible in the community. There is a thing amongst the black male community called “corrective rape”. There is a strong group of activist and has always being having roots in the anti-apartheid movement. Yes, I also wish for a time in the world when this pervasive spirit of heteronormativity will be broken for ever. It is hurtful to never see yourself reflected in images in society, through the media and advertising except in gay and lesbian publications and magazines. This also adds to ignorance amongst straight society and not allowing for expression through dress style in corporate environments. Being a follower of high fashion and a lover of quality textiles and design one does find a way around these constrictions in the corporate jungle. I wear brogues and men’s pants and shirts – if one oculd afford it a bespoke tailored shirt and pants – there were some beautiful ones on this site earlier on. Paired with a thin,genuine leather belt low cut pants and exquisite tailored shirt and maybe shoes from Fluevog… Beautiful though – the borrowed pearls. Love.

  4. Thumb up 1

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    I really needed this. I am a pretty femme baby queer, but I’ve been involved in queer organizing since High School, and my resume shows that. When I went to career services, they said “oh honey, that’s fine.” And I want to live in a world where it shouldn’t and doesn’t matter, but I’m 22, I have a massive amount of debt and I needs a job to pay off these degrees.

    How do you other Autostraddlers deal? What about if you live in a conservative city? I’m all about change from the inside, but how can you get there if they won’t even let you in to interview?

  5. Thumb up 4

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    I think its a really interesting idea to take pride in “borrowing pearls” I always feel ashamed like I’m compromising myself rather when I should be taking a stand. (see: butch dyke wearing a pushup bra so boys will think she’s pretty and dance with her and her friends wont be embarrassed to have the awkward lesbian in their dancing circle)

  6. Thumb up 2

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    Oh god, the FEELINGS. I’m currently living (struggling) on my own in the city working for minimum wage because I could not find a real job to save my life. And now the loans are coming due and wow the stress. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

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    I feel this so much, kind of on the oppositish end of the spectrum. I’m a trans girl and I’m pretty obviously so. That’s not me being down on myself. It’s just a truthfact. And, I’m totally fine with it for myself. I like how I look! I’m an artist, so I’ve gotten away with it for a while. I’m expected to be weird and stand out. *BUT* the whole art thing isn’t paying the bills so well at this point. So, I’ve been looking for employment, and it has not been going well.

    I don’t have the money at this point to get to where I can try to go stealth or whatnot, and if I did, I would probably just use it on alcohol and fun instruments (and wouldn’t need a job! Yay!). So, I’m afraid I’m going to have to listen to what my mother has been telling me for months and butch it up to make money. On one hand, it feels really slimy and gross. Plus, I look fucking silly in a suit – like I just stepped out of a music video from 1987, which, sure, is totally rad, but makes it pretty hard to feel professional. But, on the other hand, maybe I could have fun with it and just pretend I’m like a ninja or a spy or something and take all of the monies from the Capitalists.

    Except, I’m not cutting my hair. This is not negotiable. It takes too damn long to grow.

  8. Thumb up 3

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    This hits home for me, too. While I don’t identify as butch, I am more masculine-leaning (though I often get told that I don’t give off gay vibes, another story of its own. So frustrating. Sometimes I’m signifying so hard, and I’m like IS MY HAIR NOT GAY ENOUGH FOR YOU? WHYY). Anyway, recently I had a job interview and freaked out because I had nothing to wear. My fashion-savvy friend and I ended up going shopping and getting me suit stuff: it was liberating because up until then, I had interviewed in more femme-y things. I felt like a million bucks that day, and it seemed to work in favor (ugh we’ll see). For the first time ever, I was totally out for an interview and felt comfortable and confident in my gender expression. So I guess there’s that.

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      I hear you. I don’t identify as either butch or femme but wander around comfortably in jeans and tshirts most days, and can navigate business wear alright, but formal wear stumps me — I don’t want to go the mega-feminine route of heels, makeup and dresses, but neither do I want to wear stuff from the men’s section. My solution so far is dresses with necklines which look stolen from dress-shirts.

      My only difficulties with stuff in the work place is wearing makeup. I haven’t worn it for years and am highly reluctant to buy it and wear it for a job. I’m still a student, so I have some time, but I did an internship this year and it felt weird to be the only woman on the floor not wearing any.

      • Thumb up 1

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        Ahhh I relate to this so hard! My uniform outside of work is jeans and flannel (I read kind of femme of center, I think) and I have NO idea how to dress formally for work! I’m with you on the not wanting to wear stuff from the men’s section thing, but dresses and skirts make me so uncomfortable, and I feel like that shows. Dress pants (from the women’s section) and button-downs have been ok so far, but I still end up feeling like I’m in costume a lot of the time.

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        I identify as FOC, but I haven’t been into wearing make-up in years. I feel like I wore make-up as a mask and when I didn’t desire it anymore, it was a relief. The expectation for women to wear make-up in professional settings is burdensome and I hope that those of us who don’t enjoy wearing it can push back. *I don’t judge those who enjoy make-up, I just hope that there is a shift from it being a normed expectation for all of us. Being make-up free isn’t messy, unkempt, or unprofessional, but I feel that it is sometimes perceived as such :-/

        In summary, my vote is to push back against the expectation!

  9. Thumb up 4

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    As much flack as the advertising industry gets, I’ve never felt the need to be less me in it.

    Once I made the choice to go into it, I started presenting myself however I wanted to, with much less concern about it ruffling anyone’s plumage.

    While I don’t self identify as butch, the mohawk, suspenders, and rare appearance of makeup probably keep me from reading as straight anyway.

    Very interesting post.

  10. Thumb up 1

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    I’m someone who enjoys wearing dresses sometimes, and I’ve still had a hell of a time navigating business wear. Fortunately, I’ve typically had jobs where it barely matters how I dress, but during one transition period I was definitely told by my new boss that I needed to “go to Marshall’s, get yourself some nice slacks, a blazer.” Which means now I have a portion of my wardrobe that I never wear, sort of old-ladyish stuff that fits poorly because I just wanted to get it out of the way rather than sink time into buying clothes I’d hate no matter what. And as an office temp I’ve certainly caught bosses giving my outfits the side-eye. It’s partly a laziness thing and partly an I-ride-my-bike-to-work thing, but it is also partly a femininity thing. When I dress in a more feminine fashion I’m kind of more dressing like a little girl kid than a Serious Grown Woman still — I don’t really own makeup or jewelry or hair products, which seem to be necessary signifiers. Hurray for the no-dress-code job I have now!

  11. Thumb up 1

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    This resonates with me so much right now. I don’t consider myself butch, but I’m definitely masculine of center. I’m getting ready to embark on a new job search myself (some kind of office/ general business job) and have been struggling with what to wear, how potential employers will feel about the men’s wear clothing I’m most comfortable in, etc. One already has nerves or anxiety going into an interview, wearing something you don’t feel comfortable makes you come across as awkward, and that’s obviously no good in an interview.

    Thanks for sharing and good luck with finding a job!

  12. Thumb up 2

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    thanks for this. your hair is tops and I’m sorry you feel like you have to compromise who you are to be employable.

    for me this was an interesting read because I initially reacted against it, I think because lawyers tend to dress quite conservatively and so my mind codes skinny ties and big hair as ‘inappropriate’ interview wear in the same way that a hot pink silk blouse is also ‘inappropriate’. and then I checked myself. I realised it was unfair that professional dress forces people to present themselves in ways that are totally different to who they know themselves to be. and there’s no reason for it either. so thank you for the mind-expanding read.

    my usual strategy is to dress really conservatively (dark suit, button down, black shoes) for interviews and then bust out the more “me” clothes on the second day of work. not sure if that’s something you feel you would be comfortable with (or is affordable for you).

    • Thumb up 5

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      As another lawyer, I wanted to agree with both of your comments–first, I had the same initial reaction to this article, and then I was irritated with myself for being narrow-minded.

      On the other hand, if someone wants to work in a law firm (even my liberal, do-gooder law firm), the unfortunate reality is that they’re going to have to show that they can conform to “professional” standards to get the job. At least for interviews, this means a conservatively cut suit in a dark color (preferably black). In my experience, people don’t care if women in the legal profession wear mens’ clothes as long as those clothes are sufficiently boring looking.

      I conformed my work clothes to what everyone expected for the first year of my job, and by now wear whatever I want when I don’t have clients in the office. Basically, my colleagues now trust that I know what’s “appropriate” for different situations, and they don’t really care about the rest. It’s unfortunate, but because clients have certain expectations of their lawyers (including that their lawyers and anyone working with lawyers dress like opposing counsels’ lawyers and staff), this ultimately affects the firm’s profits. People hire lawyers when they’re looking for a predictable outcome, and clothes are seen as reflective of whether the lawyer/firm can play the same game as their opponents, regardless of personal beliefs. Again, it’s all unfair, but it seems to be the reality.

      And this probably sounds really cheesy, but it really does get better in the workplace (or at least some workplaces) once you’ve been there a little while. I’m the only lesbian (or seemingly LGBTQ) person in my entire 50-person law firm, and while I hated being in the closet for the first year, I’m now a member of several hiring committees, and am the informal educator on why my colleagues need to be sensitive to gender identity and all things LGBTQ. They’ve all met my girlfriend and are very supportive of us, so I think it’s sometimes just a question of getting a foot in the door and proving that you’re good at what you do, and soon everyone stops seeing “differences”.

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        Wow, thanks so much from this comment, it was really good to hear from someone else in the legal profession. I don’t work for a firm, I work in federal government, so I don’t have external clients or deal with law firm culture which was why I found your comment such an interesting read. I’m glad your experience of being an out LGTBQ person at work has been positive!!

        I just bumped into my old boss who was wearing purple pinstripes and a purple polka dot tie, with a stack of piercings, so it would seem that government culture is a little… ahem… different to life in a firm. What with being young and female and at the bottom of the ladder and all I’m a lot more conservative.

        I’ve been thinking about this post and prevaricating a little. I suppose it depends on the industry the writer has chosen. If she picked a conservative profession like law or accounting, then the interviewer’s stare might have less to do with homophobia and more to do with needing to be able to conform to a company image. If it’s a career where dress codes are less formal and offer workers more choice, then something messed up might be afoot. Bearing in mind that even more casual workplaces will often still expect that you suit up and slick your hair back on interview day.

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      This whole thing is confirming my theory that law is full of gays. As a law student and fairly butch presenting (or at least I try, I’m fairly fragile looking so I don’t know how well that translates, different story for a different day) I am very worried about how I would have to dress in a conservative legal setting. When I was in high school, I was used to having to dress femme to please parents/fellow students but now that I’m in college and can dress as masculinely as I want all the time, I really don’t want to change back. Frankly, skirts and presenting more femininely just makes me want to cry most of the time.

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        Hey I have had this experience too! Gays aplenty and most people are gay friendly. The ones that aren’t keep quiet about it because they don’t want people to think badly of them.

        My old international law professor had a civil partnership ceremony the moment it became legal here. When walked into the lecture hall wearing a gold band on his wedding finger for the first time, he got thunderous applause from the students.

  13. Thumb up 3

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    And here I thought I was the only person ever to casually incorporate Meyers-Briggs typology into…well…anything. If it weren’t for this nice little online queer bubble, I’d also think I’m the only person in the world who is currently confused as fuck about what a “professional wardrobe” means for me. My life as an undergrad with a super relaxed campus job is quickly coming to an end. This means: final presentations; grad school interviews; graduation; internships; job interviews; and having absolutely no idea what I should and shouldn’t wear. I’m headed in the mental health counseling direction, which hopefully means people will be understanding of the fact that I haven’t owned a dress since I was four, but what if it doesn’t? I can’t wear a dress. Or a skirt or anything of the sort. Remember that one time Shane wore a dress? It’d be like that, except about twice as awkward. Too far in the other direction, and I’m an extremely well-dressed 14 year-old boy. All I want is some kind of a happy medium between looking like I’m dressed up for Halloween and old ladies asking, “Who’s this good lookin’ boy?” Of course, getting into school and getting jobs is important to me, but I don’t know how much of my self I could sacrifice to make that happen. After all, as an INFJ, I’m pretty concerned with how things fit into my own personal value system :)

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      “INFJ, I’m pretty concerned with how things fit into my own personal value system”

      INFJ over here too. I am forever doing this. Does chocolate ice cream fit in better with what I stand for in life or does vanilla? (chocolate apparently). We could start a club.

      As someone who has had counselling, I think your clients will benefit from you feeling comfortable and authentic when you meet with them.

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        Another INFJ here. Also going down the path of mental health, albeit at an older age. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve have always done unconsciously. Personal value system is very important to me.

        Also, moose tracks or cookies n’ cream fit in with what I stand for in life. I like to mix things up and keep them interesting. :)

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          my girlfriend is an INFJ who is getting her masters in social work and works in mental health right now!

          so i guess you guys are in the right field haha

          as an ENFP, i just want to go get my MFA and start a lot of artistic projects i’ll never finish

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            bahahahah I’m an ENFP too and I’m currently working on an MFA with a trail of unfinished artistic projects!

            Though I’m jealous that you’re able to still push through your people skills despite the anxiety. I’m the opposite :|

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      In general, the mental health field is more open to all types of peeps and gender presentations. I think it depends on what type of work that you do and, obviously, where you’re practicing. I say this as a femme therapist in California–so my view is obviously not the final say, but I have several queer colleagues who are definitely not read at straight (arg, a privilege for me, but still infuriating) and they’ve not had any issues with finding employment.

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    I don’t normally comment, but this is such a beautiful, well-written article that I just had to say it.

    Thank you for writing this.

    I’m young and in school and don’t need a job quite yet, but this is touching and relatable. Good luck.

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    I find it kind of disturbing that everyone just capitulates to words like “masculine” and “feminine” as if they don’t have deeply sexist and damaging meaning. It’s not “masculine” to wear comfortable shoes, short hair, or not to shave your body. “Masculine” and “feminine” are gender words and they reinforce stereotypes about men and women. By the way, I’ve worked in the legal profession for 20 years. Female lawyers (lesbian or straight) rarely, in my experience, face discimination for wearing non-gendered clothing. I also teach part time at a law school where the advise women to wear skirts to job interviews. This is total bullsh*t. What you wear makes very little difference, as long as you appear professional and put together.

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      where do you live? i’d love to live in a world where that was always 100% true. just like masculinity and femininity are on a spectrum, not on opposite sides of a false dichotomy, so it is true for “total bullshit” and “something real people actually have to face pretty often.” i think it’s really great that your profession allows for a wider variety of gender expression, but that is not even thinkable for some people in other professions. try being, for example, a masculine-presenting woman who teaches kindergarten in some place that isn’t a coastal city. you’re gonna get a lot of hard looks and a lot of distrust from parents. or a masculine administrative assistant, in some places. i identify aggressively as femme these days, but before that was true, i started painting my nails in order to appear more “professional” which, for some of the places i was applying, was synonymous with “feminine.” as a society we have perhaps begun to let go of our incredibly gendered ideas about who gets to work where but we have a long, long, long way to go.

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        Respectfully, Britt, masculinity and femininity are not really a “spectrum” but rather a hierarchy. Gender, as opposed to sex, is a set of stereotypes about how men and women supposedly dress and behave. These stereotypes are harmful to women. As Catharine MacKinnon says in Feminism Unmodified,

        “Gender is an inequality of power, a social status based on who is permitted to do what to whom.”

        When we use the words “masculine” and “feminine” we are referring to these stereotypes. We, as lesbians, should challenge these stereotypes. If I wear a pantsuit and comfortable shoes, forego makeup, etc, I AM feminine. Why? Because I am female! If we don’t challenge gender, we will captitulate to it and project it onto others. I believe when the career advisors tell women to wear skirts to job interviews they are projecting gender where it doesn’t belong! They are totally wrong. Basic conservative attire, whether it’s pants or a skirt, is what is required. I would never suggest that this is 100% true, but it’s true enough not to give advice that basically violates Title IV law. Maintaining a work environment where women have to wear dresses and act “feminine” is actionable sex discrimination.

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            Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble” may be a good place to go to begin to answer this question. Here’s a quote from it: “When the constructed status of gender is theorized as radically independent of sex, gender itself becomes a free-floating artifice, with the consequence that man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one.” Def worth a read.

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            ok but I don’t think that Butler quote actually goes to the heart of Shannon’s question. Yeah Butler is saying that masculinity / femininity are independent of sex, they are discourses that society encodes onto some bodies and not to others, but she’s def not saying there’s any essential truth to gender, any ‘real’ masculinity that can be claimed by male or female bodies. Gender is discourse.

            which brings us back to Shannon’s original point – that gender is hierarchical. Now it sounds like Shannon is coming at this from a different perspective to Butler, but gender for Butler is still a hierarchical discourse, masculine/feminine is dominant/subaltern, the masculine is privileged and the feminine subordinate. Which I think is probably why Shannon is being critical of this notion of female masculinity (feel free to chime in and tell me I’m misreading you, Shannon!). Because she thinks that when women describe attributes like strength, comfort, swagger, power, trousers, ties, signifiers as “masculine” we perpetuate a discourse of femininity that can’t encompass those things and therefore remains the inferior of masculinity.

            my own view is that I ain’t gonna stand in the way of people describing their existence in ways that seem authentic to them but that discourses of gender are laden with power and oppression and that anyone who wants to lay claim to masculinity, be they man or woman, needs to be aware of that.

            in Butler’s later book ‘Bodies That Matter’ she argues that biological sex itself is a social category. I thought that was pretty cool.

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            “Because she thinks that when women describe attributes like strength, comfort, swagger, power, trousers, ties, signifiers as “masculine” we perpetuate a discourse of femininity that can’t encompass those things and therefore remains the inferior of masculinity.” Exactly. When we describe those characteristics as “masculine,” we are affirming the hierarchy of gender. Women who reject high heels, thong panties, shaving, and makeup, are NOT masculine! They are natural. And awesome. Notions of “femininity” and “masculinity” are oppressive to women.

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            I don’t understand why we must either be masculine or feminine or why lesbians must either be butch or femme. I am a lesbian. I am a woman. I am neither masculine nor feminine. I am neither butch nor femme. The only way to be truly equal is to get rid of these dichotomies and just recognize that we are all just human!

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            I don’t think the answer is eradicating dichotomies or dismissing identities by saying we are all “just human.” There is beauty in our differences and our similarities. Butch/femme identities are not the enemy perpetuating inequality.

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          Feminist understanding of gender has evolved a lot since Catherine MacKinnon’s days… We obviously have a long way to go in untangling these things, because everything is a mix of biology and society, and all in the context of a super oppressive kyrarchy, but I think it’s pretty well accepted at this point that sex, gender identity, and gender expression/presentation (ie masculine vs feminine) are a lot more separate than our cissexist patriarchy would have us believe, and a lot more fluid/spectral than our dichotomous “common wisdom” would suggest. Gender is unfortunately something that is extremely hierarchical in our society, but it is not itself a hierarchy. It is an innate identity. As you said, you are a woman. As Natalie Reed has suggested, gender can best be understood as a language for which we have an innate framework that is filled in by the culture in which we live. And that is related to but not the same thing as gender presentation: hence femme boys, butch girls, vice versa, everyone in between. Obviously the signifiers for feminine/masculine are culture-specific, but the underlying spectrum is real.

          SORRY FOR ALL THE JARGON EVERYONE just wanted to point out that it’s actually a lot more complicated than MacKinnon or any second-wave feminist really knew about when they were starting the wonderful project of feminist theorizing. And there’s so much great literature/thought/theory on all of the above if you’re interested.

          But yeah, obviously in agreement that career counselors telling anyone to wear any particular type of gender-signifying clothing is wrong. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen all the fucking time though.

          Yay let’s all smash the patriarchy!

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            I have to disagree that “gender is an innate identity.” Gender is a cultural construct that is shoved down our throats from the minute we are born. Gender is pink and blue, easy-bake oven v trucks, barbies v spider man. It gets more nefarious as we approach puberty. Gender is a marketing tool to sell more stuff, and it is a social tool to enforce the hierarchy of men over women. There is nothing innate about it. Check out the Feminist Frequency exposition on pink legos to learn more about how gender is imposed on us from an early age, and how it hurts girls and distorts our sense of who we are.

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            Sorry – “Gender” is NOT innate. There is nothing innate about females behaving “a certain way” because they’re female. That’s essentialism, saying that females are innately more sensitive, or caring, or nurturing. Gender presentation is what “the world-at-large” considers appropriate for either of the two sexes – male or female. Hence the (old-fashioned) word “gender-bending”. when someone with a female body CHOOSES to not comply with those expectations. Because those expectations – external and/or internal – are thrust upon females by the hegemony (by the hetero-patriarchal systems of oppression).

            By rejecting stereotypical notions of femininity and masculinity – both of which are SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS – and by insisting, like Shannon Avery does, that wearing flat shoes, not wearing make-up, not shaving one’s legs and armspits etc., *IS* feminine by virtue of the fact that a FEMALE does it, we are engaged in the liberation of women from patriarchy, in small but meaningful ways.

            Think about it: Ellen de Generes regularly wears a tie on set, but she doesn’t try to wear it like a guy. She wears it like a woman, and as a result, no-one but the most die-hard bigot objects. You like skinny ties? Fine – wear one. Claim it as a feminine article of clothing, because you are FEMALE.

            What I find disturbing is that many young women who choose not to conform to the one sex stereotype seem to feel that they have to swing to the other sex stereotype, and call themselves “masculine of center” or “boi”. That some young women feel that in order to be seen as the strong, capable, talented, independent women that they are, that they have to take on the outward trappings of their oppressors. That is not liberation; it is capitulation. That’s why “gender” is a hierarchy.

            In my real life, I am an executive and career coach – and the key to getting hired – assuming you have the requisite credentials – is 1) looking professional. Professional means: well-groomed. and 2) being genuinely likeable. Likeable means you have to put in some effort to relate to the prospective employer’s values and needs. A job interview is not the platform to take a stand on gender or queer politics.

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    First off, these articles are the ones I check AS for daily, and do a little squeal/yell at my roommates to “get on The Internet because Kate wrote again” when I find them.

    Secondly, though I don’t identify as butch, I do feel all of you about compromising your image in the workplace. My dad and I work for the same company, and he is a very respected employee there. I am unsure of whether to come out/be out at work, because I don’t want to complicate things for him. I’m interested to hear what the consensus is about this subject!

    Great article!!!

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    Really LOVING this column Kate! The subject matter is always interesting and gets me thinking, and the style in which you write is a joy to read. If you were to write a book of memoirs or general musings, I’d buy it.

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    Oh wow. “I never remember, because trying to shop for jewelry feels like trying to finish a conversation with a version of myself from five years ago, and I wasn’t very talkative that year.”

    This really makes me feel my privilege. I’m a sorta-femme, sorta-andro white woman working in social services. However, when I got on job interviews, I definitely get into a more masculine energy: suit, swagger, taking up space, firm handshake. (Cuz I have the fucked up notion that I’m more powerful when I’m more masculine.) And I honestly think I’ve gotten job offers because of this energy! But that’s because the people hiring me were gay or wanted more gays on staff. I have been so, so, so, so, fortunate to work at places where powerful people making hiring decisions have been gay women.

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    While I appreciate the topics and themes of Butch Please, I struggle with frustration that the writing is inconsistent and culminates in generalizations. I think it’s beautiful & important to hear personal stories on Autostraddle (and applaud the honesty and courage it takes to share them) but question why they are limited to specific people, and in particular feel that there a lot of diary-esque narratives projecting onto groups of people//identities. I would be really interested to read Butch Please as an ongoing series open to different authors sharing a variety of perspectives on however they live or claim butch identity.
    As for queerness in the workplace, I agree that visibility does still, unfortunately, go hand in hand with discrimination in some places, and that self-expression is tricky to navigate in interviews. But I don’t think it’s limited to masculine-presenting women or gender-non-conforming people because I think a lot of what Kate writes about has to do more broadly with the plain fact that if we (me, or you, or anyone) wants to work in a business environment, we are entering into “the system” and it does necessitate a degree of appearing conventionally professional. This is especially true at an interview because it’s the employer’s first impression. I can relate to feeling like the interviewer’s eyes are distracted because I had my lip pierced for a while (during college) and it made a notable difference when interacting with professors and potential employers. It’s tough because queerness is so much more than an aesthetic expression but I think in business settings MANY forms of alternative//unconventional personal appearance are not currently acceptable, so by that I mean from my experience it’s my lip piercing that inappropriate or distracting, not the fact that my lip piercing is a signifier or part of my queer identity.
    What’s most interesting to me though is how this talks about needing to cover up masculinity and wear a dress instead of a tie, because in my experience as someone comfortable wearing a dress (but with flats, not heels) or a suit (but not a tie), perceived masculinity generates more professional respect. While a single homage-to-boy-bands earring may not please an interviewer, I’ve always thought that a well-fitting slacks, collared shirt, and blazer is neutral ground. Yeah, I’d rather wear a romper, but there’s a time and place for everything.

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      the contributing editors were all given the opportunity to write “columns” or “regulars” about the subject of their choice. i enjoy writing anecdotal narrative pieces that mostly speak from my personal experience, so “butch please” is a column about those personal experiences. i only ever speak for myself. i will sometimes mention the experiences of others – for example, i have talked to other queer people who are masculine-presenting whose experiences mirrored my own – and mention feeling solidarity with them.

      i’d LOVE to do something about masculine/butch people from a wide range of experiences, and will totally see about how we could get that together and invite as many perpsectives as possible. unfortunately, i can’t do that with butch please because it’s meant to be a column written solely by a contributing editor, if that makes sense?

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      I`m going to be very honest, here, at the risk of being flamed for it. First of all, why wear one earring and colourful shoes to your first interview? It`s not something even gender normative people could get away with (excluding fields where that is part of the look, but I`m assuming you`re talking about a traditional corporate environment). That clothing is all fine once you get the job. The general rule for all genders is to dress up rather than down for an interview.

      I`m saying this as a butch of colour who works in a very conservative field and wears almost exclusively men`s clothes. I have worn men`s suits to interviews and to court — no problem, but it was always geared towards the environment.

      I am trying to be generous but I have experienced discrimination on the basis of my gender identity a LOT. But, there is a weird sense of entitlement in this article and among queer hipsters generally that I can`t help but feel is informed by privilege. Somebody not caring about your ironic 90s teen heartthrob obsession is not oppressing you.

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    Can I write you something that’s more than a soundbyte long about selling my soul to the devil and betraying my gender identity to ‘whore’ myself for a job? I’m also looking for a job, and maybe I was very naive thinking I’m in Canada where faggots are people too. I wore my faggotry like a crown on job-hustling trips. And not much so far, except perhaps working at a hipster thriftstore where freakshows are embraced. Kade, most of my life I saw my F A A B gender as like a uniform, something that I don’t get to opt out of, if I want to function in this world. A few months ago, I had some trippy insights. That my duty in this world is to be exactly who I am, and to pretend to be someone I’m not is the only true betrayal/failure. Am I being melodramatic? Is it just a fucking job-hunt, should I strap on that string of pearls? Should I have hope that there are liberal, fair people in job-hiring positions who will appreciate me exactly as I am? I try to be happy Kade, but I’m sad right now…. it feels so castrating to my spirit to be shoved back into girl clothes when it took me 28 years to be courageous enough to get out of them.

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    I never found it useful to resort to using gender hierarchies in trying to figure out myself or my place in the world. There is so much more depth to explore and so many more human experiences to draw from than the constructs of gender alone.

    Identities, genders, all the isms of the world fall far below the value of genuine human experience. If you don’t take yourself seriously then no one else will either. If you’re all about gender ‘presentation’ or playacting an identity that you try on rather than authentically own people will see right through it.

    Be yourself. Be real. Be powerful and happy.

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    Yes. I really appreciate you admitting that sometimes we have to be “Machiavellian” in order to get a job, and I love thinking of it that way, instead of as a betrayal of self, or something. I mean, no one acts like themselves in an interview anyway, so it doesn’t seem too different to extend that to the way we might heteronormalize our gender presentation too, just for the interview, and then gradually let that slip after we get the job and can feel more safe doing so. You have to do what you have to do to get a job these days, and we absolutely can’t feel guilty or ashamed for doing so!

    Reading your column always makes me happy.

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    First, thank you for writing this, and please, keep it up!

    I’ve never really considered myself to be “butch,” but definitely not a “femme” either. Androgynous maybe? Dresses feel like a Halloween costume, and always have since I was a child. But suits and ties and super masculine clothing don’t feel right either… I am very slightly built (I often self-deprecatingly compare myself to a pre-pubescent boy) so I fail to pull off macho under any circumstances.

    That said I totally relate to your dilemma with professional dress. Despite having donned “pearls” in the past, I now vote my conscience when choosing interview outfits- I’d rather be myself and create visibility for queer-dos like me than work for narrow-minded fascists.

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    While I think that there should be no shame in choosing to “borrow pearls” if that is your need to finding employment, I also think it’s important to acknowledge that for some masculine presenting and other queer and trans*) folks that is not an option. This post reminded me of my privilege as a femme. Dressing “as a social worker” feels like kind of work drag to me, and leaves me feeling sad and forlorn and missing glitter and heels and cleavage, but I am privileged to have a gender that could be malleable in this way. There is privilege in being able to change your gender appearance for employment purposes- and it feels shitty, as privilege often does. But I feel like it’s important to acknowledge.

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    I just want to say that a lot of people on here have very good advice and interesting insights on gender-standardized clothing options… Truth is though, when it comes to an interview you really do need to be yourself. They are hiring YOU for YOU (and the skills you bring to the work place) right?

    Present yourself in a professional matter: make sure you and your clothes are clean, clothes are not wrinkly, be a little conservitive with the hair and make-up, make sure your breath doesn’t stink, put on a smile and use a firm handshake! Also – know the job your are trying to get and think about the attire they might like to see you in, but make sure that you alter that attire to fit your personality and make you COMFORTABLE during the interview.

    Every interview I have had, I have been offered the job. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. GUYS and I’ve been on 9… I have worn everything from jeans with nice shoes and a flowery top, to my most recent interview when I wore suit pants, a white button up with a black vest and CONVERSE – plaid converse!! I got the job… it doesn’t matter what you WEAR but how you present yourself. Don’t let your clothes/hair/make-up distract from YOU. Look nice, be comfortable, and let your personality come through your responses/actions and behavior during the interview.

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      While this is partially true, I think it’s short-sighted to think that pure authenticity is enough to get you a job. Some careers and some geographic areas are more restrictive than others–if your skill-set is the same or similar to the candidate next to you and there’s a bigot at the table who doesn’t get down with queers…you’ve lost the job. It would be nice to say, “well then why would you want to work at that job anyway?!” but, in reality, some of us cannot afford to take that stance if the alternative is not being able to support ourselves or our families.

      I also think that there is a lot more flexibility once you have a job with regard to sartorial choices/presentation.

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    I’ve never worn a dress to an interview. Not just because I don’t like dresses, but because I don’t think I’d be a good interview while having a gender identity crisis. I mean, just putting on a dress won’t make me act feminine. Wearing a dress would just bring more attention to the fact that I’m not femme because I’d be visibly anxious.

    I go full on androgynous for interviews and try to avoid drawing any attention to my clothes at all. I wear a nice v-neck sweater over a dress shirt with dress slacks. I go with neutral or earth tones. Nothing loud, no patterns and no jewelry.

    But YMMV. I’m a Web Developer/Programmer, so interviewers aren’t looking at what I’m wearing unless I give them reason to.

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    I sometimes wear more masculine clothes and other times more feminine, and have been in the corporate world (IT in big banks) for about 8 years. I feel pretty comfortable in what I wear but I do notice how people treat me differently when I’m wearing a dress to when I’m wearing pants. Mainly from the dudes, more doors held open and that sort of thing.

    My hair is faux-hawky and dyed dark ruby red, had it that way for about 5 years, I feel sometimes it’s a hindrance in interviews. I spoke to an old colleague (from a previous job) the other month an he said that our manager came back from our interview saying ‘she has purple hair’. Still managed to score the job thankfully but it’s surprising that’s what he took away from it.
    (Manager turned out to be an awesome dude, nicest guy ever)

    I suspect that also being a female in IT makes it a bit easier. People don’t say it but because it’s so male orientated I think they like getting girls in on the teams for more diversity. I’ve been the only girl in my teams quite a few times.

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    Once after I’d submitted about forty job applications and my hope (and money) was dwindling, I got an interview at a job I was well-qualified for and interested in. I made it past the first round and into a second interview. I ironed my best interview shirt and paired it with a vintage schoolboy’s tie and the butchest dress shoes they sold at Payless, along with a copy of my resume fresh off the public library printer, and set off for the interview. I felt confident, both in my appearance and my attractiveness as a job candidate.

    The executive director at the organization (an older straight white dude) took one look at my resume, saw a reference to a “queer” organization in my work experience, and then started off the interview by questioning me on what exactly that word meant. I gave my best professional, summarized answer, linked it to the work done by that organization, and tried to move on with the interview. But it threw me off my game, and I definitely caught him giving my outfit a lookover a couple times.

    I didn’t get the job, though fortunately I later got a different job. I do wonder if I had managed to femme it up, if I would’ve gotten that other position, or whether I would’ve felt so self-conscious

    On the other hand, though, my femme girlfriend has talked about feeling pressure to dress and act in a more masculine way in order to be taken more seriously at her job, because masculinity is still closely linked with power, and trying to balance that with her own self-expression. She wears the pearls because she wants to, and because as a professional black woman those pearls represent more to her than simply jewelry. But some folks might look at those pearls and see nothing but the secretary, the “intern girl”.

    Both of us are limited by the social norms of masculinity and femininity…as are the folks who hold those resumes in their hands and look us over, and think they see everything.

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      Yes, this, or at least your girlfriend’s experience. I certainly decided that I was over-formally-dressing for interviews, and only started getting stuff when I started dressing in slacks, a blouse and a black jumper rather than pencil skirt/black dress, heels, blouse. Giving off “I am a girl, with long hair and dresses and smallish” definitely makes people (men? also some more masculine gay girls, which I find kinda upsetting) take you less seriously, assume you’re going to be nicey nice and grateful and meek.

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    I’m not sure I identified with this. Doesn’t mean I don’t think it was a good article, but there was just something off about it that I couldn’t put my finger on. I think it’s that interview clothes – especially clothes for a business environment – are more often than not pretty masculine. Women can wear suits and otherwise very androgynous clothing and the interviewer shouldn’t bat an eye. I have frequently worn pants and jacket to interviews and I would never think to wear a dress or pearls. It seems to me that the problem isn’t so much the butch presentation as it might be the “alternative” presentation, what with the gelled up hair, pink soles, single earring, etc. The focus is not supposed to be on how you look but on what you say. I think in some cases it’s ok to let a bit of your personality shine through (I would never go as far as plaid converse, as someone else here said), but there’s a difference between that and dressing up for the interview like you are dressing up to go out on the town. The idea is to look kinda boring and conservative, not to “feel like yourself.” I always wear a matching suit and jacket, always wear low heeled or no heeled shoes, everything’s always a dark color, I always hesitate before wearing a bright shirt or jewelry, say. I’m afraid I think a lot of people feel pretty odd in interview clothes and like they aren’t reflecting who they truly are, but they wear what the career center at their unis tell them to wear and talk the talk you’re supposed to talk. An interview is more often about showing that you’re intelligent and articulate and can think on the spot and are suited for the job, not about being YOU in any other way (and hey, maybe somebody who is going to get raised eyes from clients about their hair color or piercings isn’t right for the job).

    The second thing is that, when you choose to work in a business environment (and I think someone with the privilege to go to a good university and as talented as the author of this piece did indeed have the choice to go into other environments), you have to buy into the business thing. Sometimes that means not wearing your single earring or eyebrow piercing or looking queer because queer looks alternative. But to think that is the biggest “selling out” you’re doing – the interview – is to exalt self expression above the WORK you’ll be doing. If the work is for some big corporation, maybe the real selling out is the 40 hours a week you’re spending designing Coke’s advertising campaign, not the 1 hour you spent wearing something that didn’t feel exactly “you”. Obviously I have no idea what jobs the author is trying to get (except for that it’s “in business”), so I don’t want this to come off as judgy about the career choice, since I don’t know it. But if you ARE trying to get a job selling cars, or something, and you’re sad you can’t gel your hair up, maybe you should have gone for a job selling Greenpeace memberships. I just made that up to be silly, but you know, there’s all kinds of work in alternative fields that do pay the bills and would respect queer identities more, that are available to people who think about that as they move through college.

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      This article made me think about how I do the opposite of Kate in interviews: I tend to dress in a more masculine way than I do normally–trading in my preferred dresses for Oxford shirts and pants (and I have a whole theory about how this more traditionally masculine look “reads” as powerful and confident–which is in and of itself very problematic but I do tend to get the job that I’m interviewing for so I play along). But I think that this ability to do this–to dress in a masculine way without fear of disrupting the interviewer’s potential sense of gender norms–speaks to my privilege as a “straight-looking” femme. It’s a privilege I take for granted, and don’t seek intentionally. I would probably trade it for some visibility if I didn’t feel like I was wearing a costume. But it’s there. And I think that that’s one difference in my ability to wear masculine clothing.

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      Sort of ditto this – a whole lot of people feel seriously uncomfortable in work costume, feel that’s it’s ugly, doesn’t make them look good, or feel like themselves, but unless you’re going for something very laid back or something where presentation isn’t going to make a difference (eg scientist) then you generally have to dress up for the interview at least. I mean it’s like how you generally have to talk a little bit of bollocks for the interview itself, with all the little anecdotes, it’s just a horrid game you have to play.

      Empathy with the job hunting though – it’s so soul destroying. I think at this point in time being rejecting has very little to do with who you are, and a whole lot to do with the shitty economy.

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        And I think with interview costumes you just want to get to the point where what you’re wearing is so unnoticeable – by being just what they expect for the workplace context, by being dullish, non-remarkable – that there’s no focus there.

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    Kate! Since you’re also in Philly, I just wanted to say, as problematic as Urban Outfitters can be (UO/Anthro/FP), I have never worked in a place where I felt more accepted, where there are so many tattoos! and ALHs! and gender spectrums! and gays in general… Which is not to say it’s the best, but it’s decent, for a corporate place with pretty lovely healthcare, etc…

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    This is the first Butch article I’ve read that really describes what it’s like to deal with the discrimination of being Butch and trying to get work. I WON’T wear femme clothing to ANYTHING. Gave it up when I first came out. And all my clothes are men’s clothes, because that’s what’s comfortable for me, and that’s what fits. I do like my gems and jewels though, they’re big and not too feminine. So I wear some of my favorite jewelry that matches what I’m wearing, but not too ostentacious, I NEVER wear a tie to an interview because that would be too loaded and spell hardcore Butch Dyke too obviously, they already KNOW I am just by my short hair, demeanor and rest of my presentation, and too challenging, but men’s slacks, oxford shirt and vest. I’m not much of a suit wearer, so I don’t wear blazers and such, nor do I own one. I keep it simple.

    But my work for the last 20 years has been construction and though construction has never been a fit for my intellectual personality in many ways, the reason I chose it was SO I COULD BE BUTCH AND WEAR CLOTHES I FEEL COMFORTABLE IN! I also knew many, many other Butches who were groundbreakers in construction. But at my age, and my size, they see big supersized BUTCH Dyke Female, so which level of discrimination am I being refused work on, and that includes dispatching for construction jobs in my field? Is it because I’m Female, A Butch Dyke, Fat, or all 3?

    And we know that if you’re a skinny Butch Dyke, you’re gonna get the job over me, and if you’re a fat femme, it’s a toss up over a skinny Butch, but if you’re a Fat Butch Dyke, other than being of color, it’s a stretch for most, as soon as they see the fat and the female, they make all kinds of assumptions, and then the disdain/hatred for Butches as well.

    Some of us CANNOT be any other way, cannot pass for femme nor would we want to, cannot be this one day and that another. This is who we are, who we’ve always been, no matter what garments one puts on or takes off. And I HATE how being Butch and also Fat diminishes our opportunity for work.They’ve already done studies on fat women and how so many of us are in poverty and limited in job opportunity based on size. They’ve never really bothered doing studies on discrimination around being a Butch FEMALE. Not presenting as ‘this gender or that’ but being both Butch AND Female. Out of our place. And the ONLY place that Dykes and Butches have had a niche in the past was construction.

    We break into a field most women fear to go because it’s thought of as ‘unfeminine’ and then once there’s a critical mass of groundbreaking Lesbian/Butch pioneers, then more conventional women come into that field and surpass us, cuz ultimately that’s what the dudes want: skinny eye candy they can look at, even if she’s in a construction worker’s outfit with a pony tail and heterosexual credentials. Only my Butch Dyke Tradeswomen Sisters understand this.

    So, yeah, this a subject near and dear to my heart: as a Butch, as a Dyke, as a Female, and as a Fat/Big Dyke. And my greatest struggle, especially in this Recession/Depression that only wants the youngest, the cheapest, the fastest and basically to dump anybody over age 50, so now on TOP of all that, I have to deal with age discrimination which has tossed so many in the age range of 50-60 out of work, and unable to get work again at that same level of salary and skill…and responsibility, with all the bills and responsibilities and rent we have at our age, and health care we need.

    That’s because they don’t WANT to pay for our healthcare, our benefits OR our salaries, and that they can’t work us to death like they can young people making them go ever faster, while paying them more cheaply, and that they have yet to stand up for themselves and are moldable.

    There’s so many levels to this, it is so disconcerting.

    So here’s my suggestion: Lesbians/Dykes HIRE EACH OTHER. Make it a point to hire a Lesbian Sister, and help her out, a Butch, a nonfeminine female, a big Dyke, a Dyke of color, all of us who desparately need work but do not want to compromise our essential Selves to survive in this harsh world. Find ways to barter, to share, to give to each other, to grow REAL community, economic community together, so we can be ourselves, feel good about ourselves and not feel we are compromising our souls everyday. And no, I do NOT wear pearls!
    -In Butch Dyke Sisterhood,
    -FeistyAmazon

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    This really resonated with me too.

    I am a violin teacher and classical music performer and I feel the same struggle to get hired due to my appearance. Both teaching and classical music can be extremely conservative, and I find myself having to compromise a lot in my appearance in order to not put parents or potential customers off. I have nothing particularly worthwhile to contribute to the conversation here, but MAN did this sound familiar.

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    Wow. Yet again, I can relate to all of this. Not knowing what to wear to interviews. Struggling with the fact that I’d never want to not be able to be who I am at work… and the fact that I might just not be able to afford to think that way sometimes.

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    I can testify that it does get better.
    I previously was in a position where my boss brought me into the office and said, “I cannot promote you unless you start dressing better.” This was a direct target, I was following dress code and none of my peers or supervisors wore anything near dressy regularly unless they had a corporate visit.
    However, I took this as a learning tool and revamped my wardrobe to include a little “Don Draper” attitude. I was honestly super overdressed just about everyday, but I started to notice just how much more confident I felt dressed up.
    So, I started wearing ties, and sweaters, and button downs, and oxford paired with slacks or nice jeans and interviewing for jobs that were far beyond my credibility level. Same ‘ol resume, new appearance, and I got an awesome job after three months.
    Please note, I am totally butch and live that up, but I look professional. Not every interview was successful and I went to a TON before I landed this job, but these days I dress within my own personality and quite enjoy the power attitude that a tie brings me.

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    Thank you for this post. Early in my queerdom I had the good fortune to meet a nonprofit executive director who used the term “execu-drag” to describe dressing up femme for meetings, etc. That has allowed me, in my own working life, to maintain a good humor about the compromises I make between my own preferred style of dress and the style of dress that’s expected of me at work. I’ve managed to avoid wearing a dress for the past seven years, at least, but I’d rather see myself in a shirt and tie than a women’s dress shirt and blazer. I think there’s a lot of us in the same boat. Borrowed pearls, indeed. It’s either that or something ten years out of date that no longer fits quite right!

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    I love this post… I recently had to interview for an internship at a film studio. The memo sent to me prior to the interview addressed the fact of dressing “business casual”.

    Now, while personally I don’t prefer labels, the straight world (and lesbian world, as I’m learning) are quick to label me “butch”. I enjoy a Hurley tank, snap back and shorts. But I also enjoy donning matching bra and panties on occasion for my wife. Regardless, my go to for comfort and functionality leaves me with the butch title, and I’m coming to terms more and more every day with this.

    That being said, to me, “business casual” fell under a polo, slacks, and black Converse. My wife (a top and bottom femme) and a friend of ours were quick to point out that I should “girl up” myself for this experience. “Why?” The not-self proclaimed butch asks. The answer will haunt me for years… “Because you should put your best side forward for an interview.” Flash back to those awkward years as a young teen, eyes lingering too long on pretty girls drawing their hair into ponytails. To those years I felt this inherent need to hide my feelings and sexual awakening. I was baffled and offended at the response. For my own wife and close friend to suggest I pretend to be something I’m not… that my “best side” was a version of me that is plainly a lie, the version I ran out of the closet screaming from.

    A long debate later, me expressing “if they don’t want me cause I’m gay, I don’t want their internship!” and them explaining EVERYONE… gay, straight, all the in between, must “pretend” for situations like this… I ended up buying a pink top, flowy black over shirt, and black womens slacks. I even purchased sparkly black shoes (that will remain the ONLY instance they will ever be worn). So, in the end, I did get the internship. But I also brought my wife (my then girlfriend). So, yes that man saw the “best (straight)” side of me, but he also knows I could whoop him in a pussy eating contest. Lesson learned? We all have to do a little pretending now and then.

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